execuBooks                wisdom. wherever.                     No Problem                                    By Alex Lowy...
About execuBooksexecuBooks are e-summaries of books formobile professionals, optimally formatted foronscreen reading on la...
No ProblemBy Alex LowyPublished by AuthorHouse, 2007ISBN 1425996019© 2007 execuBooks inc.Buy the Full Book!www.amazon.comw...
ContentsIntroduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .    5Decisions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ....
No Problem / By Alex LowyIntroductionProblems differ in many ways, so why would asingle approach to solving them work ever...
No Problem / By Alex Lowy   While the outcome may not always be as se-vere or immediate, the same principles of sortingand...
No Problem / By Alex Lowyty rises, things tend to get more serious and dif-ficult, and more sophisticated methods are ofte...
No Problem / By Alex Lowyfamily members will need the car, and very littleability at all to predict what would happen ifsh...
No Problem / By Alex Lowyels and try to solve dilemmas, manage problemsor exploit decisions. Whatever the reasons maybe fo...
No Problem / By Alex Lowy   Decisions of this sort are easy because thebest option is obvious or because the criteriaare l...
No Problem / By Alex Lowyed views, and to seek opinions from trustedfriends and advisors. If all these efforts don’tlead t...
No Problem / By Alex Lowyyou get better results when you tackle underly-ing rather than superficial factors. In solvingtou...
No Problem / By Alex Lowyother. They’re comple-             When we ignorementary. With dilemmas,there are no right an-   ...
No Problem / By Alex Lowymas is to investigate the forces that are in ten-sion and causing pain or difficulty. Exploringth...
No Problem / By Alex Lowythe decision?) and the focus (what is and isn’tthe decision about?).   The basic decision-making ...
No Problem / By Alex Lowyanticipated benefits. The more positive the re-sult, the greater the justification to proceed.Sol...
No Problem / By Alex Lowy   Problem ownership is the key to finding solu-tions. Determine your relationship to the prob-le...
No Problem / By Alex Lowyen at the right points in a process, with appro-priate leadership and support. Rational effortsbr...
No Problem / By Alex Lowythere’s no solution. Dilem- Addressing amas direct you to the heartof an issue. Dilemmas take    ...
No Problem / By Alex LowyConclusionWe usually talk of decisions, problems anddilemmas interchangeably. But each is differe...
No Problem / By Alex LowyRelated ReadingAny of these books can be ordered directly fromAmazon (A), Barnes & Noble (B) or C...
No Problem / By Alex LowyNeed a Competitive Edge?Share a headspace with the best minds in busi-ness — visit aheadspace.com...
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execuBook: No Problem

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By Alex Lowy
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What are the two major questions that shape and define problems?

How complex is the problem? What's the level of uncertainty? Answering those questions directs us to the correct problem-solving level, increasing the odds that what we do will be beneficial.

In this execuBook, author Alex Lowy elaborates on the impact of complexity and uncertainty and defines the three levels of problems: decisions, which should be made, problems, which need to be solved, and dilemmas, which should be managed and exploited. For each level, there are five questions to ask in order to arrive at the best course of action.

This summary outlines a way to address problem-solving. It will be of interest to all managers and others responsible for making decisions.

