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ISLAMIC MEDICAL EDUCATION RESOURCES01

9612-PROBLEM-SOLVING

Paper at the International Leadership Training Program held at Islamabad 22 December - 6 January 1996 by Prof Dr Omar Hasan Kasule, Sr.  MB ChB, MPH, DrPH (Harvard) Faculty of Medicine International Islamic University PO Box 70 Jln Sultan Petaling Jaya Selangor DE 46700 Fax (603) 757 7970

OUTLINES

BACKGROUND READING

Session overview

Definition of a problem

Leadership and problem-solving

Problems as challenges and opportunities

Open-minded approach to problems

Reversal of the causal pathway

Holistic view

Solving problems but making no progress

Avoiding problems

Lagtime and lead time in problem solving

Cost-benefit analysis

Experience vs creativity

Criteria/routines for problem-solving

Quality solutions

Emotional state in problem-solving

Basics of problem-solving

Stages of rational systematic problem solving

  Problem recognition, identification, definition, and classification

  Information gathering, assumptions, and forecasts

  Solution alternatives

  Incubation and illumination

  Selection of the best alternative

  Implementation

Other methods

Barriers to effective problem-solving

What to do with overwhelming problems

What not to do with overwhelming problems

 

TEXT ANALYSIS

Different but correct perceptions of the same problem

Analogy

Salat al istikhara

Solving the problem of how to call Muslims to prayer

Solving the problem of a military siege at ghazwat al khandaq

Offerring the crops of Madina as a solution to break the confederate alliance

 

DISCUSSIONS
Problem-solving: examples from the seerah

Problem-solving: examples from your organizational experience

Problem-solving: a class-room exercise

Using fixed procedures to solve routine problems

 

BACKGROUND READING

INSTRUCTIONS: THE DISCUSSION LEADER OR THE MEMBERS (IN TURNS) WILL PRESENT THE MAIN POINTS IN THE BACKGROUND READING SECTIONS PRE-ASSIGNED THE PREVIOUS WEEK

 

SESSION OVERVIEW

This session presents main concepts and methods of analyzing and solving problems

 

DEFINITION OF A PROBLEM

A problem exists when reality is different from the ideal or the expected and corrective action is needed. A problem for one person may not be perceived so by another one. A problem in one temporo-spatial situation may not be so in another one. Problems always arise most often unexpectedly. They are part of life and should not be considered extraneous events. It is even true to say that life is problems. It is a paradox of human behaviour that problem-solving is so pervasive in our daily lives yet there is little formal training in the field.

 

LEADERSHIP AND PROBLEM-SOLVING

A good leader will recognize problems quite early before their most obvious symptoms are seen by the majority of people. As a leader your primary duty is to solve problems. Successful managers know how to solve them by making the right decisions.

 

PROBLEMS AS CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES

Problems should be viewed as challenges and opportunities. Although it is never wise to invite problems, you should develop a welcoming attitude when problems arrive as uninvited guests in your house. You should turn problems into objectives and set about achieving the objectives.

 

OPEN-MINDED APPROACH TO PROBLEMS

You should approach problems with an open mind, no pre-judgments, and no fixed unalterable solutions. One of the great lessons that life experience teaches us is that there are always several correct and valid ways of looking at a problem and solving it. It is emotional and psychological maturity to realize that there could be more than one correct solution to a problem and to know that different does not mean wrong. Problem solving requires a combination of thinking processes. You must mentally be able to represent both or all sides of an argument otherwise you will become biased and end up following stereotypes. Problems always have multiple causality. Never try to focus on finding the one cause

 

REVERSAL OF THE CAUSAL PATHWAY

Trying to solve problems by identifying the causal pathway and trying to reverse it may not be the best approach in most cases. The causal pathway leading to a problem may not be direct or obvious. There may be many unknown confounding and modifying factors. Sometimes the causal pathway is no longer relevant at the time of problem solution. It is therefore always best to look at problems either as objectives or as opportunities and approach their solution from that vantage point.

 

HOLISTIC VIEW

Problems should be looked at in a holistic way instead of looking at distinct parts. Failure to do this may lead to a trap of compensating feedback. The harder you try to solve the problem the more difficult it becomes for example the harsher suppression creates more rebellion necessitating even more suppression. It is better in this case to look at the problem holistically and attack the root causes.

 

SOLVING PROBLEMS BUT MAKING NO PROGRESS

Problems have to be identified and solved, however you can not spend all your time solving problems and not focussing on objectives and goals. Many leaders are frustrated; they work hard and yet get nowhere. They spend most of their time on solving problems and do not work toward achieving their important objectives. They lose sight of the goals, the end result, and the raison d'etre. You can not avoid problems. Solve them expeditiously and move on to do what is important for you.

 

AVOIDING PROBLEMS

A problem must be solved instead of shifting it around. This happens when a solution in one area creates a new problem elsewhere.

