Why do approaches to managerial problem solving remain imperfect?

Opinion / Decision-making and Valuation

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Why do approaches to managerial problem solving remain imperfect?
Claude Tanoe, Member, Manager, United States

Substantial gap exists between managerial problem solving capability and the practical implementation of this capability.

Problem-solving capability involves a series of steps that ultimately ends in the selection of a solution or set of actions that directly affects an event or situation perceived as a problem. Herbert et al., (1986) noted that those steps include “setting goals, designing suitable courses of action, and evaluating and choosing among alternative actions” (Intro, Para 1). Herbert et al., attribute the setting of goals and designing a course of action as a problem-solving area. However, a substantial gap exists between managerial problem solving capability and the practical implementation of this capability. Bruggen and Wierenga (2001) argue that the high cost in investment and cognitive effort for implementing management support systems (MSS) require matching the mode of MSS and the style of decision-making that go into designing, acquiring, and deploying those systems. A positive alignment may result in improving the quality of decision-making while an improper misalignment increases the odd of poor decision-making and results in misappropriation. Bruggen et al., empirical study show evidence of an imbalance between these paradigms. Bruggen et al., write, “In many of the decision situations for which systems were developed, the best applicable problem-solving mode was not the one that was supported by the systems. In our empirical setting (i.e., marketing) system development focused especially on normative systems that try to find optimal solutions for problems whereas the nature of decision-making calls for reasoning, finding analogies, and creativity” (p.9). In another empirical study, Boer, Gaytan, and Arroyo (2006) expose a substantial gap between the observed practices of outsourcing activities compared to notional frameworks cited in the literature. The dissonance between decision-making and business practice reflects the disparity in the publication of variety of theories in support of decision-making (Changing Minds.org, 2009). LaFollette (2003) contends that oftentimes a rational stance is drawn correlating a direct causality between theory and practice. While in some cases this might be true, this Newtonian approach to problem solving may not hold unless one understands and becomes aware of the multi-facets and shades of both theory and practice. Therefore, attaining perfection to managerial problem solving may not be possible and may only constitute what Lafollette calls “a fountain of hypothetical experience that enriches our moral imaginations and makes us vividly aware of the subtleties of both theory and practice” (p. 9). Reference: Boer, L., Gaytan, J., Arroyo, P. (2006). A satisficing model of outsourcing. Supply Chain Management: An International Journal, 11(5), 444-455 Bruggen, G. V., Wierenga, B. (2001). Matching management support systems and managerial problem-solving modes : The key to effective decision support. European Management Journal, 19(3), 228-238 Changing Minds.org (2002-2009). Theories about decision-making. Retrieved March 10, 2009 from changingminds.org/explanations/theories/a_decision.htm The Changing Minds.org web site provides a listing of some of the popular theories: Cognitive dissonance, Consistency theory, Certainty effects, Scarcity principle, Sun-cost effect, Perceptual contrast effect. The full listing is posted at the web site (2009). LaFollette, H. (2003). The Oxford handbook of practical ethics. Published by Oxford University Press.

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