Incremental Problem Solving

One of the things I’ve been writing and talking about a lot lately is the fact that solving problems collaboratively is an incremental process. In fact, in my book, Lost at School, I made mention of the fact that the model could just as easily have been called Incremental Problem Solving or Progressive Problem Solving. I thought the collaborative aspect of the model was the most important to emphasize, but that doesn’t mean that the incremental component isn’t almost as crucial. Often people who are new to the model enter the process of resolving a problem as if it’s a one-shot deal. If you have experience in using Plan B, you already know that most problems require more than one visit to Plan B to resolve. In other words, longstanding, complicated problems aren’t likely to be resolved the first time you try to discuss them. There’s a lot of information to be processed before a given problem can be solved. You need to gather information so as to achieve the clearest possible understanding of the kid’s concern or perspective on the problem (for the unfamiliar, that’s called the Empathy step). Then, you need to be clear about and articulate your own concern (that’s the Define the Problem step). Then, you’ll want to brainstorm with the kid so as to consider the array of potential solutions that could be applied to the problem and consider whether each solution truly addresses the concerns of both parties (that’s the Invitation). There’s a good chance you won’t even make it through all three steps of Plan B in the first attempt on a given unsolved problem (nor should you necessarily even try). If Plan B were a “technique,” then disappointment over not making it through all three steps in one conversation would be understandable. But Plan B is not a technique, it’s a process. As I’ve often emphasized, if you only make it through the Empathy step in the first attempt at Plan B on a given problem but you emerge with a clear sense of a kid’s concern or perspective on a problem that’s been causing significant angst or conflict, that’s quite an accomplishment. You’ll get back to the remaining steps at your earliest opportunity. There’s also an excellent chance the first solution you and the kid agree on won’t solve the problem durably. As you may know, this is usually because the original solution wasn’t as realistic and mutually satisfactory as the two parties first thought. But it could also be because the concerns weren’t as clear or simple as it first seemed. If a solution doesn’t stand the test of time, your goal is to figure out why, which means gathering additional information about the concerns of the two parties and why the solution may not be working so well. Plan B should always conclude with both parties agreeing to return to the problem if the solution being agreed upon doesn’t solve the problem durably. So if your enthusiasm for Plan B waned because your first solution didn’t stand the test of time, take heart: that’s not unusual. Many people enter Plan B with great hope, eager to see their new approach to helping a challenging kid pay quick dividends. In fact, Plan B may well pay quick dividends…not necessarily because the problem is yet durably solved, but because of the relationship- and communication-enhancing that occurs. And while the occasional problem – often simple ones – can be resolved with one visit to Plan B, now you know that several repetitions of Plan B may be necessary on each unsolved problem. Thanks for reading.

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