What are some things managers can do to improve their problem solving?

Problem solving is a very important aspect to being a manager.  It is also something that is an inexact science (Nutt, 1999).  Nutt (1999) found that over half of the decisions that managers make end up failing due to inability to analyze or diagnose the proper problem.  Nutt (1999) follows that managers are pressed to find the first plan that might yield results and go with it.  Forming long studies to gain objectives is often mocked by peers and therefore not often a solution that is used.  However, more problems often arrive because of the hurried procedures that are put into action.  Nutt also mentions that forming objectives limits the amount of mistakes that may arise and actually promotes better solution options (1999).

Being able to identify the problem is obviously the first, and possibly, most important step (Sternberg, p. 294).  According to Clark (2007), “messy” problems are ever changing and any decisions will alter the future solution.  In order to make progress, it is crucial to be able to anticipate and change your thinking on strategy.

Problem definition is also an important aspect of problem solving.  Without a good definition of what you are trying to solve, the solutions and answers to the problem might have too broad or narrow a scope.  According to Bakenova (2008), the definition that you label your problem with will alter the agenda with how you strategize trying to fix it.

Sternberg (p. 395, 2007) divulges on the formulation of strategy after identifying and defining the problem.  Brainstorming and analysis are keys to this step (Kumar, Aquino, & Anderson, 2007).  Sæverud and Skjærseth (2007) observe that the objectives play a major role in strategy formulation.

Being patient and looking at the big picture is important to solving problems.  It appears from past research that more problems arise from faulty problem solving than from the original problem itself.  Managers are not trained to problem solve and therefore end up fixing symptoms and looking for easy, fast solutions.  There is too much pressure to get things done quickly rather than right in order to justify their position.


Bakenova, S. (2008). Making a policy problem of water export in Canada: 1960-2002. The Policy Studies Journal, 36(2), p. 279-300. DOI: 10.1111/j.1541-0072.2008.00266.x.

Clark, T.G. (2007). Army planning doctrine: Identifying the problem is the heart of the problem. Military Review, 87(6), p. 70-76. (AN 28339301).

Nutt, P. C. (1999). Surprising but true: Half the decisions in organizations fail. Academy of Management Academy, 13(4), 75-90. (AN 2570556).

Sæverud, I.A., & Skjærseth, J.B. (2007). Oil companies and climate change:

Inconsistencies between strategy formulation and implementation? Global Environmental Politics, 7(3), p. 42-62. (AN 26612971).

Sternberg, R. (2006). Cognitive psychology (4th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Cengage Learning.