Problem Solving Toolkit

Problem Solving Toolkit-26
Through “recombination,” the problem solvers design a solution.

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Indeed, “Muddling Through” is one of the most cited articles in the field of organizational behavior.

More than half a century later, Stanford GSB professor Jonathan Bendor revisits Lindblom’s classic work of applied theory to determine if it still informs the way people and organizations make decisions today. In a new paper, Bendor, a professor of political economy, makes the case that disjointed incrementalism is “dead yet flourishing.” Although the overall theory of disjointed incrementalism is a “spent intellectual force,” its components, especially the “Big Three” — local search, iterative adaptation, and distributed intelligence — are flourishing.

Kids like Duplos because the pieces can be combined and recombined to build whatever the imagination desires.

The same holds true for decision-making strategy, says Bendor.

Indeed, when faced with really complex decisions, organizational behavior theorist Charles Lindblom argued the problem solver was actually better off “muddling through.” How do you solve a complex problem using a toolbox of heuristics as Stanford GSB professor Jonathan Bendor suggests?

Bendor considers the hypothetical dilemma of patients missing their medical appointments.

Indeed, Bendor prefers a toolkit approach to decision-making in which incrementalism’s Big Three are vital heuristics — a rule of thumb that cuts a complex problem down to a manageable size.

They may not work as an integrated problem-solving technique, but as individual heuristics they work great.

“The elements can be broken down and then combined and recombined in new ways.” According to Bendor, the best problem solvers mix and match the cognitive shortcuts to reach their solution.

The idea is growing in cognitive psychology that experts in information-intensive domains, like teaching, chess, or medicine, become skilled because they garner enormous mental libraries of heuristics and patterns, he says.


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