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definable, when relevant information is available, and when a clear standard exists against which to judge the correctness of a solution. The main tasks are to agree on a single definition, gather the accessible information, generate alternatives, and make an informed choice. But many managerial problems are not of this type. Definitions, information, alternatives, and standards are seldom unambiguous or readily available. In a complex, fast-paced, digital world, these conditions appear less and less frequently. Hence, knowing the steps in prob- lem solving and being able to implement them are not necessarily the same thing.

Problems such as discovering why morale is so low, determining how to implement downsizing with- out antagonizing employees, developing a new process that will double productivity and improve customer satisfaction, or identifying ways to overcome resistance to change are common—and often very compli- cated—problems faced by most managers. Such prob- lems may not always have an easily identifiable defini- tion or set of alternative solutions available. It may not be clear how much information is needed, what the complete set of alternatives is, or how one knows if the information being obtained is accurate. Analytical problem solving may help, but something more is needed to address these problems successfully. Tom Peters said, in characterizing the modern world faced by managers: “If you’re not confused, you’re not pay- ing attention.”

Table 2 summarizes some reasons why analytical problem solving is not always effective in day-to-day managerial situations. Constraints exist on each of these four steps and stem from other individuals, from organizational processes, or from the external environ- ment, making it difficult to follow the prescribed model. Moreover, some problems are simply not amenable to systematic or rational analysis. Sufficient and accurate information may not be available, out- comes may not be predictable, or means–ends connec- tions may not be evident. In order to solve such prob- lems, a new way of thinking may be required, multiple or conflicting definitions may be needed, and unprece- dented alternatives may have to be generated. In short, creative problem solving must be used.


As mentioned at the beginning of the chapter, analyti- cal problem solving is focused on getting rid of prob- lems. Creative problem solving is focused on generat- ing something new (Covey, 1998). The trouble is that most people have trouble solving problems creatively.

They have developed certain conceptual blocks in their problem-solving activities of which they are not even aware. These blocks inhibit them from solving certain problems effectively. The blocks are largely per- sonal, as opposed to interpersonal or organizational, so skill development is required to overcome them.

Conceptual blocks are mental obstacles that con- strain the way problems are defined and limit the num- ber of alternative solutions thought to be relevant (Adams, 2001). Every individual has conceptual blocks, but some people have more numerous and more intense ones. These blocks are largely unrecog- nized or unconscious, so the only way individuals can be made aware of them is to be confronted with prob- lems that are unsolvable because of them. Conceptual blocks result largely from the thinking processes that problem solvers use when facing problems. Everyone develops some conceptual blocks over time. In fact, we need some of them to cope with everyday life. Here’s why.

At every moment, each of us is bombarded with far more information than we can possibly absorb. For example, you are probably not conscious right now of the temperature of the room, the color of your skin, the level of illumination overhead, or how your toes feel in your shoes. All of this information is available to you and is being processed by your brain, but you have tuned out some things and focused on others. Over time, you must develop the habit of mentally filtering out some of the information to which you are exposed; otherwise, information overload would drive you crazy. These filtering habits eventually become con- ceptual blocks. Though you are not conscious of them, they inhibit you from registering some kinds of infor- mation and, therefore, from solving certain kinds of problems.

Paradoxically, the more formal education individ- uals have, and the more experience they have in a job, the less able they are to solve problems in creative ways. It has been estimated that most adults over 40 display less than 2 percent of the creative problem- solving ability of a child under 5 years old. That’s because formal education often prescribes “right” answers, analytic rules, or thinking boundaries. Experience in a job often leads to “proper” ways of doing things, specialized knowledge, and rigid expec- tation of appropriate actions. Individuals lose the abil- ity to experiment, improvise, or take mental detours. Consider the following example:

If you place in a bottle half a dozen bees and the same number of flies, and lay the bottle down horizontall , with its base to the win-



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