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execuBook: No Problem

  1. 1. execuBooks wisdom. wherever. No Problem By Alex LowySubscribe to execuBooks — summaries of the best books in business — at www.aheadspace.com
  2. 2. About execuBooksexecuBooks are e-summaries of books formobile professionals, optimally formatted foronscreen reading on laptops or handhelds —so you can stay abreast of leading businesswisdom, wherever you have a moment! execuBooks are the ultimately convenientmeans for executives, managers and otherprofessionals to stay abreast of leadingthought. You receive, read and store themelectronically — on your standard office orhandheld computer! Read them on the airplane or at the hotel!Enrich your reading experience with built-indictionaries and links for media and relatedresources! Create a reference library of yourfavorites! Subscribe for wisdom! Wherever youhave a moment! For more information about our e-publishingproducts and services designed for mobileprofessionals, visit us at www.aheadspace.com2 www.aheadspace.com
  3. 3. No ProblemBy Alex LowyPublished by AuthorHouse, 2007ISBN 1425996019© 2007 execuBooks inc.Buy the Full Book!www.amazon.comwww.barnes&noble.comwww.chapters.ca www.aheadspace.com 3
  4. 4. ContentsIntroduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5Decisions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9Problems . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11Dilemmas . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12Make Decisions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14Solve Problems . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16Manage and Exploit Dilemmas . . . . . . . . . . . 18Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20Related Reading . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21This e-summary is best experienced inAdobe Reader 84 www.aheadspace.com
  5. 5. No Problem / By Alex LowyIntroductionProblems differ in many ways, so why would asingle approach to solving them work everytime? The truth is, it doesn’t. As an analogy, think about what happens atthe intake desk of a busy hospital emergencydepartment. The first step on arrival is an as-sessment of need, called triage, derived fromthe French word trier, meaning “to sort.” Pa-tients aren’t treated equally or seen in order ofarrival, because their needs are so diverse. Totreat them alike would be to relegate thosewith urgent and life-threatening problems tothe back of the line, waiting their tur n likeeveryone else, and that just doesn’t result ingood medicine. Triage follows rules and protocols that makethe process more orderly and dependable. Andthe earlier in the screening process that an ac-curate triage is conducted, the more likely it isthat treatment will be successful. www.aheadspace.com 5
  6. 6. No Problem / By Alex Lowy While the outcome may not always be as se-vere or immediate, the same principles of sortingand classifying apply to the problems we face inour lives. When you remove obvious differencesin context, we’re left with two major questionsthat shape and define problems: how complexare they, and what’s the level of uncertainty? Answering those two questions directs us tothe correct problem-solving level, saving timeand effort and, more importantly, increasing theodds that what we do will be beneficial. Complexity refers to the number, sensitivityand seriousness of the interdependence in a sit-uation. A woman’s decision to choose the 405bus or the 407 bus in the morning affects verylittle else in her world. Deciding whether to driveor take the bus is somewhat more involved,since it can affect whether her husband or childcan use the family car. Being late complicatesthings even more, and when you throw in thatthe individual no longer enjoys her job, the com-plexity level takes a serious spike. As complexi-6 www.aheadspace.com
  7. 7. No Problem / By Alex Lowyty rises, things tend to get more serious and dif-ficult, and more sophisticated methods are oftenrequired to resolve them. Complexity is perhaps easier to understandin larger systems and where consequences are more severe. Scheduling aAs complexity factory to meet the needsrises, things of hundreds of customers is complex, especially whentend to get those needs can vary on amore serious weekly or even daily basis. Deciding which story toand difficult place on the front page of anewspaper is complex. Global warming and di-minishing biodiversity are complex matters. Uncertainty refers to the ability to controland predict two important sets of factors: theforces that determine a situation, and the out-comes that result from our efforts. Referring tothe earlier example of getting to work, thewoman can confidently predict the bus sched-ule, but has a harder time knowing when other www.aheadspace.com 7
  8. 8. No Problem / By Alex Lowyfamily members will need the car, and very littleability at all to predict what would happen ifshe quit her job. The answers to the two central questions —how complex is the problem and what’s thelevel of uncertainty? — tell you a great dealabout the nature and urgency of what you’redealing with. As the two dimensions increase, t h e k i n d o f p ro b l e mAt the highest you’re facing changes,end of complexity m e a n i n g y o u n e e d a different approach.and uncertaintywe encounter At the low end of each of the two dimen-dilemmas sions are decisions —decisions should be made. At the next level upwe encounter problems — problems need to besolved. And at the highest end of complexityand uncertainty we encounter dilemmas —dilemmas should be managed and exploited. It sounds simple, but often we mix up the lev-8 www.aheadspace.com
