Navigating complex problems in organisations – Shifting to rational complex problem-solving approaches

Shifting to rational complex problem-solving approaches

“Problems cannot be solved using the same level of thinking that created them.”  – Albert Einstein

The world around us is changing fast, both in our organisations and communities. The increased interconnectivity across multiple dimensions of modern life and stakeholders due to globalisation, technological revolution, and geopolitical shifts coupled with changes occasioned by the pandemic have brought about a myriad of multifaceted challenges that require new approaches to problem-solving.

These require that leaders and managers demonstrate exceptional, creative thinking and apply logical and holistic approaches to solving problems.  Failing to do so could have adverse organisation and economy-wide consequences.  Therefore, for organisations and communities to perform effectively and achieve their intended goals, it is necessary to develop the capacity of all employees and community members to creatively solve problems.

A recent UN-supported research study signalled four mega-trends that will influence the character of the relationship between developing countries and international organisations:

  1. the ability to deal with power,
  2. the ability to deal with norms,
  3. the ability to deal with preferences, and finally,
  4. the ability to deal with complex problems.

The World Economic Forum also, in its 2020 Future of Jobs report, noted that globally, as much as 50percent of all workers will need reskilling by 2025 and declared complex problem solving as the most important skill of the 21st century. According to the report, critical thinking, and complex problem-solving top the list of skills that employers believe will grow in prominence by 2025.

When the approaches adopted by organisations are not effective, and if the solutions do not effectively and sustainably solve our problems, complex problems become expensive and have lasting negative and unintended consequences.

To effectively navigate the new reality of a post-COVID-19 landscape, governments, organisations, and individuals must arm themselves with critical Complex Problem-Solving techniques and skillsets that compel them to use future-state designs and holistic models to achieve a step-change in their performance.

Ishmael Yamson & Associates, in this programme, will arm participants with critical Complex Problem-Solving techniques and skillsets to effectively navigate the new reality in leading organisations and to achieve a step-change in their performance.  To that end, the programme explores the following learning objectives.

LEARNING OBJECTIVE 1 – a deep understanding of solving complex problems  

In developing Navigating Complex Problems in Organisations, we wanted the workshop first, to provide participants with a deep understanding of the methodologies and tools of solving complex problems.     The reason for this is simple. Problems in organisations come in various forms and from various sources, especially from the three C’s in organisations – Customers, Competitors and the Company and may originate from the nature of the organisation, its financial arrangements, operational issues, societal norms, or even the individual.

In most organisations, managers make decisions in solving organisational problems either through an intuitive or rational process dependent on the nature of the organisation, type of problem, their experience and cognitive ability.  For example, structured problems, which are straightforward and familiar, are easily solved by applying previous solutions or standard operating procedures (SOPs) which have proven successful.  Every good organisation has a set of SOPs that apply to most of these simple problems.

However, in cases where there are new problems, bedevilled by complexity and or uncertainty that may require considerable thought about finding alternative solutions, the SOPs may not be appropriate, and leaders are therefore confronted by complex problems. A complex problem is defined as any problem for decision making when there is complexity and uncertainty that poses significant consequences for the organisation.  Such conditions rule out the obvious application of SOPS and require that organisations invest in getting good answers about how to address the issues.

Participants of the planned workshop will be guided to recognise the risks posed by sub-optimal solutions when they apply intuitive models in decision making involving complex problems.  They will be exposed to systemic, rational approaches to complex problem-solving. Based on the organisational need or problem, participants will learn to apply new and appropriate methodologies and techniques in problem disaggregation, cleavage, and analysis.

This workshop will be to attempt to shift the complex problem-solving approach from intuitive to rational analysis that emphasises how framing, designing, gathering and interpreting data about complex problems improves the quality of decision-making; and how to structure, get buy-in and present the best solution to management and leadership.

LEARNING OBJECTIVE 2 – an overview of the creative problem-solving

Dealing with the subject of Navigating Complex Problems in Organisations throws up the interesting two-pronged task of providing a comprehensive overview of the creative problem-solving process and demonstrating how that is relevant for modern managers, both in the private and public sectors.

This is a big deal considering that creative problem-solving skill has been declared as “the skill of the 21st century”. Andreas Schleicher, Director of the OECD Skills Program and Special Assistant to the Secretary-General of OECD puts it simply as “the world no longer rewards people for just what they know – Google knows everything- but for what they can do with what they know”.

Problem-solving depends on the capacity of the organisation or an individual to engage in cognitive processing – the ability to take in information and transform it, store it, recover it, and put it to work – and various professional organisations have developed various methods, approaches, and problem-solving methodologies.

The approach adopted to impart modern techniques for problem-solving during the IY&A workshop is based on the combined ideas, frameworks and business redesign concepts developed by McKinsey & Company, AtoS International and the Boston Consulting Group.

Individuals and managers of both private and public organisations need to understand that ad-hoc application of experience alone to current problems or the blind application of SMART and pyramid principles do not reduce or address personal biases in complex problem-solving. The resultant solution is and will always be sub-optimal. On the contrary, it is rather the consistent application of, among others, inductive and deductive knowledge, coupled with the way they cleave problems that address bias, that often lead to pitfalls and common mistakes.

LEARNING OBJECTIVE 3 – to find the ROOT CAUSE of a problem

The third objective of the programme on Navigating Complex Problems in Organisations focuses on the basic idea of Complex Problem Solving – finding a creative and innovative manner to find the root cause of a problem. The session will teach participants time-tested tools to help break down a problem to understand it, generate ideas to solve the problem and evaluate those ideas to find the most effective solutions. The underlying approach is to do this in a structured, logical, step-by-step way and to avoid relying solely on experience and personal biases.

