Sometimes the question is not “how do we solve this problem?” but “what is the actual problem?” Some six sigma minded types would tell you that the first step to solving any problem is diagnosing it properly. They are not wrong, but that way of phrasing can be a bit misleading. I am not talking about problems that need a little fishbone diagramming and some root cause analysis. What I am talking about is the situation we find when ambiguity surrounds an issue – when you are not even sure what direction the solution should lie in.
It may be easier to think through an example. Imagine looking at a changing industry (perhaps insurance, banking or even long haul trucking) and being tasked with answering the question “what do we do next with product A”. Now mix in a little bit of “by the way, product A will not be profitable in 3 years and may not even exist in 5 years” and some “it is part our core business.”
How do you begin approaching this problem? Maybe some data analysis? Maybe some expert consultants? Hold some innovation tournaments?
I think before those questions there is actually a more urgent and arguably more important issue that needs to be addressed – who do we want doing this work? When ambiguity arises, who leads us through the fog? I would propose the leaders needed in these situations are comfortable setting strategic direction without need to build an edifice of system. What the leader needs is an agile mind and the ability to act on an informed opinion. Or as I have titled this, a quick wit and a strong point of view.