3. Explore solutions

Choosing a solution – finding a lost dog

Frame, diagnose, explore, implement. This is all fine and well, you might be thinking, but how does this work in practice?

Well, dear reader, let’s look at a concrete case. Have you lost your dog? Here are some ideas that can help you find him/her. If not, this post might give you a more concrete idea of how to apply these tools, so read on!

When I teach strategic thinking, I often use a case to help students relate ideas to a concrete situation. The case is simple: One day, a friend of yours goes home and realizes that his dog—Harry—is missing. This is the very day that he has fired his housekeeper because of poor performance; the disgruntled housekeeper had blamed the dog for her performance and your friend suspects that she might have kidnapped him. He enlists you to help him find Harry. (The case is also a true story, Harry being my dog.)

After framing the problem and diagnosing it, we realize that the housekeeper has probably nothing to do with Harry’s disappearance. Instead, he has likely fled, maybe when the yard crew was mowing the lawn that afternoon. The next step is to identify solutions; that is, to find alternative answers to the question: How can we get our missing dog back?

To find a lost dog, don’t default mindlessly to searching the neighborhood. First, generate options…

Although it’s tempting to go straight into implementing a solution—say, searching the neighborhood—you will probably benefit from first generating various alternatives (see Verberne; Hammond et al.; Enders et al.). If you do, and use a question map to organize these alternatives, you might end up with something that looks like this:

A question map (also called “issue map”) showing alternative ways to recover a lost dog.

As part of your exploratory effort you can—and should—develop your question map into further detail, so that the ideas that you capture in the map are concrete ways forward. When you do, your full map will become much more expansive. Here’s mine: How should I recover my dog?

… only then, select the option(s) that you want to pursue

Only after you have considered alternatives should you decide which one(s) to pursue. To do so, formulate formal hypotheses, gather evidence, use that evidence to test the hypotheses, and conclude, for instance by using a simple multi-attribute rating technique.

Individual likelihood of success Timeliness Quickness of success Lack of setup time Cost Weighted score Ranking
Weight 0.3 0.4 0.2 0.05 0.05
H1: Searching the neighborhood 50 100 100 100 90 84.5 2
H2: Tracking Harry’s chip or ID tag
H3: Informing people likely to know about missing animals 100 100 80 100 100 96 1
H4: Posting virtual announcements 15 20 20 0 0 16.5 4
H5: Checking announcements 0 0 0 50 100 7.5 5
H6: Enabling Harry to come back on his own 30 90 100 100 100 75 3

Our analysis leads us to conclude that the first action we should take is to inform people likely to know about missing animals—i.e., expand the search party. These include pet associations, local vet offices, animal agencies and shelters, and the police and fire departments. Then we should search the neighborhood.

Note: As with all ill-defined problems, this solution is subjective, because it involves assigning weights to attributes according to personal preferences. That is, if you are reading this because your dog has disappeared, you may choose another prioritization and that one might be better given your circumstances and preferences. For instance, one analysis that looked at how 132 dog owners in Ohio had found their lost dogs showed that the most effective way to find a lost dog quickly (i.e., in less than a day) is through using his ID or license tag (39%) followed by calling or visiting an animal agency (30%) (Lord et al., 2007a).

In summary, irrespective of whether you’re looking for a lost dog or solving another problem, your process for choosing a solution should be a divergent-then-convergent pattern. First, consider various solutions, using a question map to help you explore that solution space. Only then evaluate these options to rank them / identify the one you prefer. That is, first, ideate. Then, evaluate.

References:

Chevallier, A. (2016). Strategic Thinking in Complex Problem Solving. Oxford, UK, Oxford University Press.

Hammond, J. S., et al. (2002). Smart choices: A practical guide to making better decisions, Random House.

Enders, A., et al. (2016). “Stop Jumping to Solutions!” MIT Sloan Management Review 57(4): 63.

Lord, L. K., et al. (2007a). “Search and identification methods that owners use to find a lost dog.” Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 230(2): 211-216.

Lord, L. K., et al. (2007b). “Search methods that people use to find owners of lost pets.” Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 230(12): 1835-1840.

Verberne, T. (1997). “Creative Fitness.” Training & Development.

Weiss, E., et al. (2012). “Frequency of lost dogs and cats in the United States and the methods used to locate them.” Animals 2(2): 301-315.

Image credit: Life-Of-Pix.

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