The Highlands Company Blog

Focus on Problem Solving

The driving abilities contained within the Highlands Ability Battery include two which relate to problem solving: Classification and Concept Organisation.

Classification is the ability to see relationships between seemingly unrelated events, situations or information. It is an intuitive and non-verbal problem solving style.

Classification is assessed by asking people to review a series of images to find a common thread that joins some of them into a pattern. Some people can do this really quickly. These are the people who find it easy to spot the pros and cons in a situation, who can quickly identify a solution and who like fast-paced and even chaotic environments. However, they can find it frustrating waiting for others to catch up and can be bored if unchallenged, searching for problems to solve.

People who score low in classification take longer to fully understand a problem and rely on experience and knowledge to help solve a problem. But they can be overwhelmed by too much data and need time to make decisions. They have strengths in individual development, and can be good listeners. With a low score in classification people can be decisive and cut through layers to reach a conclusion, but they can find it difficult to prioritise and get overwhelmed by competing demands. They can benefit by using diaries and schedulers.

Concept Organisation is the ability to arrange ideas, information or things in a logical order. It is analytical problem solving. It is the ability to move from the general to the specific in solving problems.

People who score high in concept organisation find it easy to organise information and to draw logical conclusions. They can plan and draw logical conclusions and create order out of chaos. However, because they may find it necessary to go through all the steps in the process of analysis, they may be slow to act. Classification (CL) and Concept Organisation (CO) can be combined in different ways. Someone who is high in both is a consultative problem solver who will function easily in the role of an expert, responding to data from a range of sources and quickly reaching a solution. If high in CL, and low in CO, the person is a diagnostic problem solver, who will gather information about a topic to find out what needs to be fixed or improved. If high in CO and low in CL someone is an analytical problem solver who takes a logical approach to reaching conclusions. If low in both someone would be an experiential problem solver who quickly solves problems when seeing the similarities between a present and previous experience.

When considering how we best solve problems we can also use our other abilities. Let’s firstly consider Idea Productivity (IP). If someone has high or low IP it can impact on whether they will seek out to solve problems in new and creative ways or to be more adaptive in approach. People who score high in IP are likely to reject the generally accepted perception of a problem and to redefine it. They are likely to come up with a wide range of ideas, although many will be impractical. Their philosophy can be seen as ‘doing things differently’. People who score low in IP will need time to think up new ideas. They are more likely to accept the problem as first defined and will seek to resolve the problem quickly using well established approaches and to work within existing structures. Their philosophy can be seen as ‘doing things better’.

We can also take the Extrovert/Introvert scale into account alongside IP. The extrovert will seek to solve a problem as part of a team and will seek to talk things through with other people. In particular, extroverts with high idea productivity will want to brainstorm with others, to discuss and to build on their ideas, and get energised by thinking aloud and talking things through. However, their extraversion can mean that they rush into making a decision, they don’t fully think things through and they may not always think through the consequences of their decision making. Introverts prefer to work through ideas on their own, and only to share their thoughts when they are well thought through. If they are also high on IP, they are likely to prefer silent brainstorming or working with people they know well. When working with others, introverts may need to be encouraged to share their ideas, even when they don’t consider them well thought through.

When discussing problem solving in a feedback discussion it can be tempting to look at classification and concept organisation alone. However, as you can see from the above, we can enhance our understanding through a broader review.