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Perspectives on problem solving

Posted by  Mark Schenk —June 22, 2006
Filed in Communication

Magnifying glassIndividuals and organisations have many ways of tackling problems. A paper ‘Describing 16 Habits of Mind’ describes the following perceptual orientations that one can take when engaged in problem-solving:

  • Ego-centric: perceiving the problem from our personal point of view.
  • Allo-centric: perceiving the problem through another persons’ perspective through empathy, predicting how others are feeling and anticipating potential misunderstandings.
  • Macro-centric: taking a ‘big-picture’ or birds-eye view of the problem, applying our intuitive, holistic and conceptual abilities. This approach helps tackle problems despite incomplete information and engages our abilities to perceive patterns, to jump across gaps in our knowledge and to act even when some of the pieces are missing.
  • Micro-centric: a ‘worms-eye’ view of the problem that examines the individual pieces that make up the whole, and upon which much of our science, technology and enterprises rely. This approach involves logical analytical computation, a search for causality and ‘correct answers’ and it requires attention to detail, precision and orderly progressions.

Effectiveness comes when these various orientations are applied as appropriate for each situation.  Relating this to previous posts, I think the first and last bullet points describe ‘left brain’ problem solving and the second and third points reflect ‘sensemaking’ or ‘right brain’ approaches. Our work at Anecdote focusses on helping organisations with their sensemaking capabilities, building confidence in their intuition and helping them to be comfortable with not-knowing.

Mark Schenk About  Mark Schenk

Mark works globally with senior leadership teams to improve their ability to communicate clearly and memorably. He has been a Director of Anecdote since 2004 and helped the company grow into one of the world’s leading business storytelling consultancies. Connect with Mark on:

2 Responses to “Perspectives on problem solving”

  1. James Taylor Says:

    Given that human beings can often take quite different approaches to solving the same problem (depending on their orientation), do you think decision automation has a role, especially in those decisions that must demonstrate compliance? Similarly, what about very high volume/tight timeframe decisions?
    If you do automate a decision, do the orientations still apply to how an expert reviews the automation and manages it or is the management of a decision process distinctly different from the decision process itself?

  2. Mark Says:

    Hi James.
    I guess at a fundamental level, the simpler a problem is the more it can be automated. By simple, I mean that the problem has certain characteristics such as a clearly defined relationship between cause and effect, only one possible correct answer and everyone will agree that it is correct. The further a decision moves from these positions the more ambiguous it becomes and more perspectives may be required to arrive at an acceptable (not necessarily correct) answer. As problems become complex, the more problematic automation becomes. Much more effort is then required in understanding the nature of the problem rather than in ‘deciding’ about it.

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