Solver Society: Critical Thinking and Strategic Problem Solving

Illustration of critical thinking and strategic problem solving. Source: Unsplash by Rahul Pabolu (https://unsplash.com/photos/T1fvJX0TmLM)

The second material (05/03/2020) of the Solver Society program that I participated in some time ago invited me and other solvers to think critically and solve strategic problems. This material was filled by Mr. Fajar Jaman as the CEO of IYKRA whose ability in critical thinking and problem solving is undoubted with not only full of experience as a practitioner, but also experience as a founder and CEO.

At the beginning of the session, we are formed into several groups so that the knowledge we received can be directly applied. Five groups were created and I joined a group consisting of Mrs. Ivo (Aufia Espressivo), Mr. Alwi (Diva Alwi), Mr. Farhan (Farhan Hanavi), Mr. Reza (Reza Rizky), and myself (Do I need to tag myself at Ricky Nauvaldy? Hehe). We learned from each other that Mrs. Ivo is an epidemiological research assistant, Alwi is a data scientist, Farhan is a fresh graduate in industrial engineering, Mr. Reza is an IT auditor, and I, myself, am the head of the data engineering unit. An interesting composition and we couldn’t wait to collaborate soon.

The material presented by Mr. Fajar opened with information that the role of scientist data alone is not enough to be able to solve a problem, but also needs to collaborate with Subject Matter Expert (SME) to get a comprehensive insight and get appropriate solutions. Each member in a team has its own role, and each of these members needs to focus on their strengths to get the best results. The combination of the strengths of each individual will be an extraordinary solution.

Critical Thinking to Resolve Strategic Problems

In practice, the data in the field will always be “lacking”. This is where the role of critical thinking skill and strategic problem solving is needed by making approaches to obtain the necessary data or at least sufficient to answer the problem. An analogy is taken from one of the scenes in the TV series “Narcos” where in the scene, the authorities cannot find out the exact location of the target they want to capture. By using different approaches with the available data (which in this case is real-time satellite data), they can find out a more precise position of their target which is known by the position of luxury cars (owned by the target subordinates) in the slum environment (the hiding location of the target). In this case, they carry out a “CIA” process (collect, interpret, and analyze) to process the “lacking” data into useful information.

Possible Approaches

In approaching, there are some contrast differences between the approach of critical thinking and creative thinking with the first tends to validate from what already exists while the latter tends to produce something new. In addition, there is also a contrasting difference between rationalism and empiricism with rationalism approach based on knowledge, while empiricism is based on experience. Another approach that can be taken is top-down and bottom-up with top-down departing from the problem to be examined one by one and “down” into a solution, while the bottom-up is initiated from what data we have to “go up “became an insight into the results of exploration.

There is nothing wrong between each of these approaches, and this difference does not indicate a tendency that one approach is better than the other approach. However, the best approach is to combine these differences to match the problem at hand.

Problem statement

Problem solving of course can only be done if there is at least a “problem” to be resolved. Therefore, a problem statement needs to be done first to be the basis of the research to find a solution. The problem statement can be started by defining what, where, magnitude, and why. This problem also needs to be prioritized based on values and difficulties, with an additional factor of passion to maintain enthusiasm in the event of a deadlock in the problem solving process.

The knowledge we gained in this material was implemented directly by discussing it in the group and poured into a problem statement to be solved. We discuss it by making a list of problems and possibilities with the limits of what, where, magnitude, why, value, difficulties, and passion as delivered in the material. Due to the time constraint and instructions that the problem statements we made in this session might still be changed, we found that the Indonesian people were worried about the emergence of the Covid-19 virus in Indonesia, but did not have enough information about the virus itself. We state this as a problem, and try to offer a solution by “Relieving public anxiety about the Covid-19 virus”. Even when we still don’t know what to do yet, it’s the part of the research process, though. We felt that the beginning was quite interesting to be the baseline of our project.

A Tiny Bit of Comment

I remember when I was in college with a lecture session filled by Mrs. Betty Purwandari and Mr. Riri Satria that the formulation of problems cannot be done arbitrarily. What we think is a big problem may not be the “root” of the problem that occurs. We need to first question “why” the problem occurs, and do (at least) “5 why” to determine whether a problem is the “root problem” or not. One example that can be taken is the case of an Amazon employee who injured his thumb (Serrat, 2010). The “5 whys” process that occurs is as follows:

  • Why did the employee hurt his thumb? Because his thumb caught in the conveyor belt
  • Why is the thumb stuck to the conveyor belt? Because he chased his bag in the conveyor belt
  • Why is he chasing his bag in the conveyor belt? Because he put his bag in a conveyor belt that runs suddenly
  • Why did he put his bag in the conveyor belt? Because he uses a conveyor belt as a table
  • Solution: provide a table to put the bag

From the “5 whys”, the problem was not the employee or the conveyor belt, but from the absence of a table to put bags. The problem is not directly visible on the surface and we might not expect. Other problems will still arise if, for example, if the focus was on fixing the conveyor belt as the employee might still put his bag in the conveyor belt, and we don’t know what other problems that might arose as a result of the bag still being put on the conveyor belt.

Apart from some of disadvantages of implementing “5 whys” as Card (2017) state that it is lack in depth to analyze problems, at least the use of “5 whys” can be a good start for not carelessly determine a problem to be solved.

Additional information

This article is also published in Indonesian on my Linkedin Profile on this link. This article is part of a collection of articles on my experience in joining the Solver Society volunteering program. Other related articles are as follows:

Reference

Card, A. J. (2017). The problem with ‘5 whys’. BMJ quality & safety, 26 (8), 671–677. https://medischevervolgopleidingen.nl/sites/default/files/paragraph_files/alan_card_-_the_problem_with_five_whys_bmjqs_2016.pdf

Serrat, O. (2010). The five ways technique. Washington, DC: Asian Development Bank. https://digitalcommons.ilr.cornell.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1200&context=intl

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