Recently, a CEO friend was ranting about the poor judgment shown by her senior management team. “What I need around here,” she said, “are some good problem solvers and decision makers.” She used several more minutes to vent; and then she asked for my thoughts.

“What you’ve described to me sounds like solutions in search of a problem. I think you’ve got plenty of problem solvers. What you don’t have are problem identifiers. If your people don’t understand the problem, the likelihood of good decisions goes down considerably. You need a better CAD system.”

The CAD system I’m talking about helps people make better choices and decisions so that overall business performance consistently improves. Here’s a simple four step process that gives some structure to the decision making process.

Diagnose and identify the problem. All too often, people mistake symptoms for causes. When that happens, a lot of effort goes into solutions that sometimes turn out to be costly and ineffective. When medical people treat a problem without going through a diagnostic process, they get sued for malpractice. Treat business and family problems the same way. The tools don’t have to be sophisticated, they just have to be systematic.

Here’s an example: 


Opening lower file drawer too far knocks plug from wall socket.X 
File cabinet too close to wall socket. X

Develop alternative solutions. Once the real problem is identified, solutions become much easier. In the case above, for example, at least three alternative solutions are: (1) Don’t open the file drawer too far; (2) Move the wall plug; or, (3) Slide the file cabinet to the right/left by about half an inch.

Choose the most appropriate solution. In making a solution choice, I have found that most people, myself included, suffer what I have come to call The Law of Rejected Simplicity. That is, those of us who are not engineers by trade, training, or instinct will almost always choose the complex over the simple. To keep that from happening, use a table to help guide the choice process. It looks like this:


SolutionEase of useCostTime RequiredPerformance Impact
Don’t open drawer    
Move wall plug    
Move file cabinet    


Implement the Decision. If you’ve followed the previous three steps, there should seldom be a reason to revisit the decision. All that’s left is for you to take action. As Napoleon told one of his generals, “Once you have decided to take Vienna, take Vienna.”

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