Five Ways to Solve Tough Problems

HouseSolving problems – the really tough problems – takes fortitude, insight and wisdom. Tough problems are tough because its difficult to think outside the box. It is often difficult to escape the current situation.

McKinsey provides us with 5 ways to solve tough problems, that they call flexons – “flexible objects for generating novel solutions.”  Stated more simply – flexons are methodologies for finding a solution.

  • Networks – engaging the broader social network to understand the social prestige and influence – excellent when problems involve people and social systems.
  • Evolutionary – systematically guessing allowing the fittest answer to survive – great when many small experiments can be conducted quickly such as A/B testing for website design.
  • Decision agent – applying game theory to stakeholder behavior models – good when stakeholders have different value systems
  • Systems dynamics – mapping the major components and their forces amongst themselves (i.e. creating a ecosystem or systems map) – geared towards physical systems
  • Information processing – mapping the flow of information into the problem solving process -the proverbial the solution is only as good as the data applies.

By getting the group to focus on the best methodology  suited to solving the problem, group think is mitigated and solutions become more easily found.


Picture from Martino! @ Flickr


BYOBD – Bring Your Own Big Data

What can Big Data and Bring your own device (BYOD) teach us? Has big data peaked?  Howard Borland, at, writes

The big data phenomenon shows no signs of slowing down. Like any good journalist looking for blood in the water, I’m waiting for the backlash just as we’ve seen with other new technologies, such as BYOD.

Google trends shows BYOD plateaued after 12-18 months, but Big data is growing strong and nearly four times bigger, with no sign of slowing.

What’s going on? Let’s look at some related trends – Data Warehousing and Business Intelligence.

Data Warehousing was declining, but dropped more when big data took off. Can we say “re-branding?” I wonder how many companies just changed their messaging to ride the big data wave? Interestingly the broader term “Business Intelligence” has declined much more slowly. Seems that you can discard a technology like “data warehousing” but you can’t just discard your intelligence quite as easily. Almost seems like as the world gets more complex businesses are becoming less intelligent.

Let’s look more closely at that flippant remark. Are companies less intelligent? With this year’s big data surveys – Gil Press nicely summarizes this year’s surveys. At first, the result look like nearly any survey “xx respondants say they are engaged in…big data.” But, Bain & Company found:

…those with the most advanced analytics capabilities outperform their competitors by wide margins.

  • Twice as likely to be in the top quartile of financial performance within their industries
  • Five times as likely to make decisions much faster than market peers
  • Three times as likely to execute decisions as intended
  • Twice as likely to use data very frequently when making decisions.

Bain and Company’s findings show us the most intelligent companies, understand data analysis drives results.

Perhaps despite the big data term hype and over-use, bottom-line-results still rule. By all means, bring your own big data (BYOBD) definition, but don’t forget the data analysis.