Do We Need Magical Traits Or A Paradigm Shift To Become Effective Problem Solvers?

Feb 18, 2014 1 Min Read

How wonderful it would be if we were able to use magic to simplify our lives, or eradicate problems? I can think of the wonderful uses for my wand that would dispense with house cleaning in the blink of an eye! No more traffic jams for me. I would simply disapparate at home and reapparate at work. Easy. I would magically craft solutions to numerous pressing problems, and I may even conjure up the Lamborghini that I have always wanted. Not to mention the total havoc I could wreck with a few well-executed spells in the office.

Whilst it may be fun to think that magic could solve many of our predicaments, or be the source of endless fun – we must also take cognisance of the fact that it is not just about the actual act of waving the wand, or the incantation of spells that solved many of Harry Potter’s plights! The most prevalent challenge throughout all the books is how to overcome Voldemort, and prevent the dark lord from amassing his powers to enhance the course of evil.

It might surprise you to know, that magic was not always the primary resource used to solve the puzzles, or overcome the challenges and obstacles faced by our beloved characters. If we examine a little deeper and analyse the three principle characters, we discover that they all possess different skills that contributed to the defeat of Voldemort and the Death Eaters!

Hermione always had her nose in the books. Not only was she the group’s primary source of information, she was also pragmatic, logical, and reasonable. They would have been hard pressed to fight and win, without her invaluable contributions. Ron infused values into the threesome, always ensuring that they were true to themselves, and the cause. He was honest, hardworking and prepared to go the extra mile, even if it meant sacrificing himself for the greater good of the team. He was also often the voice of caution.

Potter undoubtedly assumed the role of the undisputed leader. He was calm in the face of challenges and danger. He was courageous, brave and cared deeply for his friends, who constantly risked their lives to fight by his side. As you can see, these are not magical traits, but characteristics, that are indispensable to the successful and effective resolution of problems.

Research provides us with many methods to help us effectively solve problems. Essentially, they all comprise the following steps:

If it is so easy, why then do problem persist in most organisations? In my experience, following the steps in the diagram provided, do not pose the difficult part of the process.“If you cannot find the cause of the problem – you are not looking in the right place,” says Dr Johan Strumpfer, change management consultant.

Most people define learning too narrowly as merely problem solving. As a result, they focus on identifying and correcting errors in the external environment. However, if learning is to endure, managers and employees must also be prepared to look inward. They need to reflect critically on their own behaviour, and identify ways that they often inadvertently contribute to the organisations problems. The next step is to change the way the act.

In particular, they must learn that the very way that they go about defining and solving problems can be a source of problems in their own right. Christ Argyris in the Harvard Business Review of 1991 coined the phrase single and double loop thinking, in order to distinguish this crucial distinction.

Single loop thinking is where we treat the symptoms and correct errors in the external environment.

The actions taken in the above example fail to rectify the problem. IF we take a step back from this position, and redefine the problem, we may be able to achieve a different result. We need to introduce another loop to the process that goes back to address our INITIAL definition and assumptions instead of providing treatment for the symptoms. Is the product suitable for the target market? Is it correctly priced, advertised, and packaged? Sometimes it is easier to “blame” the sales team, rather than admit that there may be other reasons for the failure.

In terms of the double loop thinking technique that was introduced here, we can see that the problem was not defined accurately in our first exercise. Initially we defined the problem as an under-achievement of the sales target. As a result, all the initial actions that sought to rectify the situation at this level of definition failed. Once the original assumptions about the product were challenged, it was discovered that the pricing, packaging and positioning of the product were not appropriate to attract the attention of the target audience.  Once actions were taken to rectify the source of the problem – a successful resolution was achieved.

Although a simple methodology, the challenge is always to question how and why we think about situations and circumstances the way that we do. We become prisoners of the system that we operate in, as we believe it to be correct.

We are also prisoners of our own thinking. We seldom question the challenges that we face at source level, and as a result, we are often caught in a feedback loop of action and reaction that never delivers a solution.

Changing our paradigms, looking inward and challenging our initial assumptions is difficult in practise. We are often trapped in a situation in the first place because of the way that we think about it.

When Potter discovered that he could speak Slitherin, he had the maturity to question himself and his motives at a deep level. He wanted to double check that his assumptions about himself and his actions were not aligned to the dark side due to the discovery that he shared similar abilities with Voldemort. In many of the situations that our characters find themselves in, they have to delve deeper than what merely confronts them.

The three headed dog, Horcruxes, ridiculously huge spiders, secret rooms, memory traps, strange mirrors, diaries and weird text books all have histories and characteristics and need to be understood from alternate angles before they allow their mysteries to be unlocked. It was never a simple, one-dimensional problem, and the resolution often involved the “double-loop” process discussed here.

In the course of solving problems in our lives, be they of a personal or professional nature, we all need to pause, reflect, and examine our motives. We need to question why we think and believe the things that we do.

We must constantly challenge our mental models to ensure that we do not become stuck in negative or dated paradigms that inhibit our growth. If we can achieve this, we will be able to see the relevance of our limitations and hopefully free ourselves of this constrictive thinking. This will enable us to deal more effectively with the many challenges and opportunities that come our way.

Problem-solving can be like Potter’s magic. It is elusive, awe-inspiring and thrilling to experience. Believe it or not, we all have the power to create that same magic if we dare to tap into our own unlimited potential. Be willing to challenge your current thinking pattern, perceptions, and behaviours, to constantly create new platforms for growth and learning in your life.  And it may not hurt to believe in a little magic!

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