By Linda Fisher Thornton
Leading responsibly requires that we use long-term thinking, consider our impact on a wide variety of constituents, and avoid using outdated thinking to solve problems. Cause-and-effect thinking and short-term thinking not only won’t solve systemic problems, they can do more harm than good.
Taking Our Thinking Up a Notch
How can we tackle tough problems responsibly? Looking at them in great detail doesn’t usually help us solve them unless we also think broadly enough to make the puzzle as a whole become clearer. In this post, I’ll talk about strategies that help us move from one level of thinking to another. It may be necessary to use all of them (and more) when solving particularly complex problems:
- broadening our thinking
- lengthening our time orientation
- looking at systems and connections
- considering patterns
Broadening Our Thinking
Connected systems don’t stop at the boundaries of a discipline. If our research stops there, we won’t get a clear picture of most problems. We need to step back, broaden our thinking, and take in the scope of the whole problem. It is this broader level of thinking that is needed to help solve today’s complex, interconnected problems. Seeking information across knowledge areas provides a clearer, richer picture.
Lengthening Our Time Orientation
Lengthening our time orientation can help us see past our short-term assumptions about the problem. Questions we might explore include: What will happen in 10 years, 25 years, or 100 years if this problem continues? Will it worsen over time? How? What other seemingly unrelated trends will impact this problem over that same time period?
Looking at Systems, Connections and Patterns
A systems view notices relationships and intersections, not just independent parts and functions. It considers the unintended consequences and long-term impact of decisions in addition to the short-term benefits to the leader and the company.
If we don’t look at the systems that are connected with the problem, we can easily oversimplify (take the easy way out) or over-solve the problem (sometimes doing more harm than good). Staying current as the world changes and keeping our thinking skills sharp helps us lead responsibly. It is especially important when we are leading or teaching others.
Resources for Learning
Over 50 Problem-Solving Strategies Explained, John Malouff, Ph.D., J.D., University of New England, une.edu.au
“Dial It Back” (Oversolving Problems Can Be Unethical, Linda Fisher Thornton, Leading in Context Blog
Problem-Solving Skills: Start Here!, MindTools.com
Leading in a Systems World, Linda Fisher Thornton, Leading in Context Blog
Wicked Problems: Problems Worth Solving, Jon Kolko, in Stanford Social Innovation Review, ssireview.org
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