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Jason Furness


Purposeful Problem Solving

Practical tools are useless without these three drivers

Published: Tuesday, January 19, 2016 - 17:37

We all have problems in life, in business, everywhere. Many of us have “solving problems” as the key component of our daily roles. Management and any form of supervision only exist in order to help solve problems. If problems disappeared, a great many of the structures within our businesses and society would be unnecessary.

“Life is not a continuum of pleasant choices, but of inevitable problems that call for strength, determination, and hard work.”
—Indian proverb

Our goal in solving a problem shouldn’t be just to solve it for today. Our goal should be to provide lasting solutions, not so we can become problem-free (this just won’t happen), but so we can move on to solve other, more important and valuable problems and continue to upgrade the value of our organization.

Organizational problem solving tends to focus on the hard technical and practical techniques used to develop solutions to problems. Solid analytical training in Six Sigma techniques, data analysis, and financial reporting are taught, trained, and deployed continuously in most organizations. Many detailed techniques for engineering analysis, simulation, and testing consume millions of dollars and thousands of hours in order to solve problems.

The practical, technical component of problem solving is well established and well served in the literature.

Purposeful problem solving

Less well documented but arguably more vital when we are looking to solve organizational problems is the “purposeful” aspect of problem solving. This is a more complex, subtle, and highly individual set of drivers that can massively accelerate or stifle any problem-solving or change process. Without this purposeful aspect, any practical solution that’s put in place will inevitably decay and collapse.

Three foundational aspects of purposeful problem solving

The quality of persistence is one of the keys to any endeavor. No activity has lasted without persistence from the people involved and a high degree of quality in the persistence they display in their leadership. Look to strengthen your own ability to persevere as well as the perseverance of those around you.

Resourcefulness is the quality that allows people to innovate new solutions from the same materials and practices that have been the norm in the past, like the creating a bamboo life raft that allows a shipwrecked survivor to escape a desert island. Developing the “mental muscle” of resourcefulness is key to lasting problem solving. Look beyond the superficial fix of symptoms to get to the innovative fix that deals with the root cause.

“They are usually things that people wouldn’t think of doing, and all of them require imagination and resourcefulness.”
—Molly Huffman

Without a purpose or a compelling reason, you won’t get enthusiasm and true deep commitment from employees. At best you’ll get compliance. People who don’t have a reason that makes sense to them won’t give their all, and in many cases will actively resist your efforts. Individuals will bring their different purposes to a problem and usually behave in order to achieve their purpose. Build a purpose for your actions. Inspire others by linking to their purpose with your cause.

First published on the Manufacturship blog.


About The Author

Jason Furness’s picture

Jason Furness

Jason Furness, CEO and founder of Manufacturship, is an executive coach who provides lean manufacturing training and lean consulting in a pragmatic, hands-on way that gets clients results in a fast and sustainable manner. Furness oversees the development and delivery of Manufacturship’s curriculum, leads the mentoring of business owners and managers, and sponsors all client projects. During his 20-year career he has led 30 transformation projects for small and medium-sized enterprises. Furness is the co-author of Manufacturing Money: How CEOs Rapidly Lift Profits in Manufacturing (Amazon Digital Services, 2015).