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Problem Solving

Published on 09 July 2018

Problem Solving

Solving Problems

For some, the attraction is the challenge of solving something so complex, for others it’s the satisfaction when it’s achieved, for others still it’s collaborating and working together knowing that many minds are better than one. Problem solving can be a key enabler to success but how successful are we in the act of problem solving itself?

Psychology of problem solving

For those who like a visual to inspire them, see Edward Oneill – a short video about what psychology tells us about how people solve problems whilst setting three different challenges to test you as you go

Here, we discover some helpful reminders. 

  1. Combining elements of solutions that don’t work help us to get to a solution that does work.
  2. We think inside a frame or box (hence the phrase ‘thinking outside the box’).
  3. In some cases, we need to see what’s not there as well as what is.
  4. Perspective. We often don’t recognise that we’re seeing things in only one of a number of ways.

Taking time to consider different lenses or approaches to the same problem can be really helpful, as can setting smaller groups to work on solving the same problem to compare, contrast and combine the best bits of the answers. 

Solving big problems

Sometimes problems can be so big that it’s beyond any one of us, or even group of us, to be able to solve. Socioeconomic problems are a great example. How do we reduce anti-social behaviour in communities? Tackle gang warfare and knife and gun crime? Reduce homelessness?

Last year Radio 4 broadcast a short series called The Fix presented by Matthew Taylor from the RSA in association with Uscreates where 12 of the country’s brightest young minds gather to solve difficult problems including the housing crisis, childhood obesity and reducing reoffending. (Missed it? Listen here

Neurodiversity in the workplace

Taking a similar approach, we ran a problem-solving session for our Leadership Forum at our Customer Strategy and Planning Conference in April of this year around ‘increasing the number of neurodivergent people in paid employment’. 

As senior leaders of professions (such as planning, analysis and data science) that could be well suited to individuals with autism and other neurological challenges we wanted to consider how we could make a difference. The number of autistic adults in full time paid work is just 16%. This percentage has remained unchanged in 10 years. Compare this to 47% of physically disabled people in paid work and 80% of non-disabled people and it puts this astonishing statistic into perspective. 

The secret to the success of this particular problem-solving approach is to remember that no-one needs to be an expert or even well-informed on the problem being solved. The contribution of the participants is in their professional experience, strategic thinking and ability to think laterally. 

Moving from immersion to research through to creative thinking and recommendations, participants are taken through a process that is at times uncomfortable but results in some powerful thoughts emerging and ones that may not otherwise have surfaced.

Through exposing participants to some of the sensory overload that autistic people can experience whilst asking them to complete an impossible task, they were able to appreciate a taster of the stress that can be associated with every day tasks. The opportunity to research through a variety of media, including individuals who have close associations with neurodiversity in the workplace, helped participants to begin to understand the theory and practicalities of the problem. Sabotage questions encouraged creative and divergent thinking resulting in well considered and detailed recommendations.

Not only does this approach take the initial steps to resolution, participants are also fulfilled by the very act of working on a ‘big problem’, engage and develop their thinking as a group and leave inspired in wanting to make a difference. 

A fresh approach – contact us

So next time you have a problem to solve, consider alternative approaches to your tried and tested methods. Taking a different perspective and being open to every consideration that emerges may just help you to find a solution that would otherwise have remained uncovered. 

Experience this fresh approach for yourself. If you would like one of the team to facilitate a problem-solving session in your organisation then contact us at

For more information on autism in the workplace please visit the National Autistic Society website

Date Published: 09/07/2018

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