Critical Thinking: Painting or Tainting Your Team’s Solution Set?

Posted by Kristin Arnold on October 6, 2015

I was watching CNN this morning in the lobby of the Hyatt Place in Midtown, NY when I glanced at the television blaring a CNN segment on guns and violence. The commentator made a series of “problem” statements and then suggested his solution to this vexing issue.

One particular problem got my attention and got me thinking about Charles Kettering, an American Inventor. Kettering once said, “A problem well-stated is a problem half-solved.” A problem well-stated frames the discussion, opens our minds or limits our possibilities, paints or taints the solution set.

In this case, the “problem” was identified as “Criminals can buy guns” and the solution was “Extend [background] checks to all sales.”

Regardless of where you come down on the gun control issue, I started thinking about that problem statement. When you say, “criminals can buy guns,” then the obvious answer is to crack down on criminals being able to buy guns from gun dealers. It is almost as if the way the problem is stated implies as solution.

It occurred to me that a larger, more strategic question is “Criminals have access to guns.” They can buy them, steal them, or even make them. When the question is posed in this way, you get a broader solution set.

My hope is that the discussion isn’t myopically focused on the first problem statement. Unless you deal with the more strategic question, we won’t be able to solve the problem well at all.

Aside from the important issue of gun control in the United States, how do problem statements effect you, your team or your business?

The way we phrase a statement in our minds and amidst our team will influence how we frame the issue and discuss possible solutions. So, in our relationships, with our teams, and in the workplace we need to define the problem well and without implying the most favored solution.


Kristin Arnold is a professional meeting facilitator and international speaker who is passionate about helping leaders and their teams think things through, make better decisions and achieve sustainable results. The Extraordinary Team’s approach to building high performance teams combines consulting, coaching, training and process facilitation within the context of working real issues.

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Photo source: Canva

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