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Going round in circles: Problem Solving Simplicity

There are some business books I refer to again and again.  Often they are also (no coincidence) those that are recommended by many people I know as part of your essential business bookshelf.

Getting to YesFor general negotiating skills, I am yet to be persuaded that any book has overtaken ‘Getting to Yes’ by Roger Fisher and William Ury.  It is one of those books where ideas are densely packed and none are laboured.  So despite being a short book, it has more in it than many twice its size.

The lowest review on Amazon UK gives it 3 stars – saying there’s not much new in it.  A triumph for a book that is 30 years old and has therefore been imitated and borrowed from heavily over the years.  I am fairly sure it was Ury and Fisher who first introduced negotiators to the BATNA.

Not about Negotiation

However, I am not writing this Pocketblog about negotiation and you can learn more in Patrick Forsyth’s excellent Negotiator’s Pocketbook (one of my personal favourites).

Sitting among the many gems in Getting to Yes (at page 70 of my 1986 hardback edition) is the circle chart.  This is presented as a tool to help negotiators ‘invent options for mutual gain’.  I see it as one of the best generic problem solving tools – and also, by the way, as a pretty good model for the consulting process.

The Circle Chart

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What a wonderfully simple model for problem solving this is.

  1. Problem
    We ask what is wrong and gather the facts
  2. Analysis
    We diagnose the problem, seeking to understand causation
  3. Approaches
    We generate multiple options to resolve the problem
  4. Action ideas
    We evaluate the options and develop plans

All things are connected…

‘It’s the circle of life, Simba’

The Circle Chart has always reminded me how simplicity and robustness come from a few great insights, and the model-maker’s skill is in presenting them in new and relevant ways.  In particular, this model is a close relative of another, designed for a very different purpose: Bernice McCarthy’s 4MAT method for instructional design.

Although the sequence is slightly different, the four questions that McCarthy argued that we need to answer are all here:

  1. Problem – ‘what?’
  2. Analysis – ‘why?’
  3. Approaches – ‘how?’
  4. Action ideas – ‘what if?’

So here’s the deal

The circle chart may not be the most sophisticated problem solving model available, but it covers all of the basis for me.  A great resource for managers, project teams, consultants and trainers.

Some Management Pocketbooks you might enjoy

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Why–What–How–What if?

Bernice McCarthyThere are lots of models for how to improve learning and, in the management training arena, The Kolb learning cycle and the work of Peter Honey and Alan Mumford on learning styles are well known. Less so is the work of American educationalist, Dr Bernice McCarthy.

McCarthy taught at all grade levels, including special education, and went on to study for her doctorate at Northwestern University. There, she developed her model to help design instructional programmes for all types of learners. She drew on research by Carl Jung, Jean Paiget, Lev Vygotsky, John Dewey, Kurt Lewin and David Kolb to create a system that moves learners through the complete learning cycle using strategies that would appeal to all learners. Her business is called About Learning.

4MAT

McCarthy developed her system to format a lesson according to how the needs of learners changes as they go around the learning cycle, so she called it the 4MAT System (get-it?). The 4MAT System began in education but she quickly spread it into adult training in the corporate and government sectors.

Relationship to other models

4MAT shares with Kolb the idea of a learning cycle with distinct modes of learning at each stage. It also recognises, as the Honey and Mumford model does, that we each learn in a number of ways and that we may have preferences for one or more styles.

The 4MAT System

The 4MAT System is based on two continua: perceiving and processing. The processing continuum ranges from reflection to action; whilst perception runs from direct experience to abstract conceptualisation.

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Why?

We want to understand meaning and purpose, and the instructor’s role is to make connections between the material and the learners, to engage their attention.

What?

Only when we are satisfied about relevance are we ready to know ‘What?’ At this stage, the trainer provides information and satisfies our desire for facts, structure and theory.

These first two phases represent instructor-led learning.  Now the learner takes over.

How?

Once we have the knowledge, we ask ‘How?’ and we want to understand how we can apply our new insights to the real world. We focus on problems and how we can use our learning to solve them.

What if?

Finally, we want to try it out, so we ask questions like ‘What if?’ ‘What else?’ or ‘What next?’ This is when we engage in active experimentation, trial and error, pushing at the boundaries – learning by doing.

QuestionMark

Why? (again)

Good instructional design challenges learners to reflect on the outcome of their trials and ask ‘Why?’ about the results.

    • Why did it not go as I expected?
    • Why did it seem harder than it should?

This is the entry into another cycle.

So here’s the deal

The 4MAT System is helpful in designing training, planning a coaching process, and influencing.

Management Pocketbooks you might enjoy

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