Strategies for Dealing with Complex Problems

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The complexity of the world around us has increased considerably. All of us not only cope with the immense complexity around us every day, but we thrive in it. We have developed sophisticated internal mechanisms to enable us to do so. However, when it comes to dealing with complexity in business context, very often we find ourselves using methods and vocabulary from the past. In this blog, I will explain three strategies that are crucial for dealing with complex problems. But first off, for the sake of common understanding let’s define what complex problems are. Complex problems are characterized by a large number of interacting variables and a large number of unknowns, and we cannot convert them into determinate problems in a feasible time frame. The three strategies that help us design our way out of complex problems are as follows:

Framing
Old management textbooks tell us that the first step to solving a problem is to ‘define’ it. But as we see from its definition, we cannot actually ‘define’ a complex problem. Instead, we ‘frame’ a workable problem out of a complex situation. One notable difference between framing and defining is that, unlike defining, framing has a personal angle to it, which means a designer or a team frame a problem based on their worldview, and there is no absolute right or wrong. The below video underlines the importance of framing in dealing with complex problems.

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Design Thinking: A Multifaceted Paradigm

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“Design” and “Thinking” are two words as ordinary as words can be. But put together, the term design thinking has perhaps been interpreted in more ways than there are special clauses in the constitution of European Union! Often it seems that people tried to paint design thinking as it should be (the design thinking processes/methods), rather than trying to understand what it really is. Of all the definitions of design thinking I have seen so far, I personally find the following to be the most appropriate – ‘Design thinking stands for design-specific cognitive activities that designers apply during the process of designing’.

When one sees so much buzz about design thinking, one wonders – Why the term design thinking has become so popular, while corresponding terms from other disciplines, such as, accounting thinking, engineering thinking, music thinking, don’t even exist? Don Norman provides a good answer in his article, Rethinking Design Thinking:

“What we call design thinking is practiced in some form or other by all great thinkers, whether in literature or art, music or science, engineering or business. But the difference is that in design, there is an attempt to teach it as a systematic, practice-defining method of creative innovation. It is intended to be the normal way of proceeding, not the exception.”

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