Leading modules


Module 5 “Can I solve problems?” – Creative problem solving

Unit 2 – How to analyze a problem?
Problem types and solving styles

Jerry L. Talley identifies in his problem solving model 6 general problem types (Puzzles, Too Rich Problems, Uncertainties, Disputes, Dilemmas, Complexities), which require each a different approach. Complex situations contain according to him often several problem types, making it necessary to identify all of them and treat them separately.

As a young entrepreneur you will probably have to deal with the problem types of Too Rich Problems, Uncertainties and Dilemmas. Too Rich Problems can be the questions of how to find a vision for your company, to decide on the look of your website or how you want to improve your community life. Creative problem solving can help you to generate ideas and choose the best option, individually or in a team.

Problems with uncertainties mean that you must look at multiple futures rather than a single path, because some variables are unknown. Project planning is an example for a problem with uncertainties, as you don’t know what is going to happen. Will it be financed? Will somebody be sick? Will it rain? So, you will need to plan for different scenarios to be prepared for each of them.

Dilemma problems are also typical for young entrepreneurs, even though they cannot really be solved, but only professionally managed. A typical dilemma is to choose between time for career and time for relationships, another teamwork vs individual initiative. The positive point about dilemmas is that you can shift from one side of the dilemma to the other according to what is best in the given situation.

You will learn later how essential it is to define the nature of a problem to solve it efficiently. But there are also different problem-solving styles which depend on your personality and experience.

Treffinger, D. J (2007) defines problem-solving styles as consistent individual differences in the ways people prefer to plan and carry out generating and focussing activities, in order to gain clarity, produce ideas, and prepare for action. An individual’s natural disposition towards change management and problem solving is influenced in part by mindset, willingness to engage in and respond to a situation presented, and the attitudinal dimensions of one’s personality.

He differentiates 3 dimensions within each individual problem-solving style:

  • Orientation to change (Explorer–Developer)
  • Manner of processing (External–Internal)
  • Ways of deciding (Person–Task)

The “Orientation to change” dimension represents the way how to answer to a new challenge. Within this dimension he sees two main styles: The Explorer, who seeks for new grounds and for finding new creative solutions, and the Developer, who prefers problems and solutions within the framework of the present experience, following more a realistic way.

The second dimension of the problem-solving style is the “manner of processing” information, which is very much a behavioral dimension. The External type will share the information about the problem, discuss the possibilities and build on the ideas of others. The Internal type will rather reflect on the problem, trying to find a solution with his/her own resources.

The third dimension involves the preferences of the “ways of deciding”. The Person type will first consider the impact of choices and decisions on people’s feelings and support, and on the need of harmony and positive relationships. The Task type tends to be more logical and objectively, making judgements on well-reasoned conclusions.

All three dimensions have an influence on the way how you will proceed to solve a given problem.