Problem solving is something we all face in business. Having a good model and process is important. Building a framework that ensures consistency and thoroughness is important. Organizations, as well as individuals may struggle at times on problem solving. Some may make decisions by the seat of their pants. Others may take too long or try to decide through consensus. A smart man once said that a good decision and a bad decision generally take an equal amount of time. Even with a process some decisions may not work out as planned, but good planning can minimize the effect of how a decision plays out in execution. One method of decision-making is using a baseball diamond and labeling the plates of the baseball diamond for each step of the process.
Home plate:Home plate is important in baseball because it is where you start from. So this becomes the foundation of your problem solving. Everything else builds on top of the foundation that you set, so establishing your foundation is very important. In addition, Home Plate is important because in baseball it is not only where you start, but if successful it is also where you finish. This is why in the beginning stages I suggest organizations and individuals use Values & Principles at home plate. Setting, having and living your values and principles are very important in building and maintaining a successful organization. This is what your employees see, carry forward and appreciate about your organization. Your customers should feel the same, and in a sense, they are the fans of your baseball diamond. So with Values & Principles at Home Plate, if you are successful, you start and finish with the same Values & Principles. What a good test to measure your decisions and plans against.
First Base: A very strong recommendation for using this model, is to list at firstbase one key item that is a consistent flaw in the individual or team using the diamond in past decisions. If in the past they did not look at data, or possibly did the opposite and tried to have too much data which paralyzed making any decision, then that is what you want to list at First Base. In my book, Shortcuts Get You Lost I use the example of “Anger” because the subject in the book making the decisions, had past problems making rash decisions out of anger. The purpose of listing this as First Base is to address it up front. Being honest about the issue allows you to be cognizant of the issue and then allows you to take steps to make sure that issue is not part of the decision moving forward. It is suggested that you, as the decision-maker, include key personnel that you are trying to address and correct this issue and ask them for their assistance. Once you know you have settled this issue before getting into the decision, you can move on to Second Base.
Second Base: Second base is defining the situation to clearly understand what needs addressing and what the ultimate goal is. Labeling Second Base as “Problems & Opportunities” helps to define that whatever brought the need for this issue to be solved, is that if done correctly problems can then become opportunities. The ultimate goal is to take the problem and move it to where it is an opportunity and others learn from the problem and know how to recognize it and avoid it. The keys to Second Base and the steps are:
- Define the problem, challenge and then decide what the goal should be.
- What is the challenge?
- What do you really want achieved?
- Information & Insight
- What do I know?
- What do I think I know? (Educated assumptions)
- Others’points of view. (Not a survey, but trusted advisors)
- Alternatives & Consequences
- What are the choices?
- What choices do I have? (For the business and the customer)
- Choose, Plan & Do
- What is the best choice?
- What is the best plan?
- Post evaluation
- Success, failure or adjustments needed.
- Are things better or worse?
- Did we create an opportunity or close one?
- Will this meet our needs over time?
- What have we learned?
Third Base: Knowledge & Change is Third Base. Knowledge is defined as “understanding gained through experience or study.” So by walking through the steps and rounding the bases we have allowed the knowledge of the process to change us in our weaknesses and in our decision-making process. Each time we follow the process and work on what we have on First Base, we allow the knowledge learned on each opportunity to change us, and the process becomes more automatic. As mentioned, a good decision and a bad decision take the same amount of time.
Below is an excerpt from my book, Shortcuts Get You Lost. In the fable,the interviewer is being shown this model by Mr. Anthony who works for the title character Mr. Scott. Mr. Anthony has a problem with Anger, so he list First Base as Anger and Danger, realizing the danger in making a decision in anger.
Shortcuts Get You Lost!
“Mr. Scott had just taken over. At that time, I was stubborn and blind in my anger. Mr. Scott confronted me and patiently talked with me. In my stubbornness I made the statement that we shouldn’t be challenged with those circumstances again. Mr. Scott replied, ‘Challenge is a part of growth. If we wish not to grow, then we’ll eliminate those challenges. If we choose to grow, then we’ll be faced with challenges. I believe we grow or we die. I choose to grow. We should never stay stagnant. What we must do is find a way to best meet our challenges.’”
“What was that way?” I queried.
“Mr. Scott was patient. It was me who did not accept responsibility. I told Mr. Scott that we couldn’t be blamed as we had done our best. He simply said, ‘I’m not here to blame, I’m here to fix. As we fix, we’ll discover reasons why things occurred as they did. Failure isn’t falling down. Failure is staying down. If your failure is derived from effort, then let’s just define a better way to utilize that effort.’ Mr. Scott went through a method to make decisions. He learned it long ago from a counselor on behavior modification who used it to teach troubled youth their decision-making process in life. Ultimately that’s our objective: to make the right decisions. It’s a universal decision-making process. We don’t need to shy away from challenges and decisions. We want to improve the way we go about them. We do not look back in anger or forward in fear. We need to look around in awareness.”
“What is the process?” I asked.
“It’s really basic. Number one is defining the problem or challenge and our goal. We ask, what is the problem or challenge? Then we ask, what do we really want? In this example, our challenge was that we were short on our service side to keep up with our sales challenge. We defined what was needed, a service. Our goal was a successful service with a satisfied client. We used a chalkboard when going through the process. After a while, it became natural to staff.
“The next step is information and insight. We ask and define: what do I know? We also make assumptions: what do I think I know? This has proved a valuable step. Another question that I never considered was others’ points of view. I’m not talking about taking a survey, but for me, it’s my staff. Occasionally it’s Mr. Scott’s or another employee’s. Other’s points of views have many times added value to our decision. On our failure example, I had another point of view given that I simply did not consider. That view had value.”
“Apply this step to your example, please,” I requested.
“What I knew is what service was needed. I also knew our service side personnel capabilities. When it comes to our assumption, well, we made no assumptions of our associate’s capabilities. Had we made assumptions, we would have looked a little closer at our scheduling of our service personnel. You see, we had one of our service personnel who would have been perfect for that service need. Because we made no assumptions, we simply did not look at this. The associate we hired simply could have covered the service that this employee was assigned to, as it was a much more basic service. I have to admit I probably didn’t consider it because I really didn’t want to change my schedule. Foolish pride is what that was. Pride is a real killer.”
“Well, what about others’ points of view you mentioned?” I asked.
“The sales person who helped create the challenge, which was really an opportunity, made a suggestion in considering that alternative. I was close-minded to others’ points of view, so I never even looked at it. I simply thought my job was to just cover the service. I thought I did my job. Looking back, I see things more clearly.
“That’s valuable. Are there more steps?” I queried.
“Yes, the next step is to choose, plan, and do. We have our choices. Now we ask, what’s my best choice? We also ask, what’s my best plan? You see, once we make our choice, the plan is how we are going to implement and execute. Both questions must be considered.
“The final stage is to evaluate. We need to evaluate on successes and on failures. On each we learn and improve. So we ask, what was my goal? I know we asked that in step one, but we ask again. Human nature can tend to change the answer to meet our needs or the decision we made. Ultimately the goal should be the same as in step one. If it changed, it usually means we compromised. We ask, are things better or worse? Did we create an opportunity or close one? That’s important to know. Another question is, will this meet our needs over time? In other words, were our decisions ones that we can stand on for future decision-making? This is what helps build solid decision-making. Finally, we ask ourselves, what have I learned? Hopefully we learned our successes can teach us, but our failures we must learn from so we can conquer and eliminate. Too many people believe you only have to get yourself up after a failure, but if you don’t take it through this process, the failure was in vain. We must ask, what have I learned?”