Problem solving

In our business, we are frequently confronted by fairly complex problems.

A good example is the SCEP process, where you often get a long list of issues that needs to be addressed without clear guidance on how to address them. To make matters worse, many of these kinds of issues are related, so that you can’t solve one without first solving another one.

I like to think of these problems like complicated knots that you’re trying to untie. One way to go would be to try to get some kind of mental map of the entire knot and try to come up with a comprehensive strategy for untangling.

But I’ve found that it’s better to approach these problems a different way: Get the small, obvious wins first.


First, momentum / progress is important. If you have to climb a big mountain, you might as well start taking steps, because you and everyone who works with you will feel better if progress is being made.

But, second, there is also the issue of luck / opportunity. In my experience, once you get moving on an inter-related set of problems of varying complexity, often:

  1. In the course of solving the simple problems, an unexpectedly-easy solution to the complex problem(s) emerges
  2. Some external force removes the complex problem from your list before you even begin to focus on it

So, like in many things in life, it’s better not to spend a ton of time trying to come up with an optimal strategy upfront. Better to just, as the English say, “get stuck in”.