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Applying Simple Solutions To Complex Problems Only Provide Short Lived Results

By Brad Eisenhuth | Strategy, Leadership | 16 Jun 2021 |

Problem solving is not always just applying a response to a problem, we would all love that but this is not true. A simple solution can only be applied to a simple problem in a predictable environment. When does that happen? Well, at a strategic level, rarely. 

A simple context is where if you do something you get results, there is a cause-and-effect relationship. It works for things that can be fixed by building a report, for instance, something with logic, you follow a process it gets you the outcome. 

It’s reassuring, and make no mistake it's essential and useful. But as soon as you step into strategy, you have to be ok with working in the grey. 


Finance leaders are often dealing with complex situations but they may also tend to use simple solutions to solve them.  

Let's take an example. A new forecasting and planning system is sold to the CFO and in the end, while the tool creates some efficiency it turns out to not be flexible enough to meet the changing business needs. As a result, the team ends up using Excel, which was what the business wanted to avoid. Make no mistake though, Excel is not really the issue, the efficiency, structure and ability to simplify activities, that is the concern. 

When leaders try to solve a problem, they might jump to the solution to maintain a certain level of control, confidence and certainty about their decision. But in complex situations, the outcome can be unpredictable, we cannot 100% guarantee that we will get the results we desperately want.  

That is the case when you coach people for instance. Of course, a great coach increases chances of success, but the work is still done by the mentee and multiple factors can influence the outcomes (coach/mentee rapport, uncovered past issues, mode of communication and learning etc.). 


So how can we tackle those complex problem then? Listen, Learn, Try, Improve: that’s the never-ending (in a good way) cycle of problem-solving for complex issues. 

You need to explore and listen to define the problem. You can’t understand the problem by just defining the objective, what you need is to make sure you’re working on the right issue 

Once the problem is defined then you can opt-in for a solution that your team and organisation are ready to stand behind, even if you can’t know for certain that it will work 

We hear you, the dread of uncertainty... Embrace it, this is how great progress are made. And if the solution you choose aligns with your strategy, your culture, your goals, you definitely maximise the likelihood of success.  


Finally, you don’t have to go at it on your own. Team work makes the dream work. At The Outperformer we partner with experts in the field of culture, change, capability and technology to make sure we co-design the best solutions with our clients and answer their complex issues in the most effective way. 

We are always happy to help and you can reach out to us directly at [email protected] and you can find lots of information and case studies on our website.


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