Analysis & Problem Solving are necessary to navigate everyday life, especially in a world of echo-chambers and #FakeNews. Through Analysis, we seek to fully understand issues and uncover potential solutions. So keep reading for insights into how these skills can be developed…

What is Analysis & Problem Solving and why is it important?

Analysis and Problem Solving is the ability to critically evaluate data and use judgement to work through issues. It involves spotting connections between data. And essentially, involves seeing and actioning solutions effectively.

Firstly, Analysis is about being objective. And looking for evidence to support the conclusions we reach. Ultimately to improve judgement. And good analysis helps us to keep in check important cognitive shortcuts that can often impair our judgements– our biases.

We all have biases. When left unmanaged, biases are very problematic. One common bias, the Halo Effect, leads us to amplify the positive aspects of people. For example, thinking because a person is attractive, they’ll automatically be a good person. By building an analytical mindset, we can manage our biases, make better decisions and effectively solve problems.

The goal is to problem-solve on the basis of objective evidence, not sentiment. Emotions and biases cloud our judgement. So it’s essential to probe the evidence, determine what’s fact from fiction. Good analysis helps us to do this.

When starting out

At the outset of your career, you’re likely to be given tasks or problems to solve. A good determinant of how successful you’ll be in problem solving or delivering tasks is your ability to conduct strong analysis.

Naturally, over time, the problems you’ll deal with will become increasingly complex. So, it’s good to get in the habit of conducting thorough, evidence-based analysis early on.

First, focus on identifying relevant information. Is there data, facts, evidence available to help you analyse? Be careful too, it’s easy to waste time with interesting yet ultimately irrelevant data.

During this time, you’ll be getting to grips with the role, workplace and your colleagues. So you’ll have all sorts of information to handle. This makes it even more important to focus on what really matters to the task at hand.

Ask questions for a better understanding of what you’re trying to solve. Seek others’ views and opinions. This is important for ensuring others trust and engage with you. But your priority should be on building a picture of problems, built of evidence and data.

Test assumptions to decipher and challenge the myths. In a world of fake news, critical thinking is integral to analysis and problem solving. Sometimes can be as simple as reviewing problems again after a break. Ask yourself: what am I assuming here? What is really going? What might I have missed before?

Exercise lateral thinking. Think outside the box and to look at problems from different perspectives. For example, if you’re a product designer it’s effective to interact with product from the perspective of users, suppliers and distributors.

Beware of overconfidence. Both your own and that of others. Don’t just expect your managers or seniors to be correct, examine the source of data. Also, get a handle on the different types of biases that hinder analysis. Think about which biases you might be prone to.

Essentially, it’s about having your research hat on. So stay alert and conduct qualitative and quantitative analysis as appropriate. Try testing yourself to build your capacity for spotting trends and patterns in complex problems. Logical or abstract reasoning tests can be a great one to start with.

Analysis and Problem Solving on your way up

So as you gain more experience in dealing with analysis, you’ll become better at problem-solving. Often the more senior your role is means the more responsibility you have, thus more potential problems.

With experience, you’ll start to more routinely tune-in to the workplace. You’ll be aware of issues brewing beneath the surface, like office politics. And you will analyse and navigate underlying issues like this when problem-solving.

By its very nature, you’re dealing with more data, more information, more stakeholders and more pressure. So your ability to analyse despite additional distractions is truly put to the test. However, you may now have the opportunity to delegate tasks.

And if the option of help is there – grab it with both hands! The variety of information you’re dealing with grows with increasing responsibility. It’s easy to think you can continue to effectively analyse as you once did with a more focused workload, but don’t be fooled. We all have limits. We have to prioritise our attention. Pick what and when we analyse.

As you take more of a lead on problems, help others to think critically. Point out the evidence, data or facts underpinning your judgements. And ask them to critically evaluate them too.

More and more, leaders will want to see depth in your analysis and evidence that your ideas are future-proofed. They’ll ask to see the business case for any recommendations you make. So prioritise building strong rationale in business cases and focus on testing assumptions and iterating your solutions. Build prototypes or minimal viable products (MVPs) to truly stress test your ideas or judgements.

Develop a process for problem solving. Try to implement systems to seek, analyse, formulate solutions and evaluate outcomes. Building loops like this can help create habits and make analysis more seamless.

You could use tools to appraise data quickly. Or you can work with specialists in evaluating big data. In the future we’ll be using more tools to analyse complex and diverse data. So get ahead of the curb, by building you capacity for interpreting data now.

Leading in Analysis and Problem Solving

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No matter what career stage you’re at, there will be problems to solve. This is especially the case when you’re in a position of leadership. A good leader is both demonstrator and facilitator of strong analysis and problem-solving skills.

At this stage you’ll likely be responsible for the management of a team and the big picture of the organisation.  Ultimately, you’ll need to lead by example and set the tone for your team when problem-solving.

Leaders are expected to be decisive. And good decisions are made by harnessing the power of an analytical mindset to collect and decipher data and information. No knee-jerk reactions, but thoughtful and strategic responses. Here are some pointers on how you can do this:

Use patterns and trends to uncover longer term opportunities and draw potential conclusions. This could relate to commercial thinking when looking for financially beneficial opportunities.

Recognise and respond strategically to the pressures faced by your people. Engage with your team and look at how you can improve processes, wellbeing and overall productivity.

Consistently build and review your awareness of new technologies shaping the way things might be done in the future. Stay in the know and beware of the fads. It’s about choosing what is best to pursue.

Increase your awareness and use of Systems Thinking. Identify the links between different tasks and functions. Then evaluate on the basis of seeing things in a system, rather than treating issues in isolation.

Say what you think. Share your thought-process openly. Be a thought-leader, create an open space for sharing thoughts and your team will contribute. This ultimately increases potential collaboration, empowers the team and teases out team-working issues.

From analysing the situation to solving it

Whatever walk of life or occupation, your chances of success will improve along with your capacity for analysis and problem solving. Whether you’re just starting out or you’ve been around for a while, these skills are needed at every stage.

And analysis is important in our interpersonal interactions, as it is for regular tasks. There are always instances where you might need to read between the lines of what someone is saying. And to identify what’s really going on, beneath the conversation’s surface.

Additionally, the more hands-on experience we have with problems, the better we’ll be at finding solutions. So maybe we should schedule some time for ‘brain-training’ exercises like Sudoku? Although there isn’t any conclusive evidence to suggest games like Sudoku substantially improve our problem-solving abilities, the regular exposure to problems tests us and builds confidence.

So if you’re looking to build up your analysis and problem solving skills, set up a spotlight on the WiseAmigo app. Doing this will help you stay on track with your development, and get inspired along the way.

And once you’ve nailed Analysis and Problem Solving, you’ll be in a better place to think strategically, commercially and manage conflict better too.

“Analysis is the art of creation through destruction.” 
― P.S. Baber, Cassie Draws the Universe.

Development is a journey and the WiseAmigo app is here to help you along the way. Join the WiseAmigo community, create a Spotlight, discover more insightful content and reflect on your assertiveness journey today.