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research on problem solving (e.g., March 1999) sup- ports the prescription that the quality of solutions can be significantly enhanced by considering multiple alterna- tives. Judgment and evaluation, therefore, must be post- poned so the first acceptable solution suggested is not the one immediately selected. The problem with evalu- ating and selecting an alternative too early is that we may rule out some good ideas by just not getting around to thinking about them. We hit on an idea that sounds good and we go with it, thereby never even thinking of alternatives that may be better in the long run.

Many alternative solutions should be produced before any of them are evaluated. A common problem in managerial decision making is that alternatives are evaluated as they are proposed, so the first acceptable (although frequently not optimal) one is chosen.

Some attributes of good alternative generation follow:

  • 1.

    The evaluation of each proposed alternative is postponed. All alternatives should be proposed before evaluation is allowed.

  • 2.

    Alternatives are proposed by all individuals involved in the problem. Broad participation in proposing alternatives improves solution qual- ity and group acceptance.

  • 3.

    Alternative solutions are consistent with orga- nizational goals or policies. Subversion and criticism are detrimental to both the organiza- tion and the alternative generation process.

  • 4.

    Alternatives take into consideration both short- term and long-term consequences.

  • 5.

    Alternatives build on one another. Bad ideas may become good ones if they are combined with or modified by other ideas.

  • 6.

    Alternatives solve the problem that has been defined. Another problem may also be impor- tant, but it should be ignored if it does not directly affect the problem being considered.

Evaluating Alternatives

The third problem-solving step is to evaluate and select an alternative. This step involves careful weighing of the advantages and disadvantages of the proposed alternatives before making a final selection. In select- ing the best alternative, skilled problem solvers make sure that alternatives are judged in terms of the extent to which they will solve the problem without causing other unanticipated problems; the extent to which all individuals involved will accept the alternative; the

extent to which implementation of the alternative is likely; and the extent to which the alternative fits within organizational constraints (e.g., is consistent with policies, norms, and budget limitations). Care is taken not to short-circuit these considerations by choosing the most conspicuous alternative without considering others. The classic description of the diffi- culty with problem solving, made almost 50 years ago, still remains as a core principle in problem solving (March & Simon, 1958):

Most human decision making, whether indi- vidual or organizational, is concerned with the discovery and selection of satisfactory alternatives; only in exceptional cases is it concerned with the discovery and selection of optimal alternatives. To optimize requires processes several orders of magnitude more complex than those required to satisfy. An example is the difference between searching a haystack to find the sharpest needle in it and searching the haystack to find a needle sharp enough to sew with.

Given the natural tendency to select the first satis- factory solution proposed, this step deserves particular attention in problem solving. Some attributes of good evaluation are:

  • 1.

    Alternatives are evaluated relative to an opti- mal, rather than a satisfactory standard.

  • 2.

    Evaluation of alternatives occurs systematically so each alternative is given due consideration. Short-circuiting evaluation inhibits selection of optimal alternatives.

  • 3.

    Alternatives are evaluated in terms of the goals of the organization and the individuals involved. Organizational goals should be met, but individual preferences should also be con- sidered.

  • 4.

    Alternatives are evaluated in terms of their probable effects. Both side effects and direct effects on the problem are considered.

  • 5.

    The alternative ultimately selected is stated explicitly. This can help uncover latent ambi- guities.

Implementing the Solution

The final step is to implement and follow up on the solution. A surprising amount of the time, people faced with a problem will try to jump to step 4 before having



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