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Management: perspective and practice
Management: perspective and practice

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4.4 Solving a problem

As a manager, you will have to tackle many problematic issues, especially if you and/or your team are dealing with change. Sometimes you will address the issues yourself. Sometimes you will get others to do it, and your role will be to create the conditions for them to do so effectively. Either way, you will do it better if you have a good feel for what problem solving involves.

You will also be faced with ‘problems’ in the course of your management learning – both the tasks you are set explicitly, as part of assignments and study activities, and the more individual challenges that you personally encounter in the course of your learning journey.

The term ‘problem solving’ is widely used by managers and in the literature. But there are many other terms (e.g., ‘opportunity finding’) that convey very different shades of meaning, some of which may well be much more suitable for your purposes. For instance, often:

  • What you are tackling is not a ‘problem’ in the ‘something-has-gone-wrong’ sense, but a concern, an opportunity, a new direction or an improvement. It may be about ‘pursuing good things’ rather than ‘fixing bad things’
  • The main activity is not ‘solving’ but exploring, defining, resolving, bypassing, reframing, managing, etc.
  • It is not a single, discrete problem, but a densely interconnected part of a huge web of issues and concerns that change and develop over time and may transform in appearance depending on your viewpoint.

When you find yourself in a situation that calls for some kind of analysis or action, see which terms provides the best and most helpful frame for your thinking. For instance, some people find it helpful to reframe ‘problems’ as ‘opportunities’ or ‘challenges’ – for them these more open frames may feel exciting and optimistic – while others may find the neutral language of ‘issues’ and ‘concerns’ more helpful. Each of the many different terms for this area creates its own metaphor for what is involved, and suggests its own, slightly different, ways of working.