 

SOME PROBLEMS ARE BETTER LEFT UNSOLVED

When the consequences of the 'best' solution are worse than the original problem, it is better to leave the problem alone, unsolved.

 

LAG AND LEAD TIME IN PROBLEM SOLVING

Lag time is the time between causes and results. The cause may exist but the associated result may not exist yet because of the delay called lag time. Lead time is time gained in solving a problem by early identification and taking the necessary measures. The aim is to try to solve a problem even before it is clearly manifesting. The precursors or harbingers of the problem are enough prompting for the wise to start taking corrective measures. Good leaders will recognize problems quite early before their symptoms are obvious to the majority of people. This early recognition and solution of problems gives them an edge. Experiences teaches that many problems have a limited natural life-time. No active solutions are called for. The problems will get resolved with time provided the waiting period is not too long.

 

COST-BENEFIT ANALYSIS

An optimal solution will produce maximum effect from minimum effort.

 

EXPERIENCE VS CREATIVITY

Cumulative experience helps in solving new problems. You must however remember that each new problem is unique. You can not just use the solution of a previous problem that is apparently similar.

 

CRITERIA/ROUTINES FOR PROBLEM SOLVING

Adopting definite criteria for problem recognition and solution speeds up the problems solving process, makes it consistent and in most cases successful. Some problems of an emergency nature that require rapid action and do not allow time for creative thinking can be solved using tested routines. It is advisable to carry out an audit of the problem-solving exercise at the end to be able to improve the routines for future decisions.

 

QUALITY SOLUTIONS

The aim of problem solving should be to get the best solution. 'Best' is not synonymous with simplest in many cases. Quality solutions can be arrived at by generating a lot of alternatives and selecting the best. Quality is thus from quantity.

 

EMOTIONAL STATE IN PROBLEM-SOLVING

Your emotional and physical state can determine success/failure of problem-solving. The worst times to solve a major problem is when you are stressed, overexcited, angry, depressed, or physically exhausted. You must train yourself to overcome the psychological stress associated with problem-solving.

 

BASICS OF PROBLEM-SOLVING

Basics of good problem-solving can be summarized as: realistic appraisal of the problem, looking at problems as challenges an opportunities, an open mind with no pre-judgment, toleration for alternative view-points, minimal criticism, the realization that 'different' is not 'wrong', encouraging 'strange' ideas, combining and extending ideas, creativity, and persistence. Realistic appraisal of a problem involves asking the right questions. What is the problem?, when did it arise?, where did it arise?, how did it arise?, who owns the problem ie is responsible for a solution?, what are the alternative solutions? While appraising a problem, you must keep in mind that there may be more than one correct perception of the same problem. There could be more than one correct solutions.

 

STAGES OF RATIONAL SYSTEMATIC PROBLEM-SOLVING:

Analysis of the environment. Recognition of the problem. Identification of problem. Determination of the ownership of the problem. Definition of the problem. Classification of the problem. Prioritizing the problem. Collection of information. Making assumptions and forecasts. Generating decision alternatives. Pause during incubation period that leads to illumination. Selection of the best alternative. Analysis of the impact of the chosen alternative. Implementation. Control of the implementation. Evaluation of the results

 

PROBLEM RECOGNITION, IDENTIFICATION, DEFINITION, AND CLASSIFICATION

The problem must be recognized as a problem. It must be identified by determining its ownership. It must then be defined in detail in terms of goals and objectives. A problems should not be defined in terms of its causes or solutions. Symptoms should not be confused with the problem. The problem must be classified as a guide to its solution: urgent?, important?, anticipated?, a surprise?, structured?. Finally the problem should be prioritized as compared to other problems to determine the allocation of resources.

 

INFORMATION GATHERING, ASSUMPTIONS, AND FORECASTS

Collection of as much information as possible is a basis for correct problem-solving. Assumptions and forecasts complete the information picture. Over-organization and classification of information may lead to early close-out of alternative ideas. Premature acceptance of a theory or hypothesis is very dangerous

 

SOLUTION ALTERNATIVES

Correct solutions are arrived at by elimination. You should start by generating a lot of solution alternatives, and then eliminate all but the best. Alternatives are generated by asking questions (what? who? where? when? why? how? and if?), analogy (qiyas), imagination (get out of the ordinary, multiply the baseline several-fold), and association or analogy. Analogy or QIYAS is a well-established principle of Islamic law. It is a very powerful intellectual tool.

 

 INCUBATION AND ILLUMINATION

There should be a period of inactivity. This is the period of incubation of ideas that may lead to illumination. It is also a period during which the subconscious intuitive elements interact with the rational conscious with beneficial results. Salat al istikhara should also be offered in this period.

