Systems Thinking – The Problem with “Problem Solving”

I personally have a problem with the term “problem solving”. Let me explain it to you. First problem — whenever we deliver problem solving training for organizations people have a very difficult time organizing their thoughts into a problem. If you take a problem and look at it as current situation, future or better situation, and the gap between the two, then you have defined your problem in a way that will allow you to improve the situation.

The other problem I have with problem solving is the word “solving.” Solving implies a total solution – a “fix it once and for all” mindset. In Lean we look not to solve or attain a perfect state. Instead we look to make measurable and cost effective progress towards an ideal state. We look for intermediary desirable states and balance out the costs of getting there against the gains in the situation that this better state will provide.

Even though I have issues with the term “problem solving”, and much prefer the term “continuous improvement”, problem solving is so well known and so accepted in organizations that we will accept the term. But please understand, when we use the term problem solving we really mean continuous improvement and making progress towards a better state.


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