What Kind of Challenge Are You Facing?

Many of us can solve our everyday routine challenges. It may be completing a form or monthly report, or at home, it could be following a dinner recipe. However, many issues and problems life presents drift away from routine solutions. When faced with challenges on the far side of routine solutions, our critical thinking skills are vital to finding the resolutions we need. In On Becoming a Critical Thinker, I discuss the difference between a technical problem and an adaptive problem. I credit Ronald Heifetz for making this critical distinction.

Regarding routine challenges, we know the solution, take the steps to complete the task, and check it off our to-do list. It will take time and energy and, in some cases, may take time away from what we want to do. Yet the end is in sight, and we can move along.

The adaptive problems are complex and seldom resolve through a cookie-cutter approach. It requires us to dive deeper into the situation. Beyond developing a deeper understanding, we must remain open to learning and adapting to find an approach and strategy. There are usually multiple paths to take to arrive at a solution. These numerous paths can sometimes cloud our judgment and the need to balance this with effectiveness and efficiency.

Caution: What May Be a Solution Today Can Be Tomorrow’s Problem
Karl Weick provided the example of Stanly Cup playoffs in Buffalo. The National Hockey League extended the number of teams, resulting in a longer season, playoffs in the spring, and exhibition games in the fall. Games occurred in warmer weather for the first time, and hockey rinks were not ready to address warm air and ice. The league’s expansion was a good idea and likely increased overall revenues. However, no one anticipated the fog rising from the ice. During the playoff game in Buffalo, exhausted athletes reported that the fog not only impacted their vision but also smelled like gas. The hockey players skated around the rink to clear the vapors away to make the fog rise. Weick referred to this as long chains of causality because what once appeared as a solution now caused a new set of problems.

Final Thoughts
Begin with defining the problem and recognizing is technical or adaptive.
Recognizing the distinctions between adaptive and technical problems helped me approach problem-solving more effectively. It allows for the appropriate allocation of resources, the development of adaptive capacities, and the adoption of suitable problem-solving strategies. When we address adaptive problems effectively, we see a broader impact involving multiple stakeholders with diverse perspective due to the complexity of an adaptive problem.
All of these require critical thinking. That is why I invite you to read my book On Becoming a Critical Thinker: Awakening Your Business Superpower.

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