Six Problem Solving Mindsets for Very Uncertain Times - Conn and McLean.

The essay I am currently working on critiques innovation.  

This articles discusses six problem solving mindsets for uncertain times.  


Even the most inscrutable problems have solutions.  Great problem solvers are made, not born. 

Great leaders learn to adopt a particularly open and curious mindset, and adhere to a systematic process for cracking even the most inscrutable problems. 

They’re terrific problem solvers under any conditions. And when conditions of uncertainty are at their peak, they’re at their brilliant best. 

Six mutually reinforcing approaches underly their success: 

(1) being ever-curious about every element of a problem; 

(2) being imperfectionists, with a high tolerance for ambiguity; 

(3) having a “dragonfly eye” view of the world, to see through multiple lenses; 

(4) pursuing occurrent behavior and experimenting relentlessly; 

(5) tapping into the collective intelligence, acknowledging that the smartest people are not in the room; and 

(6) practicing “show and tell,” because storytelling begets action


1.     Be ever curious

A technique worth employing at the beginning of problem solving, is simply to pause and ask why conditions or assumptions are so until you arrive at the root of the problem.  Natural human biases in decision making, often cause us to shut down the range of solutions too early.  Better— and more creative—solutions come from being curious about the broader range of potential answers. 

2.     Tolerate ambiguity—and stay humble!

Most good problem solving has a lot of trial and error; Recent research shows that we are better at solving problems when we think in terms of odds rather than certainties. To embrace imperfectionism with epistemic humility, start by challenging solutions that imply certainty.


3.     . Take a dragonfly-eye view

Dragonflies have large, compound eyes, with thousands of lenses and photoreceptors sensitive to different wavelengths of light widening the aperture on a problem or viewing it through multiple lenses. Going through the customer journey with design-thinking in mind is another powerful way to get a 360-degree view of a problem.


4.     Pursue occurrent behaviour

Occurrent behavior is what actually happens in a time and place, not what was potential or predicted behavior.


5.      Tap into collective intelligence and the wisdom of the crowd

Accept that it’s OK to draw on diverse experiences and expertise other than your own. Start with brainstorming sessions that engage people from outside your team. Try broader crowdsourcing competitions to generate ideas. Or bring in deep-learning talent to see what insights exist in your data that conventional approaches haven’t brought to light. The broader the circles of information you access, the more likely it is that your solutions will be novel and creative


6.     Show and tell to drive action

Show and tell is how you connect your audience with the problem and then use combinations of logic and persuasion to get action. Start by being clear about the action that should flow from your problem solving and findings: the governing idea for change. Then find a way to present your logic visually so that the path to answers can be debated and embraced. Present the argument emotionally as well as logically, and show why the preferred action offers an attractive balance between risks and rewards. But don’t stop there. Spell out the risks of inaction, which often have a higher cost than imperfect actions have.  


The mindsets of great problem solvers are just as important as the methods they employ. A mindset that encourages curiosity, embraces imperfection, rewards a dragonfly-eye view of the problem, creates new data from experiments and collective intelligence, and drives action through compelling show-and-tell storytelling creates radical new possibilities under high levels of unpredictability. Of course, these approaches can be helpful in a broad range of circumstances, but in times of massive uncertainty, they are essential.


Do school leaders use these approaches when planning for change?  

The key messages is to try to ensure that leaders have a true picture and understanding of the problem and what needs to change and why.  It is then important to have a range of perceptions and ideas for solutions.  When a solution has been chosen it is then vital to ensure that your team understands why the action needs to be taken in order to motivate them to make the change.  

Were we able to deploy these techniques during lock downs to motivate innovation?  

How can we use these tools in the future to inspire and motivate when innovations need to take place?  


Conn, C. and McLean, R., (2020). Six problem-solving mindsets for very uncertain times. The McKinsey Quarterly.
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