Problem Solving An Approach
for the Cult-Impacted Family
AFF News, Vol. 4, No. 1
Just recently, the AFF conducted a family workshop in South
Florida. I was asked to lead a session in Problem Solving. I must
confess that at first glimpse, I questioned whether such a class was
making best use of my skills as a professional educator. However; the
more I considered the topic, the more clear it became to me that while, I
had conducted such sessions before for business executives, educators and
school administrators, it had a specific application as well to cult
impacted families. Let me explain.
When we face emergencies, deadlines, critical
situations, and decisions that call for action, often we respond to our
instinct and just as often we make judgments in haste. No matter if the
issues are personal, educational, or business, occasionally we do not take
the time to consult with those who have "been there, done that!" At times
we don't investigate the resources available. Periodically we neglect
doing research to see how others have proceeded, and how they might have
fared. As often as not we overlook consulting with experts, even when
they are available. Problem Solving as a construct addresses all
these things. Following its guidelines can save time and heartache, while
giving a person the best chance for a positive resolution to the problem
Allow me to summarize for you the steps in the process,
(with a bit of commentary) so that all might take advantage of the process
whether in a personal, educational, business, or any other situation where
clear thinking and focused responsibility call upon us to research,
consult, analyze, evaluate, and then decide what is the best course of
action to be taken.
Articulate, as best you can, the problem that you choose
to solve. We will define this problem as a fuzzy situation. What is
wrong? What needs to be done? Our first goal is to do our homework.
What research has been done and how current is it? What experts are
available and how do we access them? What reading material is out there,
and where do we go to get it? We want to look before we leap.
What do we do first? Spell out the problem in statement
form. Be Specific. Make the goal Measurable in time and
quantity (how and when will you know you have succeeded?) Make your
target Achievable (if you're an obese 45-year-old you probably
won't be able to do a four-minute mile in six months). Be certain that
your objective is Relevant (that is, it makes a positive
difference), and that it is Traceable (you can monitor your
progress.) The first letters of the bold words above spell out the word
smart. And being SMART is good advice.
Make a list of the underlining factors, the sub
problems, which if you solve them, might hasten your goal of solving your
main problem. Sub problems are often more manageable, thus simplifying
things. Avoid such issues as "how to raise $$$ to achieve the goal," as
this obfuscates and subverts the larger issue. One might begin the
question with such statements as "How might we...?"; add a practical verb,
such as improve, alleviate, increase, reduce etc; add "in order that...";
and cite the parameters of the fuzzy situation.
Brainstorm with all concerned parties, as many options
as can be suggested for solving the problem. Look to generate many
possible solutions. (The rules for brainstorming include: quantity over
quality; no criticizing, judging, or evaluating at this time; combining
ideas is acceptable; there are no bad ideas - a questionable idea might
generate your best possible solution later.
Solutions must relate to step two above. They should
answer why this solution solves the problem; how the solution will work;
who will implement the solution; when the solution will be pursued; and
where the solution will occur. Each suggested solution should be stated
as a proposal, not just a possibility (not "Perhaps we ought to consider"
but "We will do xyz...")
Step four establishes the criteria by which you will
judge your success. Use superlatives such as best, least, most,
greatest. Work in the positive, seeking the desired direction (e.g. the
greatest benefit rather than the greatest harm). Criteria might include:
Will it get the desired result? Is it workable? Is there the technology
to implement it? Is it the most effective? Does it have the fewest
negative side effects? Does it consider the human factor? Quantify the
best half dozen criteria, assigning the highest point value to the most
important, and the least to the last.
Construct a graph, with the six most important criteria
(from #4) on the horizontal plane, and your six best solutions (from #3)
down the vertical plane. Now check off how each solution works for each
criteria, and calculate the results. If you have a tie, then add from
your list in #4 additional criteria for a tie-breaker.
Write down your best solution. You can now elaborate on
particular issues. If you disagree with your highest scoring solution,
then either your criteria are inadequate, your ranking sequence needs work
and needs to be reexamined, or you are mistaking favorite for best. You
are now ready to implement. Decide which steps must be taken and in what
sequence, assign tasks to be done, establish your timetable, allocate your
resources, and go to work.
We live in a real world where the best doesn't always
succeed simply because it is the best, where external variables exist and
Murphy's Law often rules. Thus, the wise always have a back up plan to
address the issue of "What if...?"