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Causes of Ineffective Problem Solving

By Dean Gano
Out of every ten industry event reports I have read in the last ten
years, 7 or 8 tell a story while only 1 or 2 will be based on causes.
One out of ten will effectively define the problem. If causes are
given, most will be categorical in nature. Almost none will have
evidence or express the significance of the problem other than
categorically. I believe the primary causes of ineffective problem
solving to be rooted in three causal areas:

1. Incomplete Problem Definition


2. Causal Relationships Unknown
3. Categorical Thinking

Incomplete problem definition is caused by the false belief that it is


obvious, and the rush to find a solution. We are so solution oriented
that we fail to define the problem properly, focusing instead on our
favorite solutions. The belief that the problem is obvious is caused
by the false belief that everyone perceives the same thing; we don't
even come close.

Unknown causal relationships are caused by the failure to


understand the cause and effect principle, which is primarily caused
by the practice of story telling. A story is defined as communication
of one perception of an event by discussing people (who elements),
places (where elements), and things (what elements) as a function
of time (when elements). A story is characterized by very few why
elements or causes (usually no more that 3) and always starts in
the past. Stated causes are typically categorical causes like poor
management practices or human error.

My observations are that it doesn't matter which culture, country, or


education level we observe, we have a common human affliction of
“Causes of Ineffective Problem Solving”, Reasoning and Problem Analysis – December 1997
Copyright © 1996-98 Apollo Associated Services, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Page 1 of 2
poor problem solving, and it is directly proportional to story telling.
The stronger the story-telling culture, the less effective we are at
problem solving.

Categorical thinking is a natural human affliction caused by the


mind's need to order what it perceives. While a natural process of
the mind, the problem comes when we fail to understand how
categorization also causes intellectual laziness. For example, the
notion of good and bad is categorical thinking at its most base level.
Instead of seeking to understand, we categorize something as good
or bad and stop there. Upon categorizing, we somehow believe we
have accomplished an understanding. With this illusion of
understanding we simply stop any questioning. In doing so, we
have effectively stopped any opportunity to learn. To overcome this
natural strategy, always go to your "Point of Ignorance." If we don't
end a line of questions with: "I don't know," then we haven't gone
far enough.

“Causes of Ineffective Problem Solving”, Reasoning and Problem Analysis – December 1997
Copyright © 1996-98 Apollo Associated Services, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Page 2 of 2