 

SELECTION OF THE BEST ALTERNATIVE

Selection of the best solution alternative can be done in various ways: ranking, pros and cons, and comparative evaluation. Ranking the solution according to a set of criteria and selecting the best. Each alternative could be analyzed (pro and con) using the criteria of time, cost, risk, effectiveness, and workability. Comparative evaluation involves direct comparison of alternatives side by side.

 

IMPLEMENTATION

The problem solving process does not end at finding the best alternative. For completion, the best solution must be put into practice and its impact must be evaluated.

 

OTHER METHODS

Problem solving can be approached in other ways: working backwards from the goal to the solution, using an algorithm (procedure guaranteed to produce solution to the problem), and heuristically (rule of thumb) which relies on past experience or comparison to a prototype. After having been through solving the same problem several times, you may develop a learning set (a fixed strategy or tendency to solve a particular problem).

 

BARRIERS TO EFFECTIVE PROBLEM SOLVING

Wrong concepts, attitudes, behaviors, questions, and methods are barriers to good problem-solving. Attitudes such as dictatorship, blaming others, irrationality, perfectionism, procrastination, and hating change hinder problem-solving. End-less loop questions waste time with no progress being made.

 

WHAT TO DO WITH OVERWHELMING PROBLEMS

Talk to someone who can listen. De-emotionalize the problem. Look at a problem from a wider perspective

Identify positives in the problem. Solve the problem systematically

 

WHAT NOT TO DO WITH OVERWHELMING PROBLEMS

The following are defeatist approaches and should be avoided: Escape/avoid. Do nothing. Scream. Self-anesthesia. Lament

 

TEXT ANALYSIS

INSTRUCTIONS: READ OUT EACH TEXT ALOUD TWO TIMES. MAKE SURE YOU UNDERSTAND THE MAIN POINTS RAISED. WRITE DOWN THE MAIN LESSON(S) YOU HAVE LEARNED FROM THE TEXT.

 

DIFFERENT BUT CORRECT PERCEPTIONS OF THE SAME PROBLEM: ASR AT BANI QURAITHA

Narrated Ibn Umar: On the day of Al-Ahzab (i.e. clans) the Prophet (may peace be upon him) said “None of you ( Muslims ) should offer the Asr prayer but at Banu Quraiza’s ( place ).” The Asr prayer became due for some of them on the way. Some of those said, “We will not offer it till we reach it, the place of Banu Quraiza,” while some others said, “No we will pray at this spot, for the Prophet (may peace be upon him) did not mean that for us.” Later on it was mentioned to the Prophet (may peace be upon him) and he did not berate any of the two groups.” Bukhari 5:306-307, Hadith #445

 

ANALOGY

Narrated Abu Huraira: A bedouin came to Allah’s Apostle (may peace be upon him) and said, “My wife has delivered a black boy, and I suspect that he is not my child.” Allah’s Apostle (may peace be upon him) said to him, “Have you got camels?” The bedouin said, “yes.” The Prophet ( may peace be upon him ) said, “What color are they?” The bedouin said, “They are read.” The Prophet ( may peace be upon him ) said, “Are any of them grey?” The bedouin said, “There are grey ones among them.” The Prophet ( may peace be upon him ) said, “When do you think this color came to them?” The bedouin said, “O Allah’s Apostle! It resulted from heriditary disposition.” The Prophet ( may peace be upon him ) said, “And this (i.e your child ) has inherited his color from his ancestors.” The Prophet ( may peace be upon him ) did not             allow him to deny his paternity of the child. Bukhari 9:311-312, Hadith #417

 

