FacebookFacebook icon TwitterTwitter icon LinkedInLinkedIn icon Email

Brain circuits

3 steps to critical problem solving

IbyIMD+ Published 15 September 2021 in Brain circuits • 3 min read

Although solving problems intuitively can be a disaster, too much analysiStyles can be equally nefarious and potentially lead to paralysis by analysis. What you need is a process that covers all necessary bases at a level of detail commensurate for the problem at hand. We have identified a simple three-step process to get to the heart of complex problems and enable you to make better decisions. Give it a try.

Step 1: Frame

Complex problems are rarely what they appear to be on first look. To better understand what you are dealing with, frame the problem by asking yourself “What is my problem?” Hint: you can safely assume that whatever you think your problem is right now probably isn’t your actual problem.

Step 2: Explore

Do not rely on intuition. No matter how much faith you have in your own judgment, if you rely strictly on your instincts you will miss the opportunity to see things from an alternative perspective. Instead, explore potential solutions. That is, ask yourself “How may I solve my problem?” It is equally important to explore what matters to you; that is, the various attributes of a solution that would make it more attractive to you.

Step 3: Decide

In most cases, one solution isn’t consistently superior to all others on all attributes. To make your decision, answer your question, “How should I solve my problem?” Surface the trade-offs for each solution, identifying what you are ready to give away that you value so that you can get a little more of something else that you value even more.

Frame, explore, decide, or FrED, for short. For most complex problems, your understanding of the problem changes as your progress through the analysis. The three steps aren’t so much a linear sequence as they are elements of an iterative loop. Do not hesitate to revise previous conclusions as new evidence surfaces.


Arnaud Chevallier

Professor of Strategy at IMD

Arnaud Chevallier is Professor of Strategy at IMD, Director of the Global Management Foundations program, and Co-Director of the Complex Problem Solving program. His research, teaching, and consulting on strategic thinking bridges disciplines to provide concrete tools to improve decision making and corporate problem solving. He has written two books: Strategic Thinking in Complex Problem Solving and Solvable: A Simple Solution to Complex Problems, co-authored with Albrecht Enders.

Albrecht Enders

Professor of Innovation and Strategy at IMD

Albrecht Enders is Professor of Strategy and Innovation at IMD and co-director of the Business Leadership Training program. His major research, teaching, and consulting interests are in the areas of managing discontinuous change and top-team strategy development processes. Before joining IMD, Professor Enders spent three years as a consultant with The Boston Consulting Group in Cologne where…

Login and subscribe to IbyIMD+ subscription

Explore first person business intelligence from top minds curated for a global executive audience