Problem Solving WHYOver the last few years I have found myself time and time again working with organisations that just don’t get “Problem Solving”

What I mean is they invest millions of pounds and dollars into understanding lean techniques and into problem solving methodologies, even more into six sigma programs and yet their problem solving capabilities is still relatively ineffective. They still have many repeat problems and there is a continual tendency to want to “FIX” the problem, of course everyone wants to fix the problem, but what I mean is they want to instantly fix the problem to make it go away without the work to understand the problem.

In my 30 odd years of being in organisations continually needing to solve problems effectively, including a good few years at Toyota, I have learned the psychology of “solving problems” and it is almost 180 degrees away from how most people look at and attack problem solving.

 Systematic Problem Solving

I was taught at Toyota that problems are gems or diamonds, opportunities to understand the process and to improve how we work. This is a simplistic way of looking at problems, some people get this but many don’t. They think it is just a management speak for learning to be happy solving problems. Whilst we did learn a very effective method of investigating problems, by breaking down the problem into sections of learning (Seven Step Method) and then funnelling the learning into discovering the root cause through a 5 why analysis, there was little to shift our emotional relationship with the word and concept of a problem being a pain.

 Think of the word problem, or think of a problem you are experiencing and what is the emotion that comes up for you…….It is discomfort for most people, a desire to get away from the problem, it is pain, and it distances you from what you think is the ideal situation that you want. The problem with Problem Solving is exactly that, the statement of problem solving. When you think of, or are immersed in a problem you immediately think of a gap from perfection or a standard. This does not create the right mind-set nor environment for understanding and wanting to take time discovering about the problem. It creates an instant desire to make it go away, this in turn drives solution thoughts and ideas, without constructive analysis or investigation and even those who have learned how to solve problems in a methodical way still try and fit the analysis around the solutions they have already had.

We were trained at Toyota to approach every problem with an open mind, with no preconceived ideas of a solution, but this is very hard for humans to do. Humans use both sides of their brain very differently. Their right side is fast thinking, creative and visionary brain that wants to jump immediately to pictures and ideas. The left side of the brain is logical, analytical, but also much slower in its thinking speed, it makes connections and relationships with data, but this takes time.

Because of our fast thinking right brain, creating pictures and images of the solution, there is an instinctive drive to find a solution quickly (this also leads to us thinking we are experts because we can find solutions quickly….. but are they solutions?????). We don’t want to be slowed down by logical left brain thinking that takes time to analyse and investigate the unknown variables around the phenomena of the “problem” or situation. This slowing down of thinking and analysis takes practice and repeated coaching / mentoring that does not accept a next step or progressing towards a potential solution, without someone fully comprehending the previous learning step of how the system is working.

The best way to approach this with a problem solving team, is to NEVER accept any solution without the evidence and deductive reasoning that the root cause has been proven.

Most people are not in problem understanding mode when they are trying to fix something they are in what I call Troubleshooting mode, trying out solutions until they find one that seems to fit.

Problems will always happen when we don’t understand how a system works nor the variables that cause a process or procedure to fail. Real problem solving happened when we focus our attention onto learning about the problem and how it works, so that we understand it to the point of truly discovering the root cause.

When people I have coached and taught about the psychology of problem learning, start to shift their mind-set to one of learning and understanding about the phenomena of problems, their problem solving starts to become increasingly effective.

True Problem Solving is Systems Thinking and you will only know you have created a root cause solution, when you understand WHY the problem occurred.

Think about this…….When you really know how a problem works… the real solution is easy to find.

Problem Solving WHY

I can honestly say that I love problem learning, I love the idea of problems and finding out how they work. I would even go so far as to say, I would not like to be in an environment that has no problems, since this would mean my learning about systems and phenomena has become stagnant.

If you want to know more about the Psychology of Problem Learning and Understanding Phenomena or Systems Thinking, contact me at