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The Mastery of Problem Solving.

by | Aug 26, 2022 | Business

Masters see decisions in the broader context. They are curious about the chain of causation for their challenges; they seek out the underlying truths more deeply and make more robust decisions. Often, in decision-making, we are addressing some form of change. Perhaps we are changing a system to correct a fault; adapting our processes to improve the customer experience; learning and applying skills to switch to a ‘better way’, and so on. We make decisions every day.

Good decisions aren’t (just) successful ones.

Gambling has two outcomes: you win, or you lose. You don’t make a good decision because your number comes up on the roulette wheel, nor a bad one when the ball settles in a different slot.

Masterful design.

Masters look beyond the decision itself and understand the decision-making process in detail; they seek to make good decisions all the time, and even so, they will not always have excellent outcomes. However, they will spot the poor work sooner, because they know what to look for and they will learn and apply that new insight so that the next decision is even better.

Imagine that you have something in your business that isn’t working as well as you would like. Masters look beyond the impact of the problem; they look beyond the quick fix and ask how to stop it from happening again.


There’s a principle at work here, which I have previously described as “zero second failures”. That is the principle by which the aviation industry operates. Their aim is that an aircraft should never crash purely caused by an avoidable fault that has happened before. Their objective is to design the issue out permanently.

This skill requires us to have the correct data at the right time, data that allows a meaningful decision to be taken or a better question to be asked. In my experience, this is where the masters of decision-making shine. They ask better questions than others, and they keep asking them until they understand the problem in the context of their knowledge, skills and extensive experience.

Don’t go it alone.

Gathering the insights needed to make masterful decisions is often not the work of one individual, either. It is a collective endeavour drawing on the experience and skills of many people who bring their unique insights to bear on the issue. The master will make judgements around those insights; they will identify meaningful measures to test success and review on an ongoing basis. I often explore decisions my clients are considering with them. I’m curious about their considerations, challenge their logic and dig deeper into their choices. Those conversations always make the decision more robust.

Meaningful measures.

I think the point about meaningful measures is so important that it is worth exploring in a little more detail.

Too often, what is measured is that which is easy to measure rather than that which genuinely informs. Curiously, how to measure success is often only considered after taking the decision itself. That’s crazy, yet I see practitioners and even experts making decisions that they have no idea how to measure. Masters rarely do. They embed measurement into the decision-making process itself.

Being curious about decisions.

When the next big decision faces you, gather the right people around you and talk it through. Challenge the options, test the measures, think through the risks, and record your conclusions. I recommend keeping a decision log for the more significant, structural business decisions you take to reflect on your process and keep improving it.

Curiosity is most effective in discussion with someone who can ask the right questions and listen carefully to the answers. If you need to do that with a decision you are currently looking to make, then book a call with me.


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Written by: William Buist - all rights reserved.