Problem Solving Toolkit

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Indeed, Bendor prefers a toolkit approach to decision-making in which incrementalism’s Big Three are vital heuristics — a rule of thumb that cuts a complex problem down to a manageable size.

They may not work as an integrated problem-solving technique, but as individual heuristics they work great.

When faced with a difficult decision, the problem solver, Bendor says, is better off turning to “a toolkit of heuristics that can be deployed separately and combined in various ways.” Bendor’s research shows we actually have more options when it comes to solving hard problems than “Muddling Through” suggested.

“There aren’t just two fixed methods of decision making like Lindblom thought,” Bendor says, referring to disjointed incrementalism and the synoptic method.

“This plan will get us from A to G,” explains Bendor. And then from G we’ll look around and think again and figure out how to get from G to R.

Then when we’re there we’ll figure out [the rest].” Having many people working independently on the same problem increases the likelihood of success, Bendor says, referring to what Lindblom calls distributed intelligence.Using the “decomposition” concept, the team could break down the problem into more manageable pieces, while also using the idea of “imitation,” in which the team seeks to answer the question: How have other hospitals and clinics dealt with this issue?In this case, the group breaks into subcommittees with each focusing on a different aspect of the problem.To clarify, Bendor recommends an approach that uses basic building blocks.Consider Duplo blocks, the little sibling to Lego building blocks.Bendor recommends searching in the neighborhood of the status quo.It’s easier to design new alternatives if they are similar to those that already exist. Lindblom used the term “seriality” or iterative adaptation to talk about small changes made rapidly.When people don’t show up, it wastes hospital resources and possibly jeopardizes their health.The makeup of the team, which is setting out to solve the problem, is important.Indeed, “Muddling Through” is one of the most cited articles in the field of organizational behavior.More than half a century later, Stanford GSB professor Jonathan Bendor revisits Lindblom’s classic work of applied theory to determine if it still informs the way people and organizations make decisions today. In a new paper, Bendor, a professor of political economy, makes the case that disjointed incrementalism is “dead yet flourishing.” Although the overall theory of disjointed incrementalism is a “spent intellectual force,” its components, especially the “Big Three” — local search, iterative adaptation, and distributed intelligence — are flourishing.


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