So you identified your problem, dug deeper and found the root cause, behaved variably and came up with some good ideas. In the fourth step of problem solving, you must evaluate these ideas and then choose one, beginning with a pro/con analysis. After you complete the pro/con analysis, you’ve either got to pick one of your possible solutions to the problem or decide that you have to come up with better options.

Probably the most common downfall during this point of the problem-solving process is what is often called analysis paralysis. At this stage people tend to start making statements such as, “I need to get more information or data or do more research to be able to make a decision.” This might be the case or it might just be a lack of confidence in the strategy, the strategy execution, and/or fear that the boss will freak out if the solution is not perfect. Now you might recognize why the lead-in title of this series is “Nobody’s Perfect!” Seeking perfection always leads to negative reinforcement.  Seeking perfection means that people avoid trying a new solution because it might not work. Doing so actually leaves the original problem in place and it also often adds the second problem:  the team becomes demoralized because of the non-action.

Not only is the original problem still here, the second problem is that the boss doesn’t try to solve problems. He asks tons of questions and then doesn’t do anything to make things better. What’s more demoralizing than that? (And you may be that boss!)  What is the cure for analysis paralysis? Again, we must prompt our own behavior starting with asking the question, “Why am I reluctant to try this option?”  If the answer is, “because it might not work,” well guess what? That’s the answer to everything, so that’s a non-answer. That is no longer a viable response.

You can’t know exactly how a strategy will work out, but if you can achieve a reasonable level of confidence about the soundness of your choice, you can take action. If it doesn’t go perfectly, you’ll do a second level of problem solving and you’ll fix that too. Go ahead and take action! Ignore that faulty rule about being certain that a solution is going to work before you try anything. What you’re doing now does not work, so there’s a zero percent chance that doing nothing is going to make things better. Decide which of your options beats doing nothing most substantially and with the least amount of risk.

A good problem solver and a good leader is sagacious (discerning, far-sighted, exercising good judgment) and has a threshold level of confidence and bravery. All of those words are general labels for the behavior of making a reasonable decision and acting on it. After arriving at this point in the problem-solving process, you have to possess enough confidence to take initial action without waiting for perfect confidence. So someone who is too anxious, too perfectionistic, and too worried about making a mistake, is likely to fail at this critical juncture of the problem-solving process.

To be more effective at problem solving, people need to use information and data to list the pros and cons and then try to predict the possible outcome of all of the options. What’s the best possible and what’s that worst, most ridiculous thing that could happen? Try doing a pro/con analysis on doing nothing. People often fail to acknowledge that not taking any action is doing something. It’s keeping the problem intact as is! There are clear downsides to that and usually no clear upsides.

Granted, sometimes it is important to collect more data especially if you know exactly what data would sway your decision one way or another. However, if you’ve got a couple of good options to choose between, you should evaluate the risk of harm due to a delay for more data against the benefit of collecting more information to aid your choice-making. If you can collect critical-determinant data that will allow you to pick between two options that would work for different situations, then it’s likely worth waiting, because then you increase your likelihood of success.  If that extra data isn't really going to shift the balance between the two options, then it might just be that you’re stalling so that you don’t have to risk not being perfect.

The next and final section in this series will discuss the fifth and final step of problem solving: evaluating the outcome of the option you tried.