Group for Research in Decision Analysis

Effective problem solving: Going beyond traditional decision making

Arnaud Chevallier Rice University, United States

Effective problem solvers are t-shaped, complementing a speciality in a discipline with a broader set of transferrable skills. University programs usually focus on developing the specialist dimension rather than the generalist one. Joining the workforce, many graduates find that that practical applications are "messier" than the cases they saw in school, making them more complex, and that they need to acquire generalist skills—or strategic thinking skills—on the go.

This talk introduces a four-step process to improve your strategic thinking when facing a new, complex problem. This starts with framing it: understanding what the actual problem is and what it isn't. Second, diagnose it; understand why you’re having the problem or why you haven't solved it yet. Third, generate various alternatives to solve it and choose the best one(s)—that the how part, which includes the decision-making stage. The fourth part is the do: implementing the solution, monitoring its effectiveness, and making corrections as needed.

This methodology—which borrows elements from decision theory, engineering, management, psychology, medicine, design, and other disciplines— provides a reference frame to help structure how you approach complex problems and account for your own biases in the process.

Purposely not technical, the talk shows how to follow this methodology and introduces tools to help you follow each step effectively when solving your own complex problems.

Bio: Dr. Arnaud Chevallier is the associate vice provost for academic affairs and strategic partnerships at Rice University. Trained as an engineer, he started his career as a management consultant, with Accenture’s Strategy and Business Architecture practice. In 2003, he left management consulting for academia, where he has held a number of positions. At the University of Monterrey, he was a professor of engineering and the dean for graduate studies for seven years. Then, at Rice, he has been an associate vice provost for five years with responsibilities in graduate and postdoctoral studies, academic affairs, and strategic partnerships. He teaches in the school of engineering and his research interest is in tools that can help people solve complex problems irrespective of their discipline. He holds a B.Sc. and M.E. from the Université de Versailles, and a M.S. and a Ph.D. from Rice University, all in mechanical engineering.

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