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Using Adaptive Problem Solving To Make Better Decisions

Editorial Team
20/07/2020 8:04 AM

ongoing COVID - 19 pandemics has made it tough for businesses to make
decisions. This because so much uncertainty surrounds the business-operating
environment. Decision-making is the thought process of selecting a logical
choice from the available options. When trying to make a good decision, a
person must weigh the positives and negatives of each option, and consider all
the alternatives. For effective decision making, a person must be able to
forecast the outcome of each option as well and based on all these items,
determine which option is the best for that particular situation. Decision-making
variables can either be external to the decision system-that is, as exogenous
variables- or overlooks important inputs to the system from sources internal to
the decision, endogenous variables. Thus, one of the best ways businesses can
use to make decisions is to use the adaptive problem-solving approach.

Problem Solving

refers to cognitive processing directed at achieving a goal when the problem
solver does not initially know a solution method. A problem exists when someone
has a goal but does not know how to achieve it. Problems can be classified as
routine or non-routine, and as well defined or ill-defined. The major cognitive
processes in problem-solving are representing, planning, executing, and
monitoring. The major kinds of knowledge required for problem-solving are
facts, concepts, procedures, strategies, and beliefs.

Adaptive Problem Solving

adaptive problem-solving technique is a twenty-first-century skill that
requires the mental preparation an individual needs to establish and sustain
competent performance in a complex and unpredictable environment. Adaptive
techniques for solving problems are a combination of logic and common sense.
Adaptive problem solving is considered a crucial 21st-century skill that
combines cognitive and meta-cognitive processes. Mayer's in his definition of
adaptive problem solving says, “Adaptive problem solving involves the ability
to invent solutions to problems that the problem solver has not encountered
before (Steward Bank – Kwenga). In adaptive problem solving, problem solvers
must adapt their existing knowledge to fit the requirements of a novel problem

are three major factors involved. First, the essence of the concept is behavior
change. Obstinately continuing a course of action despite significant changes
in the circumstances is not adaptive even if it is effective. Second, whatever
responses are employed must be effective. It makes no sense if they make things
more difficult. Lastly, any response must be in reaction to a change of
circumstances. Change for its own sake is not adaptive.

leaders are adaptable and to what extent can be attributed nearly entirely to
three factors, all of which are present in every instance. The first involves
the personal traits and characteristics of a particular leader. Every leader
has a unique and infinitesimal combination of knowledge, experience, education,
courage, skills, imagination, intuition, ingenuity, and other attributes. These
work singly and in combination to inhibit or foster effective reactions. The
second is the organizational rules, norms, and culture that encourage or
discourage adaptive behavior.

that dogmatically punish failure are not conducive to experimentation or
exploration. Understandably, leaders that emerge from this type of environment
are reluctant to deviate from norms. The third is the extent that a person is
trained to recognize and adjust to changing circumstances (Verizon has an in
house school). This last factor is particularly important because of the
implied potential for increasing creativity, ingenuity, and effectiveness by
preparing people to lead in chaotic and ever-changing situations. Effective
adaptive decision-makers can be best understood to have thought the problem
through further than others have.

appears, however, that training in organizations can enhance abilities to
adapt, both individually and organizationally. The most critical aspect of
enhancing organizational adaptability is with a nurturing environment.
Organizations that routinely encourage and reward creativity, ingenuity, and
innovation not only encourage such practices among those assigned but serve to
attract those who desire to work in such an environment. To prepare employees
an organization can develop a training program for adaptive decision-making,
and these have proven especially beneficial. The first is to expose students to
challenging scenarios simulating those expected to be encountered and which are
designed to incorporate a need to recognize and adapt to a change in the
situation. These are normally done in one of four ways: moderated discussions,
practical applications, decision-making exercises, and free-play exercises.  

Conceptual model of adaptive problem solving

Gick, 1998

problem solving involves three major stages, namely, defining a problem,
searching for a solution, and applying a solution  (Gick, 
1998;  Newell and Simon,  2002) -depicted from left to right in the
diagram above. Each of the stages can be characterized by different
cognitive  (upper part of the
figure)  and meta-cognitive processes
(lower part of the figure). This augmentation is necessary to account for the
adaptive nature of problem-solving in today’s digitalized world,  where a 
problem solver has to continuously monitor any changes that will occur
in the external world and regulate his/her problem-solving actions accordingly.

Techniques for adaptive problem solving

  • Decision staggering

incremental decisions to achieve an objective and avoid total commitment to a
decision you cannot change.

Example: Before installing air-conditioning,
try screens, shades, and fans. These alone may do the job. If not, these
improvements will still have helped cool the building and increase
air-conditioning efficiency if later installed.

  • Exploration

the information available to probe for a solution. Exploring is a modified
trial-and-error strategy to manage risk. Unlike a throw of dice, however, it
requires a firm sense of purpose and direction. Use this technique to move
cautiously in small steps toward a solution.

Example: Doctors avoid committing to
a single, incomplete diagnosis of an illness. Through tentative but precise
exploration, they determine the cause of an illness and its cure.

  • Hedging

the risk by avoiding decisions that lock you into a single choice if you are
not prepared to commit.

Example: astute investors do not
"put all their eggs in one basket." They spread risks with a balanced
portfolio of stocks, bonds, and cash.

  • Intuition

options based on your experience, values, and emotions (your gut feelings and
your heart)! While often able to arrive at the truth through intuition, do not
rely on it exclusively. It can trigger snap judgments and rash decisions. Use
logic first, then your intuition to make the decision "feel" right.

  • Delay

slow and/or postpone committing yourself to a course of action if an immediate
decision is not necessary and there is time to develop options. Sometimes doing
nothing is the best decision; the problem will either go away, conditions will
change, the path may become clearer as you reflect on it, or events will change
the problem itself.

  • Delegating
    decision-making or action to another person or group

we take on problems that are not ours, or that someone else can solve the
problem better. One strategy towards delegation is to identify stakeholders of
the problem. A stakeholder is a person or group that interest in or will be
affected by, resolution of the problem. (This is a good practice for all
decision-making!)Another consideration for "out-sourcing" a problem
resolves to consider if your resources will be adequate to the task. Resources
are time, money, skills, confidence, etc.

  • Visioning

is focusing on the future to uncover hidden opportunities and options that may
resolve the problem. With options, we make better decisions. Without them,
decisions become forced choices. By finding tomorrow's opportunities and
developing options, you can make enduring, quality decisions.

conclusion, during this COVID – 19 period and even the immediate post COVID era
the tactical leaders most readily able to adapt should not only be agile in
thought but also deeply immersed in the supporting science. They should be
fully aware of human limitations and possess domain-specific knowledge that
enables them to more quickly identify problems. They should have developed a
wide repertoire of experience from both actual incidents and training to enable
them to steer their businesses to safe waters where profitability is a

Jack is a Business Consultant at Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt) Ltd, a
business management and human resources consulting firm.

LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/milton-jack-9798b966

Phone: +263 242 481946-48/481950

Mobile: +263 774 730 913

Email: milton@ipcconsultants.com


Editorial Team

This article was written by one of the consultants at IPC

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