DIGGING THE TRENCH AS A SOLUTION AT GHAZWAT AL KHANDAQ

The Quraysh sent an expeditionary force of four thousand infantrymen, a cavalry of three hundred, and a camel‑corps of one thousand five hundred. This huge army was led by Abu Sufyan in person. The flag of Makkah and, hence, the leadership of battle was assigned to 'Uthman ibn Talhah, whose father had been killed carrying that same flag in the Battle of Uhud. The Banu Fazarah tribe sent a large number of infantry‑men and a camel corps of one thousand under the leadership of 'Uyaynah ibn Hisn ibn Hudhayfah. The tribes of Ashja' and Murrah supplied four hundred soldiers each, under the leadership of al Harith ibn 'Awf and Mis'ar ibn Rukhaylah respectively. Sulaym, the tribe which engaged the Muslims at the battle of the well of Ma'unah, sent seven hundred soldiers. To this tremendous number, the tribes of Banu Sa'd and Banu Asad added more soldiers and more cavalry until the total number reached ten thousand or more. This whole army moved in the direction of Madinah under the general leadership of Abu Sufyan. After they had reached the outskirts of Madinah and encamped, the leadership of the army as a whole really revolved among the leaders of the various tribes. When news of this tremendous mobilization reached Muham­mad and the Muslims in Madinah, it struck them all with panic. The mobilization of the whole of Arabia against them instilled fear in their hearts as they faced the prospect of being not only defeated but wiped out. The gravity of the situation was evident in the fact that the army the Arab tribes had now raised sur­passed in number and equipment anything the Peninsula had ever seen before. If the Quraysh had won a victory over the Muslims at Uhud single handed, what was likely to be the outcome of a battle in which the enemy's force was many times greater in number and equipment? What would they do against such an overwhelming preponderance of men, horses, camels, arms, and ammunition? Obviously, there was no defense open on them except self‑fortification within the walls of Yathrib, the invin­cible city, as 'Abdullah ibn Ubayy had previously described it. But would such fortification stand in face of such overwhelming power? Salman al Farisi, who knew far more of the techniques of warfare than was common in the Peninsula, advised the digging of a dry moat around Madinah and the fortification of its buildings within. The Muslims hurried to implement this counsel. With tremendous effort and exertion, the whole moat was dug in six days. At the same time, the walls of the buildings on the perimeter of the city facing the enemy were also reinforced, their inhabitants were evacuated and the buildings were reserved for military use. The women and children were removed to the interior and placed within fortified walls. Rocks were gathered and placed on the inner side of the moat for use as possible projectiles against the enemy if the need arose. The Quraysh and their allies arrived at Uhud hoping to meet the Muslim forces there. Disappointed in this, they proceeded to Madinah where, to their surprise, they found an impassable ditch surrounding the whole city. They never expected this kind of defense, and their anger and resentment became so strong that they accused the Muslims of cowardice for taking refuge behind such an unusual trick of war. Their army encamped in the plain called Rumah, and the forces of Ghatafan and its allies encamped in the plain called Dhanab Naqama. Muham­mad amassed three thousand Muslims on the side of Sal' moun­tain in Madinah. Only the ditch separated him from the enemy. There the Muslim army built a number of tents to prepare itself for the long siege, and Muhammad had his own red tent erected for his use. The Quraysh and the Arab tribes realized the impossibility of crossing the moat and were, therefore, forced to restrict their military activity to the exchange of javelins for a number of days. Soon, Abu Sufyan and his colleagues became convinced that they were going to have to lay siege to Yathrib for a very long time before they could storm it. The season was winter, the cold unbearable, and wind and storm continually threatened heavy rain. It was possible for the people of Makkah and Ghatafan to protect themselves from the storm only if they were in the shelter of their own cities. But here, the tents which they had put up before Yathrib provided little or no protection. They had joined the expedition in search of easy victory, expecting the whole affair to last a day or two, as did the Battle of Uhud. They expected to return quickly home, there to celebrate with songs of victory while dividing all kinds of wealth and booty. How could the army of Ghatafan return empty handed when the sole reason for its participating in this war was the Jewish promise that in case of victory a whole year's crop of the orchards of Khaybar would be theirs as a free gift? Now, they realized that victory was not going to be easy, for it was going to cost at least the trouble of spending the whole wintry season, and this alone counterbalanced all the fruits and crops of the orchards. As for Quraysh, they were eager to avenge themselves for the previous defeats. But it was becoming amply clear that victory was impossible as long as Muhammad con­trolled the other side of the ditch while the Banu Qurayzah supplied Madinah with enough food provisions to enable them to hold to their fortress for months and even years. No wonder, then, that some of the allies of Makkah began to think of return­ing home. ( Muhammad pp 302-304 )

 

DISCUSSION

 

PROBLEM-SOLVING: GHAZWAT AL KHANDAQ

Analyze the problem using the following check-list: Evidence of creative thinking; Conditions of certainty, uncertainty, risk; Problem structured/unstructured?; Group or individual problems solving?; Type of thinking: rational systematic or intuitive; stages of problem solving,

 

PROBLEM-SOLVING: EXAMPLE FROM YOUR ORGANIZATIONAL EXPERIENCE

Think of your organization or any other organization you know very well. Identify a recent problem that arose. Analyze the problem using the following check-list: Evidence of creative thinking; Conditions of certainty, uncertainty, risk; Problem structured/unstructured?; Group or individual problems solving?; Type of thinking: rational systematic or intuitive; stages of problem-solving.

 

PROBLEM-SOLVING: A CLASS-ROOM EXERCISE

Divide yourselves into several groups. Let each group develop a 1-page description of a problem. This may be an imaginary problem or an actual problem that was experienced. Give as much information as possible. Then exchange problems and let each group try to use the problem-solving technics and stages studied in writing out a solution. Where information is deemed incomplete please make assumptions and state them.

 

USING FIXED PROCEDURES TO SOLVE ROUTINE PROBLEMS

List examples of 5 decisions that are suitable and 5 that are not suitable for fixed procedures of problem-solving.

 

YOUR NOTES:

Professor Omar Hasan Kasule December 1996