  9. 9. No Problem / By Alex Lowyels and try to solve dilemmas, manage problemsor exploit decisions. Whatever the reasons maybe for this, the effect is generally the same:delay, frustration and ineffectiveness. With a lit-tle instruction and practice, everyone is capableof conducting this kind of diagnosis quickly andaccurately. It begins with understanding how thethree levels differ, and learning to apply a set ofsimple questions.DecisionsThe simplest form of issue or challenge we faceis choosing among known options where time istight and there’s low uncertainty about the op-tions and outcomes. Taken from the Latin de-cidere, the word decide literally means to cutoff. Do I take route A or B? Do I work the morn-ing shift or the evening? Will I pick the pen withgreen or blue ink? We make micro decisions likethose throughout the day, usually without reallythinking about them. They don’t demand muchdeliberation and quite rightly fall below the levelof conscious thought. www.aheadspace.com 9
  10. 10. No Problem / By Alex Lowy Decisions of this sort are easy because thebest option is obvious or because the criteriaare loose enough to make a range of availablealter natives acceptable. Decisions becometougher to make (harder to “cut off”) when con-sequences are more important, and when thereare strong emotional attachments. For example, deciding whether to get mar-ried or accept a new job can be difficult be-cause those decisions involve serious commit-ment and may require you to give up more inother situations. When a decision feels so difficult that yourdata, options and criteria aren’t enough to helpyou make a choice,there’s probably more Approaches togoing on. If you hit an solving problemsimpasse when makinga decision, it’s time to involve varyinglook inside yourself degrees of rationalfor emotional attach-ments or unarticulat- and creative effort10 www.aheadspace.com
  11. 11. No Problem / By Alex Lowyed views, and to seek opinions from trustedfriends and advisors. If all these efforts don’tlead to a decision that feels right, it probablymeans you’re facing a problem or dilemma, andyou need to step up a level or two and apply adifferent set of problem-solving methods.ProblemsProblems represent gaps or barriers to achiev-ing outcomes that we value. With problems, wecan’t choose from among known options be-cause there are as yet no acceptable solutions.We have a “problem with” or a “problem to.”The goal in problem-solving is to eliminate or re-solve the barrier. Approaches to solving problems involvevarying degrees of rational and creative effort,and the ability to involve both of those strate-gies as needed is the hallmark of an excellentproblem-solver. Accuracy in problem-solving is critical, and www.aheadspace.com 11
  12. 12. No Problem / By Alex Lowyyou get better results when you tackle underly-ing rather than superficial factors. In solvingtough problems, it’s useful to apply a systematicmethod that helps you challenge assumptionsand avoid blind spots. As with decisions, when problem-solving ef-forts reach an impasse, that’s a clue you may beworking at the wrong logical level. With prob-lems, there are two types of impasse to watchout for: the inability to find an acceptable solu-tion at all, and a series of apparently fine solu-tions that don’t last. It’s time to check if this is adecision you’re avoiding or a dilemma you’retrying to force-fit into a solution.DilemmasWhen the conditions underlying a situation arecomplex and resolution is unlikely, you’re facinga dilemma. Two examples of common dilemmasare choosing between short- and long-term ben-efits, and being guided by reason or one’s gut. Ineach of these cases, one side is lost without the12 www.aheadspace.com
  13. 13. No Problem / By Alex Lowyother. They’re comple- When we ignorementary. With dilemmas,there are no right an- dilemmas, a badswers. And unlike deci- situation usuallys i o n s a n d p ro b l e m s , gets worse,there’s no way of know-ing in advance what the leaving peopleresult will be of address- unprepared,ing a dilemma. frustrated and So why do we deal feeling powerlesswith dilemmas at all?Because they’re rich, compelling, legitimate andoften unavoidable. Dilemmas can appear as im-passes. By responding to the dilemma, we gainunderstanding and insight that makes construc-tive action possible. Conversely, when we ignore dilemmas, a badsituation usually gets worse, leaving people un-prepared, frustrated and feeling powerless. Youknow you’re dealing with a dilemma when re-peated attempts at decision-making and prob-lem-solving have failed. The way to tackle dilem- www.aheadspace.com 13
  14. 14. No Problem / By Alex Lowymas is to investigate the forces that are in ten-sion and causing pain or difficulty. Exploringthose points of tension leads to better under-standing and increases readiness for action.Make DecisionsThe five prime decision-making questions are: • What exactly is being decided? • What criteria matter most in making a choice? • What are the available alternatives? • What traps do I need to avoid? • Okay, which will it be? You need to take charge early and definewhat’s being decided. You do that by address-ing three things: the level (is this really a deci-sion or is it a problem or dilemma?), the context(what factors will affect your success in making14 www.aheadspace.com
