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Complex Problem Solving

09 January 2018 by Mr. Ron Vonk

Complex problem solving skills are listed to be the most important skills for professionals in the 21st Century, according to the World Economic Forum. In every business the increase of complexity can be recognised. The good news is, the ability to solve complex problems can be trained by learning how to use a few effective problem solving methods


Complex Problems

There are several definitions for complex problems. Perhaps the most practicle is the next one: we don’t get it or don’t have control over it. Most of the times, complexity is a consequence of changing context, multiple (unknown) causes, multiple effects or risks, multiple parties being involved, lacking, wrong or fake information, etc. Talking about complex problems, we tempt to think about the rapid developments in technologies. Robotising, cloud computing, smart sensors, big data analytics, machine learning, IoT (the Internet of Things), etc., these are all development with huge potential for increasing performance. On the downside, beside a lost of specific jobs, these developments also have another consequence: the complexity is increasing. If something fails, it becomes more and more difficult to determine the cause(s).

Besides more complex problems because of further automation, there are many examples of other complex issues to solve in daily practice. Organisational issues, cooperational or communication issues, etc.  All these issues have one thing in common: there is or was a clear distinction between the norm or expectation and the actual situation.

Complexity of Solving Issues

When solving issues, pitfalls are more or less “classic”, regardless if the problem is technical, organisational or if it has to do with a “human error’:

  • The use of vague information, assumptions instead of facts or even “fake” information;
  • “Jumping to conclusions”, drawing conclusions about causes with “tunnel vision”, based on knowledge and experience instead of carefull analysis and fact checking;
  • “Jumping to solutions”, defining solutions or actions for improvement with a similar “tunnel vision’, without determining all causes first, to be certain which part of the problem will actually be taken care of with a certain action;
  • “Trial and error”, a continuation of “jumping to solutions” and in the attempt to solve an issue.

Besides these generic personal pitfalls while solving problems, there are a couple of other generic reasons why the process of solving problems becomes more and more complex as well:

  • The complexity of technologies and the pace in which they develop makes it already a challenge on a individual level to maintain the right level of expertice in a specific discipline. To solve complex problems, it is therefore needed to cooperate with a team of experts from different disciplines;
  • Outsourcing of certain discipline increases the amount of parties being involved with complex problems. With offshoring, the complexity increases also because of cultural differences;
  • Solving complex problems often is hindered by existing work relations and interests of parties Discussions sometimes tend to focus more on “who to blame” then to determine the real root causes.

A constructive cooperation and communication between (multi-cultural) parties to solve complex problems demands for a common language, a common and for everyone understandable and objective approach.

Methods for Complex Problem Solving

It doesn’t really matter if problems become more complex by themselves or if the process of solving problems becomes more complex. The conclusion will be the same: skills for complex problem solving is the key skill for a professional, now and in the near future

There are two training programs of PetroKnowledge where “best practice” methods for complex problem solving are shared with participants:

To find out more about PetroKnowledge, and enroll on one of our training programmes in Problem Solving, contact us here.

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