Problem solving and decision making – two different things

In 1999 a business psychologist called Steve Kneeland wrote a slim and straightforward book called “Effective Problem-Solving.
How to Understand the Process and Practice It Successfully”

It is sad that so few people appear to have read the book, or made much of it. Why? Because I believe Kneeland crystallised one of the major issues in decision science: where problem-solving ends and decision making begins. Interpreting Kneeland, it goes like this: 

Problem solving

  • Is bridging the gap between the way things are and the way they ought to be
  • It is focused on the past
    • Usually analytical
    • Operational
    • Done at lower levels
  • Four questions to be asked about any problem:
    • What exactly is the problem?
    • How urgent is it?
    • How important is it?
    • Whose responsibility is it? 

Decision making…

  • Is a broader concept
  • It is the act of making a choice between two or more options
  • It is focused on the future
    • Often creative
    • Directional
    • Done at senior levels
  • Kneeland counsels not to ignore the ‘do nothing’ option, but warns that deciding not to decide has the full force of a decision
  • He also is wary about the ‘early decision’ – making a decision before it’s needed
  • He wisely wrote that it is never too late to change a decision. Changing your mind is not necessarily a sign of weakness 

Simple stuff, yes. But faced with endless problems, as we are, it is helpful to have some clear mantras to approach the grown up task of making decisions. Thank you, Steve.