Consultant — What’s Your Natural Approach to Problem Solving?

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    As a consultant, you work with clients to solve problems. Or, perhaps your philosophy is to help them address “priorities,” rather than “problems.” In any case, it’s extremely important to understand your own approach and how it affects others, especially your clients when working with them.

    Different people have quite different preferences and approaches for solving problems and making decisions. Those differences can often cause conflict between people unless they each understand their own particular preferences.

    The following preferences represent probably the most common preferences. It is important for you to note that any preference is not necessarily better than others. Certain preferences might work better in certain situations. The important point for you to realize is the diverse ways that people – including you – address problems and decisions. Always consider that diversity in your consulting projects.

    Rational Versus Organic Approach to Problem Solving

    Rational

    A person with this preference often prefers using a comprehensive and logical approach similar to the following procedure. For example, the rational approach, described below, is often used when addressing large, complex matters in strategic planning.

    1. Define the problem.
    2. Examine all potential causes for the problem.
    3. Identify all alternatives to resolve the problem.
    4. Carefully select an alternative.
    5. Develop an orderly implementation plan to implement that best alternative.
    6. Carefully monitor implementation of the plan.
    7. Verify if the problem has been resolved or not.

    A major advantage of this approach is that it gives a strong sense of order in an otherwise chaotic situation and provides a common frame of reference from which people can communicate in the situation. A major disadvantage of this approach is that it can take a long time to finish. Some people might argue, too, that the world is much too chaotic for the rational approach to be useful.

    Organic

    Many believe that it can be quite illusory to believe that an organizational consultant is there to identify and solve problems for the client. Some people assert that the dynamics of organizations and people are not nearly so mechanistic as to be improved by solving one problem after another. Often, the quality of an organization or life comes from how one handles being “on the road” itself, rather than the “arriving at the destination.” The quality comes from the ongoing process of trying, rather than from having fixed a lot of problems. For many people it is an approach to organizational consulting. The following quote is often used when explaining the organic (or holistic) approach to problem solving.

    “All the greatest and most important problems in life are fundamentally insoluble … They can never be solved, but only outgrown. This “outgrowing” proves on further investigation to require a new level of consciousness. Some higher or wider interest appeared on the horizon and through this broadening of outlook, the insoluble lost its urgency. It was not solved logically in its own terms, but faded when confronted with a new and stronger life urge.”

    —- From Jung, Carl, Psychological Types (Pantheon Books, 1923)

    A major advantage of the organic approach is that it is highly adaptable to understanding and explaining the chaotic changes that occur in projects and everyday life. It also suits the nature of people who shun linear and mechanistic approaches to projects. The major disadvantage is that the approach often provides no clear frame of reference around which people can communicate, feel comfortable and measure progress toward solutions to problems.

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    Carter McNamara, MBA, PhD – Authenticity Consulting, LLC – 800-971-2250
    Read my blogs: Boards, Consulting and OD, and Strategic Planning.