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Complex Problem Solving

Updated: Jun 7, 2019



Problems are faced by everyone and everything, be it human beings, animals, organisations or countries. There are even world problems. Doing some research on the different kinds of problems we face in our day to day lives, some minor, some major and some complex, it was interesting to know, each of these types require certain skills to handle and overcome them. Conflict Management, a study in itself, is also part of problem solving. Suffice to say that this is a very interesting topic and a key skill today’s professionals must acquire.


In this blog we will explore Complex Problem Solving. The word Complex itself means Complicated. In layman language it means – difficult to understand or to find an answer to because of the problem having many different parts which are ill-defined but interconnected.


When problems and issues impacting families, communities, organisations or countries, are often multifaceted, confusing and hard to define, they come under the area of complex problems. These problems are beyond the scope of any single person or organisation or even country to understand and respond to, due to lack of clarity and disagreements about the cause or causes, which makes it difficult to address these problems.


The most difficult part of Complex problems are that different key people will have differing opinions about its cause, type and enormity. There could always be a possibility that the problem by itself may not be large, but due to its social complexity, rather than its technical complexity, it makes it hard to address. Take for example – changes in education system. It might technically not be so hard to address and bring about the change but with varying opinions – social and political – it could prove to be difficult.


There are many such examples. We are surrounded by them. Some of these problems that arise at a national and global level are very difficult to solve or control. They fall outside the preview of day-to day experiences and sometimes could take on a threatening form. Disagreements have led to fall-outs or even war.


Addressing these complex problems and bringing about a significant change in perception and mutual understanding is of utmost importance. If these disagreements are not tackled in the right manner and at the right time, it could lead to major disasters. Some of these problems ultimately find a solution if handled in the right manner but there are few such problems that are so complex in nature that they can be highly resistant to any form of resolution, for example, the global financial crisis, terrorism, drug issues, global warming, to name a few.


Each of these complex problems, whether we can find a solution or not, directly impacts the lives of real people and countries. There is a dire need to address these issues at a personal, national or societal level, find the necessary solutions and provide the necessary support to people who are affected by them.


Organisations and businesses too face Complex Problems which require on time solutions so that it does not escalate beyond repair. Organisations are full of challenges and issues on a daily basis. Some of these problems can be dealt with constructively and fairly. But the more serious and complex ones need special skills and expertise to be dealt with in an efficient manner and to get the best results. This is where Complex Problem Solving Skills come into practice. We have understood what Complex Problems are. Now we will understand what Complex Problem Solving means.


What is Complex Problem Solving? The main goal of the Complex Problem Solving Process is to reduce the gap between a given start state and an intended goal state with the help of reasoning and conduct. The characteristics of such problems are that the start state, intended goal state, and barriers are too complex in nature. To add to this dynamism, sometimes all the problems cannot be seen, some underlying problems could crop up only when the issue is addressed. In any Complex Problem resolution the problem solving person must efficiently interact between the problem at hand and the situations that have created it.


  1. Problem Identification: Thinking and Analysis – detecting the problem – accepting that there is a problem – recognizing the nature of the problem – outlining the problem

  2. Structuring the Problem – observing if the problem is as mammoth as it seemed – Inspection & fact-finding – developing a clear picture of the problem

  3. Looking for possible solutions – analysing various courses of action – selecting a suitable course of action – view and review roadblocks towards implementation – set the stage for implementation This is the most complex part of the problem solving process. If not handled in the right manner, the whole process could fall flat and it would be back to square one, sometimes in a very negative manner. Decisions have to be taken after very careful analysis and considerations.

  4. Implementation – Carrying out the chosen course of action systematically – Monitoring the outcome of the chosen course

  5. Monitoring / Seeking Feedback: Last stage of problem solving – reviewing outcomes over a period of time – reviewing outcomes and success of the chosen solution through feedback

It would be a good idea to keep a check to see if the problem solving process was successful. Since this is not our everyday problem solving, the ability to handle with care the enormity of the issues is a mission that could make even a brave, wary. It takes courage and confidence to bring about the change and mind-set required, coupled with the ability to make the impossible possible.


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