Appropriate Decision Making

Posted on by Brandon Klein


“The ability to spot the right problems and then formulate them correctly is the critical skill that all workers, managers, and top executives must possess if they are to compete successfully in the twenty-first century. Organizations that know how to think critically will dominate.” --Ian Mitroff, Smart Thinking for Crazy Times Mitroff comments later that “all serious errors of management can be traced to one fundamental flaw, solving the wrong problem precisely.”


Asking basic questions and challenging critical assumptions are part of the problem-solving process. In addition, the problem solving process has four distinct steps:

1. Acknowledging or recognizing the existence of a problem.

2. Formulating the problem.

3. Deriving the solution to the problem.

4. Implementing the solution.


Strategies for avoiding solving the wrong problem:

1. Pick the right stakeholders. Never make an important decision or take an important action without challenging at least one assumption about a critical stakeholder; also, consider at least two stakeholders who can and will oppose the decisions or actions.

2. Expand your options. Never accept a single definition of an important problem; it is vital to produce at least two very different formulations of any problem deemed important.

3. Phrase the problem correctly. Never produce or examine formulations of important problems phrased solely in technical or human variables; always strive to produce at least one formulation phrased in technical variables and at least one phrased in human variables.

4. Expand the problem’s boundaries. Never draw the boundaries of an important problem too narrowly; broaden the scope of every important problem up to and just beyond your comfort zone.

5. Be prepared to manage paradox. Never attempt to solve an important problem by fragmenting it into isolated and tiny parts; always locate and examine the broader system in which every problem is situated; in many cases, the interactions between important problems are more important than the problems themselves.

“Whom the gods would destroy they send forty years of success.” --Peter Drucker

“Long periods of unparalleled success do not make one fit to play in new environments. What has worked well in the past will lead to failure in the future. The longer some thing has worked, the more it deserves to be challenged and regarded with extreme skepticism.” --Ian Mitroff

“The most controversial implication here is that ST (Sensing, Thinking) is the epitome of Machine Age thinking, while NT (Intuitive, Thinking) and NF (Intuitive, Feeling) are the epitome of Systems Age thinking. If this is true, ST’s cannot be put in charge of managing problem-solving processes. Since they typically believe that there is one and only one formulation and solution to every important problem, they inherently limit the exploration of important problems. This does not mean that ST’s do not have an important role to play in the problem-solving process, only that they cannot lead it.” --Ian Mitroff

The ability to solve the right problems involves asking the most basic questions facing all institutions:

· What business(es) are we in?

· What business(es) should we be in?

· What is our mission?

· What should our mission be?

· Who are our prime customers?

· Who should our prime customers be?

· How should we react to a major crisis, especially if we are, or are perceived to be, at fault?

· How will the outside world perceive our actions?

· Will others perceive the situation as we do?

· Are our products and services ethical?

Big errors “are rooted firmly in denial. Denial is never content with one justification; if it were, it would not be denial. Denial always works by overkill. At some level, the mind of a single individual, or the collective mind of an institution, always know that what is being defended is patently false. While there are not exact formulas, precisely because the unconscious does not work that way, the number of rationalizations is an indicator of the strength of denial.” --Ian Mitroff

This pattern drawn from Smart Thinking for Crazy Times by Ian Mitroff