Problem solving & decision making


This site talks about strategic thinking applied to solving complex, ill-defined and non-immediate problems.

Complex problems have components that are opaque and/or interdependent. Ill-defined problems are those where the information to solve them, the solution state or the problem itself might not be clear. ‘Non-immediate’ means that you have at least a few days to solve your problem.

So CIDNI problems are large, challenging ones. Global CIDNI problems include the 21st Century Grand Challenges. Organizational ones include corporate strategic decisions. Examples of personal CIDNI problems include designing and conducting one’s doctoral dissertation or deciding whether to change careers.

Just like becoming a good tennis player, becoming an effective problem solver requires skills that you develop through forming habits. This site gives some guidelines to acquire these habits.

Structured problem solving in four steps

CIDNI problem solving is a four-step process that starts with defining the problem (ensuring you are not focusing on just a symptom or a less critical problem).

Second, you need to diagnose it; that is, understand its root cause(s), which we will do using a diagnostic issue tee / diagnostic map.

Next you need to identify all the potential solutions—using a solution issue tree /solution map (related to the better-known decision trees)—before deciding which one(s) to implement.

The final step is to execute the solution(s): convince the rest of your team/boss/client that the solution you selected is the right one, implement it, and monitor its effectiveness.

Use this site to your advantage

You can read the latest ideas on problem solving a decision making or jump to a specific key word by clicking in the margin on the left. In particular, you may want to have a look at how to be mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive (MECE) in your thinking. You may also want to read about how to build issue trees / decision trees or how to use logic to improve your thinking and communication.

The method described here relies on hundreds of peer-reviewed articles and books and other sources. It borrows ideas from many disciplines, including engineering, design, management, philosophy, medicine, psychology, and so on.

I’ve used this methodology on dozens of projects and coached people on hundreds more. Whether you are a business manager; a student starting a research project; a candidate to join one of the top strategy consultancies; an intelligence analyst; or anyone else facing complex, ill-defined problems, the tools in this website will help you.