The programme will introduce ideas, skills, and techniques to help leaders in organisations effectively apply research and step-by-step logical thinking to develop and test hypotheses.  This is necessary for generating and synthesising solution options in agile and innovative decision making to resolve complex problems.  Most important is the ability to engage in creative thinking through brainstorming (divergent thinking) and analytical prioritisation of the best solutions (convergent thinking).

LEARNING OBJECTIVE 4 – creative and logical thinking

Albert Einstein said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on it, I would use the first 55 minutes determining the proper questions to ask.”  This inspired the fourth learning objective of the workshop on Navigating Complex Problems in Organisations to help participants understand how creative and logical thinking can aid in problem-solving and how to apply different other analytical techniques to gain command over the nature of the problems that organisations must resolve. It is also referred to by others as design thinking as illustrated in the diagram below.

In complex problem solving, even individual level problems can easily get complicated. A simple decision to invest in personal skills can have unexpected dimensions. First, is recognising that any investment means one must defer consumption!

–         Is it a wise decision to invest rather than meet a current need?

–         Will it have a future impact on your career?

These are among various questions one must consider – not randomly, but logically.  Most people think because it is a personal problem, a rough, behind-the envelope calculation will suffice, but do not be deceived, otherwise, you will miss the critical path.  It is important to understand that finding the critical path to solving every complex problem is a continuation of the prioritisation process. Moreover, it means high-grading your analysis of the decision so you are confident that your solution will have the highest probability of yielding outcomes.


The best understanding that one needs to have in decision-making is gaining insight into the solution options!  Simply, having better insight helps in your efficient and effective planning of who does what, at what time and what is expected of each and everyone in the problem-solving process and the whole organisation.

A prudent question is one half of wisdom.

“Considering your participation in the Navigating Complex Problem Solving in Organisations programme, let’s do this typical exercise.  Ask yourself WHY you must invest in a complex problem-solving workshop?  To the subsequent answer, kindly ask WHY again and repeat the WHY question 3 more times to understand the real need and potential benefit of your investment!” – Dela Evans

In this workshop, we will equip you to apply these and other best-practise methods to help you in organising the systems and processes in your workplace and prioritising your thinking process and decision variables for problem-solving in your organisation.

Finally, know that you must never go off and build a potential solution to a complex problem without being sure of which question it answers and without sharpening your mind to visualise the form the final output might take.

LEARNING OBJECTIVE 5 – from ’nice-to-knows’ to ‘need to knows’

In complex problem solving, focussing the attention of the problem-solving team on the core issues, and fighting cognitive error is one of the central themes.   The fifth learning objective of the workshop on Navigating Complex Problem in Organisations is formulated to enable teams and leaders to shift attention from ’nice-to-knows’ to ‘need to knows’ when solving complex problems and to focus on the critical core issues that lead to appropriate solutions. This is sometimes described as focussing on ‘one-day solutions’, by eliminating irrelevant sub-problems early in the process of prioritisation and hypothesis phases.

In such projects, the desire most often is to dive into deeper analysis without a clear understanding of the structure of the problem.  These lead to a lot of time wasted on irrelevant subproblems which do not hold any probability for an appropriate solution. In complex problem-solving, the correct approach is to specify the (sub)-issues clearly, form a hypothesis to prove or disprove it before analysis and there should be clear responsibility for who does the analysis and what the expected outcome needs to be.

A precise work planning is necessary to prevent the team from spending time in the analysis phase on ‘nice-to-knows’.  Generally, the principle is to set out your plan of work diligently. This allows you to do the knock-out analysis first, followed by the ‘need-to-knows’ and as the last step, ‘the nice-to-knows’ if it is still then necessary to work on them. To succeed in this aspect of complex problem solving do not do any analysis that is not guided by testable hypothesis, limit work plans to time spans no longer than two or three weeks in duration and be very specific about who is doing what and by when.

Programme Approach

The programme topics will be illustrated with 4 case studies and interactive team exercises to help participants learn and understand how:

  1. Problem solving improves organisational performance and results
  2. Problem-solving skills create a preventive organisational culture
  3. Problem-solving skills aids the individual participant’s career and growth.

Who Should Attend?

Senior and Executive leaders who are critical to defining and implementing strategy should attend this programme.


The cost per participant for the two-day event is GH¢3,500 plus taxes and levies. We invite you to call 0247665283 or visit to register and join the Navigating Complex Problems in Organisations programme by Ishmael Yamson & Associates and look forward to welcoming you on March 24 and 25.

About the Key Presenter

Dela Evans is an Associate Consultant of Ishmael Yamson & Associates.   Dela distinguished himself for over 25 years working with prestigious companies including CMG Consulting, AtoS International, Boston Consulting Group and McKinsey & Company in Europe.  His specialisations include complex problem-solving, operational efficiency, change and transformation strategy, program management, relationship management, strategic thinking, and strategy development.  Dela  has spent the last ten years working extensively on Complex Problem Solving with tools designed to help leaders

  • effectively define, disaggregate, prioritise and analyse problems, and
  • synthesise, communicate and implement solutions.

He has also developed a highly effective matrix comprising methodologies to resolve complexity and uncertainty in solving problems, and advanced methods and techniques to apply to problems with either linear or non-linear relationships.  Leaders of major corporates such as Renault International, British Rail, Caya Madrid Social Bank, Dutch Postal Services KPN and KLM among others, have benefitted from this programme.

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