Problem solving & second order effects

From concept to effective solution

Story category: red teaming

Story tags: problem solving, second order effects, wargames, scenarios

How to approach problems


There is a saying that “multiple roads lead to Rome”, meaning that there are always different ways of reaching goals. Although there are often different ways of doing things, it also is true that not all solutions have the effects they intended to have due to second order effect; effects that were not foreseen but do impact the effectiveness of the outcomes.


The goal is cost reduction, how to achieve this?


Go for cost cuts, or go for increased value? On paper they lead to the same outcome, reduced cost. But is this the actual cost in real life? What happens in cost cuts? The focus is on reduction, taking things away, everything becomes a cost that must be reduced, including people. How does that affect engagement and motivation? On the other hand, when going for maximum value its about increasing the potential of people and other resources, its about making sure that precious resources are set for maximum results, with as automatic byproduct that costs decrease as there is a focus on making every effort count.


The goal is a company culture in which problems are addressed, how to achieve this?


Go for creating a culture where people give feedback, or go for a culture where people ask for feedback from others? On paper they lead to the same outcome, and very often an emphasis is placed on providing feedback. Having a culture of giving feedback means that people speak up, it does not automatically mean that feedback lands and is used for improvement as its not triggered by the person for which the feedback is meant. On the other hand, having a culture of asking for feedback, per definition means that the person who has an idea, or is about to decide or take an action, initiates the feedback. This increases the likelihood of it falling into good earth in increased.


The goal is a bias for action, how to achieve this?


Go for a strict control system where with military precision and discipline orders are handed down the chain of command, or with an intent-based leadership style where people have the standard permission to act unless there is a veto from management? On paper they lead to the same outcome, but what about practical reality? As it turns out an organization where people are “waiting” for orders, where the default is that decisions are made op top and actions depend on the presence of orders, is actually an organization that is geared for “waiting”; the default is wait for decisions and orders. On the other hand, an organization where executors state their intent, the default is permission to act, and based on the stated intent a veto can be issued, is an organization that is geared for action; the default is action, and the exception is the veto.




Dozens of examples like this could be provided.


To prevent running into these issues we test solutions through scenarios or mini wargames to test how our solutions pan out. How do you deal with second order effects?

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