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Brain circuits

Are you asking questions in optimal order?

Published 4 March 2022 in Brain circuits • 2 min read

For today’s brain circuit, let’s consider a couple of basic, but not uncommon scenarios.

Imagine a woman goes to her doctor and the physician asks her how her energy levels are. She responds that her energy has been really low, she is fatigued all the time, and feels like she is walking around in a fog. The physician immediately wants to order a number of blood tests, but the woman refuses. Can you suppose why?

          The answer:

         She doesn’t believe she needs any tests. She is feeling the fatigue because she has a                     newborn baby at home.

Consider this: You are working at your desk and the light suddenly goes out. What do you do first? Check the lightbulb? Try other light switches in the room? Head to the fuse box? Call an electrician?

These scenarios both illustrate common situations where it is clearly necessary to consider why something is happening before you jump to a solution. You must diagnose a problem before prescribing. However, in many organizations, leaders are too quick to jump to solutions.

Dealing with complex problems, we deal with evidence that is often inconclusive, contradictory, and messy in other ways. For instance, in general, an item of evidence is compatible with several hypotheses, which may make it easy for us to reach the poor conclusions.

Focusing on the why (as in, why does the problem exist?) before the how (as in, in which different ways can I solve it?) can help us avoid some of these mistakes. That is, especially when it is not critical to solve the problem quickly, we should take the time to understand its root causes before looking for solutions.

Further reading: 

Diagnose before looking for solutions by Arnaud Chevallier

Solvable by Arnaud Chevallier and Albrecht Enders



Arnaud Chevallier

Professor of Strategy at IMD

Arnaud Chevallier is Professor of Strategy at IMD. He is also Director of the Global Management Foundations program and Co-Director of the Complex Problem Solving program. Arnaud’s research, teaching, and consulting on strategic thinking bridges disciplines to provide concrete tools to improve decision-making and corporate problem solving. Arnaud’s work prepares executives for the strategic challenges organizations face in today’s dynamic global marketplace.

His initial 2016 book Strategic Thinking in Complex Problem Solving, published by Oxford University Press, is now followed by his latest title, Solvable: A Simple Solution to Complex Problems, co-authored with Albrecht Enders. This book synthesizes the strategic thinking needed for complex problem solving into a simple three-step process: frame, explore, decide. It also shows practitioners how to follow these steps using highly applicable, concrete tools.


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