One approach to problem analysis and solution that seems to avoid these pitfalls is to emphasize the concrete specification of desired outcomes. For instance, in its original form the management-by-objectives (MBO) approach to administrative planning and problem solving placed great emphasis on the specification of outcomes or objectives. The assumption is that problems are often not fully understood, analyzed, or solved because they have not been formulated in terms of goals, objectives, or outcomes. Without such guidelines, proponents of MBO would argue: We have neither a direction for solution of the problem nor a basis for evaluating our actions.
While the specification of a desired state is essential for effective problem management, it is still a deficit-based model. We determine where we are falling short or the distance we still must travel to arrive at a specific destination. However, this approach still lacks a full appreciation of the problem. It is also essential that a clear picture be gained of the current state in which the problem is being experienced. Any objective we might establish runs the risk of being unrealistic. Or, when achieved, the solution selected is the cause of yet another, unexpected problem. Furthermore, it is often difficult to establish a realistic objective without first understanding the resources and resistance inherent in the current situation. Objectives identified without adequate knowledge of existing conditions may look good on paper but be useless or even destructive when achieved.
In solving a problem, we must do more than just prevent the recurrence of the undesirable symptoms. The nature and scope of a problem are not fully appreciated until two distinct, but inter-related sets of information have been made explicit: (1) the relevant characteristics of the current condition, and (2) the key characteristics of the desired condition. The solution of a problem involves taking action that will change the current conditions into the more desired alternative.
Alternative Approaches to Problem Solving
A problem-solving meeting is often difficult to manage. While this can be a particularly effective use of group resources, the problem-solving meeting is rarely successful—perhaps because of the difficulty inherent in its management and the failure to use systematic problem solving processes such as we have introduced in this essay. Knowledge about group-based problem solving abounds, but it is rarely employed in actual group meetings. The concepts and tools we have just presented are not new; yet, they are rarely used to empower groups. The clear message to be gained from this discussion is that problem-solving tools should be used. They work!