The Collaborating Minds problem solving approach

At a recent session with some people trying out the Collaborating Minds software platform, I was asked some questions about our problem-solving approach. This picture helps explain what we are doing.

Problem solving approach May 2014


The first two steps of the process deal with getting a good understanding of the process.

At the beginning, we ask the problem owner/client to answer a substantial number of questions about the problem and the circumstances surrounding it. We ask about, e.g.,:

  • What’s included and not included?
  • When and how the problem emerged and where is the surrounding system trending?
  • What has been tried before to resolve the problem and what was learned?
  • What would a successful solution look like (the criteria for success)?

and many other questions.

When the broader team gets its first look at the answers, the goal is mostly to make sure that we all understand what was meant (and can check into anything that was confusing or seems unasked).

Then the process splits into three parallel streams:

  1. Idea generation – Participants respond to a set of prompts (e.g., analogies this makes you think of, areas we should explore, images that relate to the problem somehow) and generate either ideas or thoughts.  In this stream of work, the ideas are fed back to other members to build on and develop.
  2. The hypothesis-driven approach – This is a classic consulting style of problem-solving. It emphasizes:
    • Understanding what the critical issues are on which the right answer may turn,
    • Generating hypotheses that can be tested about each issue,
    • Suggesting analyses to support or refute those hypotheses, and
    • Collecting information to resolve the analysis (and support or refute the hypothesis). In the early days of Collaborating Minds, we’ll rely on some of the team members to help with this, in conjunction with the problem owner.
  3. Ongoing synthesis – It’s always good to know what we’ve figured out so far. New people joining the process will not want to (or at the moment be able to) go back and sort through everything that has gone before.  Better to have ongoing synthesis and ongoing development of storylines. Storylines put the various pieces together in an understandable, communicable way. They are also great for uncovering “holes” in what someone thought was a logical argument.

Each of theses streams is supported by and is accessible in the Collaborating Minds prototype software.

Sandwich meetings – both synchronous and asynchronous collaboration addition, we expect that there will be periodic “sandwich” meetings. These meetings are semi-synchronous. There is a synchronous meeting (using a tool like Webex) of perhaps 2-4 hours, surrounded by asynchronous activity related to that meeting.



  • Before the meeting the agenda is posted on Collaborating Minds, and all information that will be shared at the meeting is gathered together there too. Participants who will be unable to attend can comment before the meeting (the pre-meeting activity is the first slice of “bread” in our “sandwich”).
  • Then we hold the online meeting itself (the “filling” of the “sandwich”).  The conversation is tracked with dialogue mapping tools that make it easy to present to others the results and how they were arrived at.
  • After the meeting, results are posted online and members who couldn’t attend can now see the results and comment. Only after a few days of holding the comment period open is the meeting declared “over” and next steps planned. (the post-meeting events are the second slice of “bread” of the “sandwich”).

Conclusion generation

Conclusion generation brings together all the ideas and facts and draft storylines that have been developed and gathered. The best ideas are compared to the criteria for success that were developed at the beginning and that have likely evolved somewhat during the work.

Your thoughts, comments and questions are welcome.

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