a. An overview of problem solving approach today
Problem solving by nature is an art and, unfortunately, not a science. As such, there are multiple approaches, tools, techniques used to addressing the problems at hand. One must survey & delve into various possible methodologies that could be applicable to the problematic situation & in turn apply the best one believes is applicable. Besides, past experiences from similar situations do provide a helping hand in choosing a right technique to resolving the issues. Of course, we are not talking about quantifiable or analytical problems here like software bugs which obviously can be solved by fixing the code. We are discussing here the strategic management problems faced in today’s organizational context, associated with ‘people’.
Today’s corporate world is faced with complex problematic situations due to the complex nature of humans in a social context. Thus problem solving equally shares those complexities as well. Various problem solving techniques have emerged over the years like brainstorming, root cause analysis, reductionism, world-view thinking, trail-and-error, abstraction, De Bono Hats, Pareto Principle, SWOT analysis, application of analogous methodology, etc.
Let us compare & contrast two of these widely used approaches – Reductionism and Holism!
b. Reductionism Vs Holism
Two of the most widely applied theories to strategic management problem solving techniques are Reductionism and Holism. Both these contrast each other. Reductionism is a more scientific approach to problem solving where the reference is to the classical Newtonian assumption that the dynamics of any complex system can be understood from studying the properties of its parts. At the deepest level Reductionism would offer physiological explanations by explaining behavior in terms of neuro-chemical & genes. In its highest level of justification it focuses on socio-cultural aspects. As such while applying a reductionism theory in solving a problem at hand, the problem is broken down into smaller problems and when a substantial solution is reached at addressing the smaller problem, the solution is extrapolated to derive to a solution for the bigger problem.
Holism on the contrary is a world-view thinking approach which, instead of delving into the properties of the various parts of a complex system, studies the relationship between the various parts of the complex system. While considering a world-view of the problem at hand, the world-view or the whole is not a sum of its associated parts but constitutes more than that. Thus merely studying individual parts does not integrate to the overall picture. This can be better understood in applying to complex social situations where studying an individual alone cannot be extrapolated to understanding ten individuals – the ten individuals put together as a social whole constitute much more than understanding a single individual.
Thus in general we can entrust ourselves in saying that the Reductionism methodology or theory can be successfully applied to solve analytical problems whereas to address complex social problems, for instance in an organization comprising of individually different people, a Holistic approach is much better suited.
c. Why is holism much suited for today’s organization
To better understand our argument made above let us elaborate it with some concrete example. In the end of the 20th century the People-Process-Technology framework was widely used. However, people just like process & technology were a small part of the framework & were understood to be replaceable. The reductionism approach applied to solve organizational problems would imply to associate the individuals linked to the problem & merely replacing them. This would be true in a lean manufacturing process industry of yesterday. For instance, the problem of low productivity rate & inefficiency can be reduced to an...
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