Showing posts with label problem solving. Show all posts
Showing posts with label problem solving. Show all posts

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The New Economy Requires More of an “Einsteinian” Approach

Einstein would feel at home in today’s world.  His creative genius in solving problems would be of great demand in today’s world. Gone are the industrial days where following simple instructions from start to finish guaranteed success in life. Today’s employment opportunities have a greater need for creative thinking, STEM, and unique approaches to solving problems.  The world is changing and society will need to catch up. 

A great many things in our society are still built off of the Industrial Era mentality. Our educational system, government offices, law enforcement, etc. continue to use a sequential pattern to process people and information in an inefficient and often ineffective manner. Contrary to institutional sluggishness, most businesses have already moved into the Information Era where they focus on competitive advantages to solve problems and reduce costs. 

According to the U.S. Bureau of Statistics between 1998-2004 30% of new jobs created were algorithmic while 70% involved complex heuristic work (Bradford, Manyika, & Yee, 2005). In other words, most jobs today don’t involve simple A to Z processing and require thinking at a higher level to effectively process information in a way the can generate new ideas. The use of creativity and intuition are not foreign in this environment. 

A paper in Educational Leadership highlights how creative thinking is more rewarded in today’s society than sequential thinking (Goodwin & Miller, 2013). The global economy requires new ways of educating people to use those skills and abilities that were second nature to geniuses. Education has the responsibility to meet the needs of preparing people for more complex work environments.

Einstein was considered “dim witted”, Thomas Edison had a “confused mind”, and Darwin was a “little slow”. They were characterized by “experts” in this manner because a healthy human mind was one that could easily follow instructions. Line up and take your number was the main criteria for success-not a whole lot of creative thinking needed. People were stuck where they were born regardless of their abilities.

Luckily things have changed for the better in most sectors of society. According to the paper divergent thinking, heuristic problem solving, and right brain thinking are needed in today’s world and should be taught, not thwarted, in education. There will be an increasing need for graduates to think beyond what is front of them and move into more complex thought patterns to overcome market challenges.  

When a person can think about problems from multiple vantage points they can be more creative. Likewise, it is necessary to try and understand problems as much as possible and make an intellectual leap when all of the information isn’t available. The right brain will need to be employed to tackle issues emotionally, intuitively, creatively, globally and analytically.

For those developing new products and solving complex problems they will need to come up with answers to very complex problems. They cannot solve problems simply by following pre-made steps but must move forward, upward, backwards, sideways and downwards to understand problems. The use of multidirectional perception is needed to tackle problems effectively. 

We can see this process occur in software creation, product development, consulting, science, and other fields that require heavy intellectual labor. As the economic output speeds up and relies less on physical attributes mental faculty will help in developing businesses to push the envelope of their industries. The educational process will need to adjust their processes to ensure that the brightest minds, not only the ones that can follow instructions, can move forward to meet the intellectual needs of employers. I’m sure that Einstein will find his employment options today much more to his liking than sitting on an assembly line.  

Bradford, C., Manyika, J., & Yee,L. (2005). The next revolution in interactions. McKinsey Quarterly, 4,25–26.

Goodwin, B. & Miller, K. (2013). Creativity requires a mix of skills. Educational Leadership, 70 (5).

Friday, April 25, 2014

How Groups Can Foster or Thwart New Product Idea Formation

Groups working together can be an enhancement to problem solving. This problem solving can be put to good use in developing products and services. Perpetually developing and advancing products and services help to develop market penetration, revenue generation, and greater opportunities. A paper by Nijstad & Stroebe (2006) delves into the idea generation process and how associated memory highlights categories  that lead to problem resolution. 

The idea generation process is the first step in finding solutions. According to Raaijmaker and Shiffrin’s people search their associative memory (SAM) to find new ideas (1981). They search through their memory creating a flow of thought whereby ideas and concepts spring forth by connecting various concepts, breaking them apart and generating concepts. 

Maintaining the free flowing stream of consciousness is important. Ideas should a.) be focused on quantity versus quality, b) seek unusual ideas, c) combination and improvement of ideas, d) not incorporate criticism of any idea (Osborn, 1953). It is important to simply gather and collect these ideas without judging them or creating social pressure to accept particular ideas. 

Our memories work a lot like categories and nodes. When nodes are activated in working memory this activation spreads to other connecting nodes creating multiple areas of connection (Collins & Loftus, 1975).  These nodes work within semantic networks. When a semantic network is activated a string of nodes with various concepts are brought forth (Brown et. al. 1998). Crossing categories of networks creates profound new knowledge. 

When problems arise we generally use an activation loop (long-term memory loop) and idea generation loop (working memory) to find a solution.  The working memory adjusts, moves, connects, disconnects and generally manipulates the information that was once stored in long-term memory (Baddeley, 1996) to produce new ideas. The larger a person’s working memory and general intelligence the more information they can manipulate at once. 

So how does idea generation work or falter in groups? An idea can cue new semantic networks that help to create new associations among members. The more people who dig through their long-term memory and spurt forward new connections in their working memory the more collective knowledge gained. When cues from the environment block new ideas from coming forward through criticism the type of new ideas are limited. It becomes more likely that only those ideas that confirm existing knowledge are shared. The result is that novel problem solving never makes its way into the conclusion. Market potential is lost when only pre-existing knowledge is rehashed for use. 

