Solving these problems requires an extensive toolkit of techniques, from triangulation to removing biases. These intermediate problem-solving techniques can help leaders cut out groupthink, use their team's wisdom, and spot biases in their decision-making process.
This article will teach you how to master intermediate problem-solving techniques and overcome biases in the process.
As the old saying goes, “It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble—it's what you know for sure that just ain't so.”
Making decisions without data or reasoning is a dangerous move for businesses. Thankfully, a technique called triangulation can help leaders avoid this. Triangulation is when multiple sources of information are used to arrive at an answer—increasing the likelihood of the answer being correct.
There are four main methods of Triangulation:
This triangulation approach relies on combining intuition and analytics.
A great example of this? Star Trek.
The ship's leader, Captain Kirk, based his decisions on intuition. However, his second in command, Mr. Spock, was grounded in logic analysis.
This combination of decision-making styles allowed the two to combine forces and make the best decisions for their team.
The next approach is using the wisdom of the crowds.
Picture this: A jar of M&Ms is placed in front of you, and you must guess the exact number in the jar.
James Surowiecki, a staff writer at the New Yorker who wrote a book on the wisdom of crowds, noticed a pattern when people try to guess the number of marbles in a jar. It's unlikely an individual will make an accurate guess. But, time and time again, the average guess of the number in the jar turns out to be amazingly accurate.
It's because the group feeds off each other's guesses and groups their knowledge until they find the right answer—proving there is wisdom in crowds.
Top-down thinking starts with the answer and builds out the details to confirm it, whereas bottoms-up thinking uses details to arrive at an answer.
Take the S&P 500, for example.
If you are trying to estimate annual returns for the index fund, its historical gains of 6-8% can be used to create a one-year forecast. This is an example of a top-down approach.
A bottoms-up approach would look at the 500 companies in the fund and estimate each share price in a year. That information would then be used to accurately forecast the entire index fund.
The final approach to triangulation is using multiple data sources.
Data is perfect for removing bias from decision-making. Some leaders like an internal team analysis or input from their leadership team. Others prefer expert interviews or external benchmarking to gather this data. Either way, using sources other than your own assumptions can help remove bias and arrive at a decision based on data.
When the iconic Sydney Opera House had its groundbreaking ceremony in 1959, it was a monumental feat.
The project had tons of moving parts, with hundreds of concrete pillars, ribs, and ceramic tile chevrons to piece together. New South Wales Premier Joseph Cahill set the project's budget at $215 million and gave it a timeline of just four years.
Unfortunately, the project fell victim to biases during the build, becoming one of the most disastrous project failures of all time. Instead of taking four years, it took fourteen. The $215 million budget also exploded into $3.1 billion—a 1,340% jump.
So, how could the project go so far off the rails?
The build fell prey to a cognitive bias called planning balancing. This is when systematic errors and thinking affect our decisions in the planning fallacy, and we believe everything will fall into place and follow a "best case" scenario.
Although this is just one bias among 18 to be aware of, knowing when they're creeping into your decision-making makes it easier to overcome them.
Biases are all around us, and there's a reason our brains gravitate towards them.
Humans love to take shortcuts when processing information and skip to conclusions. Or if there's too much data to process, we will fall back on what we think is true. We are also biased by our emotions, motivations, and memories.
Last but not least, the people around us can influence our thinking. When we listen to the opinions of others, it can stop us from thinking differently.
Biases can significantly impact our ability to make unbiased decisions. But if you know how to spot your biases, it's easier to challenge them. Here are 18 main biases you should be aware of:
⚡ Prezent Pro-Tip: To reduce or remove your biases, try these techniques:
Ajay Gupta has spent 30 years as a Senior Partner at McKinsey and Company.
Over the years, he has faced many problems and learned that asking the right question during the problem-solving process is half the battle.
Here are some of his best tips for simplifying problems so they're easier to solve.
Gupta always encourages clients to be curious and always ask themselves: what are the root causes for something, and what are the causal relationships between the different pieces?
Start with understanding the context of a question. Complex problems usually have multiple phases, so structuring them helps break them down into components and analyze them in detail.
Gupta says understanding causality and what happens when each piece gets impacted will help you see the bigger picture when figuring out the root cause of a problem.
Some types of problems have lots of data, and seeing patterns in the numbers is crucial.
Gupta says it's important to get to the insights and know what the numbers are telling you, which all come during the synthesis phase of solving a problem. Pull back and ask yourself, what is this structuring and analysis telling us? What are the big-picture messages? Have we tested different underlying assumptions?
Boiling down the data takes time, but the insights are more useful.
Every business is at risk of being paralyzed by poor decision-making and the inability to overcome internal biases.
The good news is these common problems can be caught early—and avoided—with the right techniques. Break down the problem, look for data, and challenge your existing assumptions. Then, use analytical approaches and lean on the wisdom of your team to get closer to an accurate answer.
Successful problem-solving takes time—but use these techniques to ensure the answer will always be the right one.