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Indeed, when faced with really complex decisions, organizational behavior theorist Charles Lindblom argued the problem solver was actually better off “muddling through.” How do you solve a complex problem using a toolbox of heuristics as Stanford GSB professor Jonathan Bendor suggests?Bendor considers the hypothetical dilemma of patients missing their medical appointments.
In the middle of the 20th century, the standard recommendation regarding problem solving went something like this: Create an extensive strategic plan with a few rigidly outlined logical steps.
The synoptic method, as this conventional procedure was known, amounted to a prescription that didn’t actually work well for hard problems.
“You can have a problem that’s too big for anybody’s mind, but if you break off a piece of it, it’s more manageable,” Bendor says.
Evaluating something that’s radically different from the status quo is bound to be fraught with error.
He introduced the idea of disjointed incrementalism, a package of heuristics that could be used to make small, incremental changes along the way.
Disjointed incrementalism rang true for several generations of scholars and problem solvers.
Bendor recommends including “multiple minds.” For example, the initial team would likely include a health administrator, a statistician, a doctor, and maybe a nurse.
Later, team members might add a patient and a front desk receptionist to provide “cognitive diversity,” or wide-ranging perspectives.
And, they introduce an automated notification system that lets patients decide when and how they would like to be reminded of their appointments.
Lindblom’s crucial move in his 1959 essay “The Science of Muddling Through” and partner papers was to challenge the conventional prescription to problem solving.