Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from the book “Live As A Leader: Tools and Inspiration to Transform Yourself, Your Team, and Your Life,” by Aleta Norris, Nancy Lewis and John Rutkiewicz.
We are asked often to help leaders become better problem solvers and decision makers.
We believe that one of the best tools for helping yourself and others become better problem solvers and decision makers is to have a process for problem solving. Such a process breaks problem solving into steps that others can learn and follow. It also gives us a framework to know where people struggle and, therefore, where we can help them. The problem-solving process we’ll share is called CIDER.
CIDER is an acronym that represents the five steps in our problem-solving process. If you were to do an internet search of problem-solving processes, you’d find dozens of them. Some are four steps, seven steps, eleven steps. Yet, regardless of how many steps we break the process into, all versions follow the same overarching flow of key concepts.
The five steps of CIDER are:
- Clarify the problem: Focus on understanding the real problem completely, rather than focusing simply on symptoms. Define the desired state.
- Identify ideas and possibilities: Delay the selection of solutions by actively seeking other ideas, possibilities and alternatives to consider (brainstorming).
- Decide on actions: Weigh the ideas that have been generated, along with their implications and potential impact on others.
- Execute the plan: Put the decisions and actions into play, and include timelines and deadlines.
- Review and evaluate outcomes: Gauge the results of the actions taken and their effectiveness at bringing about the desired state. Return to earlier steps as necessary.
Next, we’ll dig into each step in more detail.
Clarify the problem
One of the keys to good problem solving is to spend adequate time and energy in this first step. The more we invest in clarifying the problem and the desired outcome, the better our results generally are. People who struggle with problem solving and decision making can quickly become much better by simply learning how to clarify the problem effectively. One reason: Effectively clarifying the problem makes the next step much easier, sometimes even effortless – it’s the brainstorming step.
Identify ideas and possibilities
Two things about this step: We often shortchange our brainstorming and discovery of new ideas, possibilities and alternatives. Let’s make our exploration active and intentional. Second, this is a creative-thinking step, where the only goal is to generate ideas. It’s not a time to criticize or analyze – only to brainstorm a variety of possible actions and solutions. Critical thinking about those ideas happens next.
Decide on actions
In this step, we narrow down our options. This step reminds us to think critically about the pros and cons of our ideas and their possible consequences and impact before pulling the trigger. And remember: Solving a problem (especially a complex one) often entails multiple decisions and actions. There is usually no “magic bullet.”
Take action! Here’s where we try things. Problem solving and decision making is often about running experiments – placing bets on and then testing solutions that you think might solve the problem.
Review and evaluate outcomes
While the five elements of CIDER are presented as sequential steps in a process, the process of problem solving isn’t usually linear. For example, as you execute your actions, you may learn something new that provides a fresh idea for solving the problem. Or, as you review and evaluate outcomes, that step might lead you to decide on a new action you can take. Problem solving is an iterative, holistic process – not always linear or logical.
One final thought: This problem-solving process may seem plain and even obvious. That’s likely because, as a good problem solver yourself, you already follow these steps, intuitively and automatically. But remember: We also need to help others be better at problem solving and decision making. Having a process like this helps you to frame it for others, to teach and guide them on how to do it, so you can help them build their own capacity, insight and mental models for how to tackle problems.