High-Speed Problem Solving
We need to develop strong, robust problem-solving skills not just for a few technical experts, but for every person in our organization and every student in school. I think that the only sustainable competitive advantage any company can have is the ability of its people to sense, define, and solve problems more and more quickly.
Why do I think problem solving is so important?
Because it’s not about the problem, it’s about the learning.
The way we learn begins with a very linear, accumulative process where we first gain basic knowledge that we may or may not understand fully. In this knowledge phase, someone might share a set of facts with us and we should be able to repeat these facts back to the teacher or to someone else. Knowledge is the first level of learning.
Next, if we place enough value on those facts to spark continued interest, we will seek to understand more about them. Understanding is the second level of learning.
If we value and understand what someone is sharing with us, it will actually change our behavior as we start to apply what we know. The only way we can tell if someone has actually learned something is in their behavior. Application is the third level of learning.
In the application of any task, because the environment is never absolutely stable, we can expect to encounter problems. A problem is anything that happens that we didn’t expect to happen. Here’s where our learning changes.
At higher levels of learning, we don’t continue on a nice linear, accumulative path. Three mental activities work in a series of rapid cycles as we analyze what we’ve experienced, evaluate what that means, and create something new. Whatever we create has to be analyzed and evaluated and usually adjusted.
I think the true secret for solving tomorrow’s problems isn’t to anticipate any specific problem but rather to prepare the organization and the workforce for anything. If we can sense a problem coming; if we can see when it actually begins to impact us; and if we have people who know how to think critically and face the hard facts about what they see, then we'll be able to respond nearly immediately.
We may not get it right the first few times, but with a culture that is willing to try anything and persist, we’re more likely to get to an effective solution much more quickly that those who are more protective of the status quo.
A culture like that is characterized by high self-efficacy among its people. High self-efficacy translates to a willingness to try new things and persist through failure. Solving tomorrow’s problems depend on this, so we need to start building that today. It isn’t hard, but it does require focused leadership. The Lean tools we already use—systems like 5S, Standardized Work, and Training Within Industry (TWI)—work best when all leaders fully understand the tools’ underlying, developmental intent.
Remember, problem solving is less about finding a solution to a particular problem and more about creating a capable and engaging workplace culture.
2021 Continuous Improvement Conference
The 2021 Continuous Improvement Conference (Aug. 22-24 in Columbus, Ohio) is the only industry event focused on helping printing and converting companies achieve operational excellence and Lean leadership. Attendees directly link reduced costs, lowered waste, and increased profit margins to ideas gained from conference presentations and networking. To learn more about the event, visit ci.printing.org.
Every company should be looking for practical ways to reduce operational costs, speed throughput, and boost customer experience and satisfaction. PRINTING United Alliance’s CI Ready! virtual conference event (April 19–22) features four sessions presented over four days that focus on foundational principles and tools for implementing a continuous improvement program. To learn more, click here.
David Veech, CEO of Leadersights, is the author of three books: Leadersights: Creating Great Leaders Who Create Great Workplaces, The C4 Process: Four Vital Steps to Better Work, and his latest book, High Speed Problem Solving. For over 30 years, Veech has carefully studied leadership and work systems, looking for practical strategies his students or clients can effectively apply. He’s a retired Army officer and has taught on the faculty at four prestigious universities. He has built two successful international consulting firms whose clients include the U.S. Postal Service, Owens Corning, Rolls-Royce, the Arizona Department of Economic Security, and Nationwide Insurance.