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Sharpen your decision making and problem solving skills

Sharpen your decision making and problem solving skills (2018), Publisher; C. Hunter.

(This book is used as a text for the Hunter HRC decision making and problem solving course.

Click here for details of the course.)



Decision making and problem solving are the most important mental skills we have because the decisions we make and the actions we take to solve our problems determine our success or failure in life, especially at work. Luckily, as with any other skills, they can be improved with guidance and practice so the purpose of this book is to provide you, the reader, with guidelines and principles that will help you to sharpen your decision making and problem solving skills in both your work and private lives.

Research carried out in many countries has shown that decision making and problem solving are extremely important generic skills in the work environment, i.e. these skills are needed by all of us regardless of the type of work we do. Granted, we all make decisions and solve problems on a daily basis but the problems that we have to deal with are becoming increasingly complex and difficult to solve because the world is becoming increasingly interconnected and is changing rapidly. For example, the ongoing political and economic changes inevitably affect us directly. We have to deal with increasing local and international competition, rapid advances in technology and social networking, population explosion, disease outbreaks, inter-group conflicts and climate change. These aspects are inter-related and form a confusing virtual web that complicates the problems we are confronted with in terms of their causes, consequences and possible solutions. An example of an extremely complicated and complex problem is the global financial crisis that started in the USA in 2008 and extended rapidly to all corners of the world. In retrospect, the causes of the crisis might appear obvious to some people but they certainly weren’t before the crash and there has been little certainty about how to restructure and regulate financial institutions and rebuild economies. In the meantime millions of people have had to cope somehow with the problems it caused in their lives.

Another factor that makes decision making and problem solving difficult is the mass of information available on almost any topic in books, newspapers, journals, on television, via email, and especially on the Internet. In his book, Future Shock, published in 1970, Alvin Toffler coined the phrase “information overload” and one wonders what his reaction would be now to the size of the overload. The negative effects that this overload can have on people is referred to as the information overload syndrome. There is so much information that it is often difficult to sort, analyse and come to definite conclusions. So, in an attempt to cope, we tend to procrastinate, generalise, skip much of the detail, ignore the problem, deny that it exists, go into a state of mental paralysis or just rely on our intuition (gut feel) to make a decision.

One unfortunate but common consequence of difficult problems is stress. Stress can cause debilitating illnesses such as anxiety, ulcers, heart attacks, depression and worse. For example, the World Health Organisation reported that by 2020 depression will be the second leading contributor to the global burden of disease after cardiovascular (heart-related) disease. We can try to manage the stress and the resultant illnesses by resorting to exercise, meditation, medication and counselling, which can help but a more effective way in the long run is to solve the problems that cause the stress. According to the Mayo Clinic, a highly respected medical practice and research institute in the USA,

“Most adults report being under increasing levels of stress. Modern life is filled with change and uncertainty, complicated relationships, urgent deadlines, and long workdays. Developing your problem-solving skills can help make life's challenges more manageable.”

As has been pointed out, the purpose of this book is to help you to do just that. To start with, it deals with intuition and insight in the context of subconscious thought processes, which have a substantial influence on our conscious, rational thinking. The next chapter discusses a fairly standard set of steps that should be followed when making decisions. But difficult, complex problems require an even higher level of thinking so the next chapter explains the higher order, rational modes of thinking; critical thinking, analytical thinking, and systems thinking. In addition, a variety of factors that should be considered when making decisions and a number of helpful decision making techniques are explained. Since a large proportion of our decisions are made in conjunction with other people, team decision making is then discussed and the last chapter deals with the practical implementation of decisions, which is critical to actually solving problems.

All of these topics are explained in a down-to-earth, practical way with relevant examples and illustrations.



CHAPTER 1    Introduction                                                                                          


CHAPTER 2    Intuition and insight.                                                                             

  • Intuition
  • Some flaws in our intuition
  • Some flaws in our cognitive thinking                        
  • Insight                        
  • Consciously encouraging intuitions and insights                        


CHAPTER 3 Steps in the decision making process                                         

                        Step 1 Be aware of the problem                                                        

                  Step 2  Define the problem                                                                 

                        step 3   Set a goal                                                                                

                        Step 4  Understand the problem                                                         

                        Step 5  Think of possible solutions                                                     

                        Step 6   Evaluate the possible solutions                                              

                        Step 7  Decide on the best solution                                                     


CHAPTER 4    Enhanced modes of thinking                                                  

4.1       Critical thinking                      

4.2       Analytical thinking and the scientific method                         

4.3       Systems thinking                                                                                 

  • A transformation process view of systems                        
  • Organisations are open systems                        


CHAPTER 5    General factors to consider when making decisions                           

  • Structure
  • Uncertainty and probability
  • Risk
  • Conflict
  • Attitudes
  • Biases and prejudices
  • Assumptions and beliefs
  • Values
  • Personal standards
  • Ethics
  • Motivation
  • Mental models


CHAPTER 6    Decision making techniques.                                                              

  • Knowledge management
  • Visualisation
  • Models
  • Simulations
  • Prototypes
  • Flow diagrams or charts
  • Process flow diagrams
  • Data flow diagrams
  • Systems flow charts
  • Open systems diagrams
  • Causal relationship diagrams
  • Feedback loop diagrams
  • Fishbone Diagrams
  • Mind maps
  • Analysing trends and patterns           
  • Techniques for generating ideas
  • Brainstorming           
  • The nominal group technique (NGT)           
  • The Delphi Technique           
  • Force field analysis           
  • Grid analysis           
  • SWOT analysis           
  • Decision trees           


CHAPTER 7    Team decision making and problem solving                                      

  • Types of teams           
  • Why team decision making & problem solving?                               
  • The development of teams           
  • So what causes teams to be ineffective?           
  • Degrees of participation in decision making           
  • Decision methods where there is a lack of consensus
  • Team training          
  • Guidelines for team decision making and problem solving         


CHAPTER 8    Implementing decisions; solving the problem                       

  • Planning           
  • Taking action and monitoring progress           
  • Evaluating the actions taken           
  • Taking corrective action           




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