Roger Neill’s “Best Current Thinking” approach to problem solving is a magic elixir that makes problem solving dramatically more effective by focusing attention on possible solutions. Roger first introduced me to his approach at a workshop he was facilitating years ago. I always thought it was an interesting process. As I’ve used it since then, I’ve learned just how powerful it is. The secret sauce is its leveling ability. It’s a mindset change.
- When you give someone a recommendation or proposal, you’re selling. They’re buying. You’re forcing them into an evaluative, yes/no mode.
- When you go to someone with your best current thinking about solving a problem, you’re inviting them to collaborate with you to build on your thinking and solve the problem together. As Roger reminded me, this is forward-looking and positive, different than a “strawman,” which can be treated much more negatively.
Don’t get me wrong. Sometimes selling is good. But the most productive, most collaborative co-creation sessions I’ve seen over the past few years have included a problem owner sharing their best current thinking and then joining in the problem solving process as an equal participant.
The core of the process laid out below includes identifying the problem, its owner and decision maker, that owner putting their best current thinking on the table for all to improve, and the group going through a disciplined process to solve that problem in collaboration with the problem owner.
This works well with an executive onboarding into a new team, trying to converge and evolve fast. If the executive is just assimilating into the team, they can follow team norms. If the executive needs to shock the team into dramatic, immediate changes, they can tell the team what to do. When converging and evolving – generally the most effective onboarding approach – the executive can lead with best current thinking.
Sharing best current thinking changes interactions from tells or tests to collaboration. The new executive can be transparent about what they think, know, and don’t know, putting their ideas on the table for all to improve. This is an act of converging and asking for help and evolving with new thinking.
For this to work well,
- The problem must be real, material and solvable.
- The problem owner must be confident enough to be open to input while retaining ownership of the problem (and solution.)
- Participating problem solvers must focus on the problem and solutions and not the problem owner.
The Best Current Thinking Problem (BCT) Solving Process
- In the beginning, there is a problem. Identify the problem owner and decision maker, who may or may not be different people. Decide whether to work the problem as a group (or not.) If yes,
- The problem owner shares their going-in perspective on the problem, context and best current thinking around potential options. (Ideally these will be shared before the problem solving session.)
- Answer questions for clarification (to help people understand context and best current thinking, not for them to comment on or improve the thinking – yet.)
- Highlight the most positive of the best current thinking contributing to making it work.
- Identify the key barriers keeping the best current thinking from working. (Get all the barriers on the table at the same time before working any of them.)
- Decide on the most important barrier.
- Directed brainstorm on the most important barrier: WYDIS (What You Do Is) with all participating, including the problem owner – generally need 6-8 WYDIS.
- Problem owner pulls together into a possible remedy to that barrier (testing.)
- If the possible remedy is not strong enough, continue to work this barrier. If the remedy works, determine whether that is enough to solve the overall problem. If yes, move on to action steps. If not, work the next most important barrier.
- Action Steps: Agree what will get done by when by whom now that this problem is solved – and make sure those things actually get done.