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Collaboration.3 -- 7 Barriers to problem-solving skill development


A problem is a discomfort in our minds. Our brain continuously constructs a model of reality using sensory data and the material available in our memory. We name this model a problem when we feel uncomfortable with it. Different minds model the same reality in different ways. As a result, some people are not disturbed by a situation, whereas others see it as a problem. The problem is always in our brains, never outside, even though it relates to others.

We can't solve the problems in our brain by throwing the solution responsibility onto someone else. Therefore, sentences like "They don't take the responsibility" barely help. The only way to see the barriers to the solution is to take accountability for the solution.

Internal barriers (personal):

1. Desires, beliefs, and emotions: 

Our brains are wired to satisfy our desires to become happy. Our desires and beliefs affect our thoughts. Thoughts affect feelings. In the end, we mostly make our decisions according to our feelings. Can we rely on our feelings? They change in time.

2. Lack of a reliable method: The evolution of complex problems at the workplace is always human-related. Therefore, knowledge, scientific thinking, and problem-solving skills we acquire at schools don't work in real-life without experience. We develop our problem-solving style as we live. Our experience accumulates and settles as our beliefs regarding good/bad, right/wrong. We honor rational thinking, but we rely on our beliefs when we decide. This way of thinking becomes a habit in time and moves scientific thinking away.

3. Cognitive biases: Our brains are excellent connection machines. A brain faces no difficulty in filling the blanks to construct a complete model of reality, even in the absence of enough sensory data. This marvelous skill enables us to make quick decisions and survive under life-threatening conditions. However, the brain uses this skill also in important but not urgent situations. We make mistakes so quickly.

In the past, reaching information was a time-consuming task. We were meticulous in collecting relevant data. We had time to analyze the data by critical thinking and to develop solutions that prevent the recurrence of the problems. Today we can reach more information than we need, so quickly. Knowing where the data is, creates an illusion as if we know the essence of that information. This illusion amplifies the already existing illusion of feeling like "I know so that I can do it." When we base our decisions on this fake self-confidence, we make mistakes that prevent us from reaching the root causes. Click here to have a look at the illuminating article written by Professor Bob Emiliani on the knowing-doing gap.

"Substituting knowing for doing has given birth to "Lean intellectualism," an over-emphasis on thinking and under-emphasis on doing, which includes the ability to speak fluently about Lean management but without ever actually having done anything of significance. How many people have created a flow line? How many people have made small improvements to a process every day for five or ten years?" Bob Emiliani.

4. Unawareness of how the brain works: How does the mind work? Philosophers have investigated this problem for at least 2.500 years, and cognitive psychologists did for 60 years. Today, we have user manuals for extremely sophisticated equipment. Unfortunately, we don't have one for our most precious asset, the brain. Developments in neuroscience in the last ten years are promising to end this helplessness. Undoubtedly, these discoveries will be combined with behavioral psychology and management theories and will arrive at the workplace by training. However, we may lose some more decades if we wait that day. Click here to learn from David Bovis, why the process-driven approach to continuous improvement is bound to failure.

External barriers (Social):

Don't think that external barriers are outside of us, as it discourages our accountability. External barriers are not out; they are in the interface of our minds looking outer world.

1. Different minds work instantly under different forces:

Internal barriers that we listed above act on every mind. Yet, every mind is affected instantly by different factors of different magnitudes, depending on its unique internal and external conditions. Two friends who solved a problem effectively may fail to address a more straightforward problem when they come together next week. Interconnecting their minds and thus creating collaboration becomes harder if they are unaware of the factors acting on their minds now.

2. Culture: 

Change comes after the will. The role of workplace culture is huge in triggering the will of employees to develop collaborative PS skills. Managers who know that some complex problems can't be solved with individual efforts, also know that weak collaboration is the root cause of such complex problems, which are mostly human-related. The ineffective collaboration covers harmful behaviors that dampen the will.


3. Group psychology: 

Fear of social rejection forces human beings to behave in conformity with group norms. We tend to compromise our beliefs and rational thinking to gain or, mostly, not to lose the acceptance of the group. And, every compromise makes the next one easier. Breaking this infinite loop which kills critical thinking, and thus creativity is possible only if the leader values scientific thinking. Leaders who feel uncomfortable with their critical thinking ability, often create fear through excessive control, which pushes brains from productive to defensive working mode.

How can we make collaborative problem-solving, the business practice, like it is in Toyota?

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At LeanOpex, we provide analysis and mentoring services for high-performance culture development. Our approach conforms to Toyota Way principles and practices.

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