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Business Problem Solving: The Flexons Approach

Even if you trust your employees completely and put them in charge of most of your business’s operations, when it comes to solving complex business problems, your job as the leader comes into play. However, getting to the root of the problem and analyzing it correctly in order to reach the proper solution may not be easy and may require creativity and out-of-the-box thinking. In a fast-paced, complex, and ambiguous business world, like the one we live in today, the stakes of making the wrong decision are higher than ever before.

A recent article in McKinsey Quarterly introduces a new approach to business problem solving—one that allows you to put on different goggles and review each problem from different angles. The two writers—Olivier Leclerc, a principal at McKinsey, and Mihnea Moldoveanu, associate dean of the full-time MBA program at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management—call this the flexons (flexible objects for generating novel solutions) approach.

The authors identified five practical flexons:

Network flexon refers to mapping networks and relationships between entities relevant to the problem at hand and attempting to analyze how these associations will evolve and how they can be optimized to help you reach a solution. Evolutionary flexon is mostly relevant when solving a problem that is affected by many uncontrollable variables and therefore includes a process of guessing, testing, and learning each and every possible solution until reaching the optimal one. Decision-agent flexon focuses on the analysis of interactions between different players in a team, firm, or industry to understand the beliefs, strategies, and behaviors that will characterize the players in response to the problem. System-dynamics flexon means exploring the dynamism and complexity of a certain system where there is a problem and identifying key variables that affect it. Last but not least, information-processing flexon emphasizes compiling imperfect information from various resources and assessing the business effectiveness of the solution as it reflects from the information.

I view these five flexons as problem-solving thought-organizers, allowing business owners to tackle their business’s most challenging problems by using different perspectives when analyzing the variables affecting the problem. Moreover, these flexons emphasize the importance of exploring solutions in a multi-dimensional way that takes into account not only each and every variable on its own, but also the interaction between them.

Based on: Leclerc, Olivier, and Mihnea Moldoveanu. “Five routes to more innovative problem solving.” McKinsey Quarterly. April (2013): n. page. Web. 20 Jun. 2013.

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