Baddeley, A. D. (1986). Working memory. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

Brown, V., et. al.  (1998). Modeling cognitive interactions during group brainstorming. Small Group Research, 29, 495–526.

Collins, A. M., & Loftus, E. F. (1975). A spreading-activation theory of semantic processing. Psychological Review, 82, 407–428.

Osborn, A. F. (1953). Applied imagination. New York: Scribner’s.

Nijstad, B. & Stroebe, W.(2006).  How the Group Affects the Mind: A Cognitive Model of Idea Generation in Groups. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 10 (3). 

Raaijmakers, J. G. W., & Shiffrin, R. M. (1981). Search of associative memory. Psychological Review, 88, 93–134.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Microfoundations of Solving Complex Business Problems

Solving problems is a natural part of business development. Every organizational will need to solve particular problems if they hope to overcome market challenges and economic environments. The complexity of today’s global business environment requires better decision making that ensures the best solutions are forthcoming to enhance opportunities. A study by Baer et. al (2013) delves into  a theory of the microfoundations of decisions that help to predict impediments to solution formation when complex and ill-structured problems present themselves.

Problem formation has always been the fundamental stumbling block and main activity of strategic decision making (Quinn, 1980). Without solutions to problems organizations cannot move forward in their development and may be derailed by personalities, vantage points, bounded rationality, and poor decision-making process that take their toll on profitability. 

Complex problems are more likely to be derailed by the microfoundations of decision making due to the inherent self-interest of the decision makers themselves. In complex problems there are simply many more places for them to insert their own needs and interests into the solution thereby creating poor results. A problem is complex when it has lots of varying variables, a high degree of connectivity among the elements, and dynamic actions that change the situation over time (Watson, 1976). 

Teams are naturally limited by their bounded rationality or knowledge and cognitive capacity to understand and solve these complex problems (Simon 1957). Heterogeneous teams allow for greater diversity of thought and the loosening of social structure to incorporate new perspectives and vantage points into the problem. They can help avoid “tunnel vision” or the need to use their limited cognitive capacity on well-worn solutions and selective approaches. 

The authors believe that framing the problem and then formulating the root of the problem is the best approach to handing complex problems. Framing includes the writing down of symptoms of the problem, correlating those symptoms, and then settling on the important ones.  Solutions should not be discussed until all of the symptoms are agreed upon to ensure tunnel vision doesn’t make its way into the process. Once the problem is framed the seeking it is important to see determine the root cause. That root can be used as the catalyst to finding effective solutions.  

Baer, et. al. (2013). Microfoundations of strategic problem formulation Microfoundations of strategic problem formulation. Strategic Management Journal, 34 (2). 

Quinn J. (1980). Strategies for Change: Local Instrumentalism. Irwin: Homewood, IL.

Simon H. (1957). Models of Man: Social and Rational. Wiley: New York.

Watson C. (1976). The problems of problem solving. Business Horizons, 19: 88–94.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Effective Group Evaluation of Ideas-Creation and Selection

Groups work together to come up with ideas. These groups may be inter or intra-company formations that focus on particular problems. The process in which they generate ideas and evaluate these ideas is important for the development of stronger business models and group decision-making. A study Harvey & Kou (2013) focused on evaluating group decision-making and found that the idea generation process eventually moves into four modes of group interaction that can be used individually or in combination to determine the merits of each idea. 

The group process is important for determining how groups work through problems and find solutions. With greater understanding it is easier to formulate and train groups to make better decisions that have a real impact on the environment. The power of group decisions may be based in their ability to generate more ideas and evaluate those ideas from multiple perspectives.

The four different ways in which evaluation processes occur is in parallel interactions where several ideas are generated and evaluated, interactive evaluation by which a couple of ideas are evaluated based upon group goals, brainstorming without evaluation, and sequential evaluation whereby one’s idea is generated and evaluated before introducing another. 

Brainstorming without evaluation is great for generating ideas but these ideas will eventually need to be evaluated through the group process to determine which are most likely to work. The Use of collective development of creative products works best when small and diverse groups are able to draw on multiple perspectives and expertise to create new and useful ideas to be evaluated for those that achieve potential goals (Nemeth, 1997). 

The process of brainstorming (ideation) and evaluation helps to ensure that the quality of ideas is beneficial (Paletz and Schunn, 2010). Ideas should start out as free flowing to create as many different pathways to understanding as possible. Potential problems can be seen from different perspectives and backgrounds. The evaluation process ensures that those who are most likely to be successful are selected for use or further study. 

They found that groups used an evaluation-centered sequence whereby a small group of ideas were evaluated in parallel form. This helped the group to create a mental problem framework that allowed them to elaborate and integrate their ideas. The study does help highlight how defining group goals is important for encouraging a mental framework to understand the problem and how the potential solutions may work. Without this evaluation process it would be difficult for the group to formalize potential avenues for solving problems. 

Harvey, S. & Kou, C. (2013). Collective engagement in creative tasks: the role of evaluation in the creative process in groups. Administrative science quarterly, 58 (3). 

Nemeth, C. (1997) ‘Managing innovation: When less is more. California Management Review, 40 (Fall): 59–74.

Paletz, S., and Schunn, C. (2010). ‘A social-cognitive framework of multidisciplinary team innovation. Topics in Cognitive Science, 2: 73–95.