  15. 15. No Problem / By Alex Lowythe decision?) and the focus (what is and isn’tthe decision about?). The basic decision-making filter that peopleoften use when choosing is a two-dimensionalmatrix, with criteria listed across the horizontalaxis and options placed on the vertical axis. At aminimum, filtering involves comparing optionsagainst each of the criteria to select the one thatbest fulfills identified needs. For informal deci-sion-making, we may never draw the matrix, butthe logic of the process still holds. Benjamin Franklin’s decision-making processwas to divide a sheet of paper into two columns,one labeled Pro and the other Con. A somewhatmore sophisticated com-parative decision-making You need toprocess is cost-benefit take chargeanalysis. At its most basic,it works like this: itemize early and definethe full set of costs asso- what’s beingciated with a decision andsubtract these from the decided www.aheadspace.com 15
  16. 16. No Problem / By Alex Lowyanticipated benefits. The more positive the re-sult, the greater the justification to proceed.Solve ProblemsThe five prime problem-solving questions are: • What’s the problem, and how can I define it so it will be solved? • What am I getting out of the problem? • What does the solution need to accomplish? • What new ways are there to look at the problem? • What creative options exist, and how can these lead to the best solutions? Problems need to be defined accurately andusefully. Most ill-fated attempts at solving prob-lems go awry at the beginning, with a faultyproblem definition.16 www.aheadspace.com
  17. 17. No Problem / By Alex Lowy Problem ownership is the key to finding solu-tions. Determine your relationship to the prob-lem and invite others to do the same. You’ll dothe best job at solving the part that’s legitimate-ly yours. Collective problems tend to requirecollaborative solution processes. Process and content are equally important insolving problems. Problems operate on manylevels, notably rational, emotional and social.The best way through the maze, especially ingroup settings, is to use a proven and practicedmethod and assign therole of process leader- Problems operates h i p t o a n i n d i v i d u a l on many levels,w h o i s n ’t i n v o l v e d i nthe content. notably rational, emotional and Yo u n e e d b o t h r a - socialt i o n a l a n d c re a t i v emethods when solving problems. Do each welland keep them separate. Successful problem-solving is a balance of freedom and structure.Creative output tends to flourish when undertak- www.aheadspace.com 17
  18. 18. No Problem / By Alex Lowyen at the right points in a process, with appro-priate leadership and support. Rational effortsbring analytic rigor and thoroughness. As a ruleof thumb, emphasize rationality at the start andend, and be creative in the middle.Manage and Exploit DilemmasThe five prime dilemma management questionsare: • What’s the core dilemma? • What are its implications? • What can I learn from what’s scary and what’s exciting? • What needs to change? • What am I prepared to do about this? Dilemmas are decisions for which there’s noright choice. Dilemmas are problems for which18 www.aheadspace.com
  19. 19. No Problem / By Alex Lowythere’s no solution. Dilem- Addressing amas direct you to the heartof an issue. Dilemmas take dilemma iscourage. Dilemmas involve harder thantrade-offs and accommoda- implementingtion. Dilemmas are transfor-mational — when you rec- a solution toognize and acknowledge an a problemessential conflict, you openyourself up to the possibility of needing to modi-fy, resolve or redefine the terms of engagement. Common dilemmas include the tension be-tween inside and outside interests, the pres-sures of cost versus benefits, and the impulsefor change and stability. Often they can be illu-minated through a simple 2x2 matrix, with eachelement of the dilemma on a different axis. Addressing a dilemma is harder than imple-menting a solution to a problem. Because dilem-mas are inherently fuzzy, the actions we take toaddress them are often less obvious and thebenefits less immediate. www.aheadspace.com 19
  20. 20. No Problem / By Alex LowyConclusionWe usually talk of decisions, problems anddilemmas interchangeably. But each is different,requiring you to delineate exactly what you’refacing and then choose the proper approach. eABOUT THE AUTHOR: Alex Lowy, co-author of ThePower of the 2x2 Matrix and Digital Capital, is astrategy consultant based in Toronto.20 www.aheadspace.com
  21. 21. No Problem / By Alex LowyRelated ReadingAny of these books can be ordered directly fromAmazon (A), Barnes & Noble (B) or Chapters (C) andmay be summarized in our execuBook library (E).Smart Questions: Learn to Ask the Right Ques-tions for Powerful Results, by Gerald Nadler andWilliam Chandon, Jossey-Bass, 2004, ISBN0787971375. A B C EStepping Up: Make Decisions That Matter, byTimothy Dobbins, HarperCollins, 2006, ISBN0060823739. A B C EAsking the Right Questions: A Guide to CriticalThinking, by Neil Browne and Stuart Keeley,Prentice Hall, 2006, ISBN 0132203049. A B C www.aheadspace.com 21
  22. 22. No Problem / By Alex LowyNeed a Competitive Edge?Share a headspace with the best minds in busi-ness — visit aheadspace.com. Now you canlearn, teach and inspire your people with a com-plete collection of resources and tools. Thesesimple, smart, enterprise-wide learning solutionsenable 100% of an organization’s employees toquickly learn and apply the world’s best businessconcepts at an unbeatable return on investment. The resources include two of execuGo Media’smost popular product lines — execuBooks busi-ness book summaries and execuKits turnkeyworkshop toolkits — plus innovative inspirationaltools called execuClips. They enable all employ-ees to build competitive advantage by equippingeach other with a world-class business educationeasily and effectively right where they work. To learn more, visit www.aheadspace.com orcontact us at clientcare@execugo.com or 1-866-888-1161.22 www.aheadspace.com

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