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MBA Course Insight: The Four Kinds of Problems

Study alongside Walden University students with this required reading taken from the Master of Business Administration program course: Fostering a Culture of Innovation.

Businesses solve problems. Think about it. Car companies solved the problem of slow transportation. The telegraph/telephone companies solved the problem of communicating over great distances. Canned food companies solved the problem of rapid food spoilage.

If a problem exists, there’s likely a business looking to solve it (and profit from it). But as anyone in business knows, not all problems offer a chance to make money. Financial shortfalls, employee turnover, infrastructure failure, and security breaches are just of a few of the challenges the average business can face—and just a few of the problems you’ll have to overcome if you want to be a successful business manager.

MBA Course Insight: The Four Kinds of Problems

So, how do you learn to overcome potential problems? It starts by understanding the four, primary types of problems. In Walden University’s Master of Business Administration (MBA) course Fostering a Culture of Innovation, students study these four problems, as described by business expert Gerard Puccio in his book Creativity Rising.

Puccio classifies the four types of problems as either algorithmic or heuristic. Algorithmic problems have a known solution. Heuristic problems don’t have a known solution. Puccio then classifies the ways to address these problem as either proactive or reactive. A proactive approach is a solution designed to prevent a problem from ever occurring. A reactive approach is a solution implemented after a problem has arisen.

When the algorithmic vs. heuristic and the proactive vs. reactive are put together, we end up with our four types of problems. In this excerpt from Creativity Rising, Puccio describes them as such:

Maintenance (Algorithmic Problem With a Proactive Solution)
There are changes we can anticipate, and we respond proactively to prevent them. The solution is known, and we need only to implement it. To protect the engine in your car, you change the oil every 5,000 miles. To keep your feet dry when it rains on the golf course, you apply waterproofing spray to your shoes at the beginning of the season. Relationships deteriorate if we do not tend to them, but we don’t need to re-imagine the rules: We buy gifts for our significant others, listen to them, and share meaningful time—all well-known approaches. For maintenance issues we merely need to stay alert and anticipate the appropriate time to implement known procedures that have proven effective in the past. And if we do not know the proactive steps we can take, we have only to seek out the answers from a reliable source.

Formulaic (Algorithmic Problem With a Reactive Solution)
When reacting to a change that has a known solution, we simply implement it; there is no need for creative thinking. If you get a flat tire, you replace it with your spare or call your automobile club. If you are on the golf course and it begins to rain, you pull out the umbrella and waterproof pullover you keep in your bag. In an operating room, a surgeon uses a known method for removing a gall bladder, and if a problem arises, there is a known method for responding to it. For formulaic problems, there is no need to invent a solution, especially when the existing approach works perfectly well.

Predicament (Heuristic Problem With a Reactive Solution)
Change sometimes occurs for which we do not have a ready answer—and known solutions do not seem to fit. Your competitor introduces a breakthrough product that makes yours obsolete. Your son’s performance in school suddenly falls, but you are not sure why. You lose your job without warning. The newness of the situation and its unique conditions render any known approaches ineffective.

What is the solution when there is no solution? We’re glad you asked: You apply creative thinking, which helps you to create a new solution path.

Opportunity (Heuristic Problem With a Proactive Solution)
With change comes opportunity. Not all problems are negative; a problem is any puzzle in search of a solution (Sudoku, anyone?) The “problem” here is to identify the future opportunity, and to find a way to get there.

We can take this stimulus and imagine what might be—or not. An adhesive that wouldn’t adhere led to the Post-it® Note. A chocolate bar that melted in an engineer’s pocket led to the microwave oven. Boredom while playing Scrabble led to the invention of a new, fast-paced word game called Bananagrams that has sold millions.

Creating change is proactively looking for places to bring about new solutions and approaches. For example, climate change (since we can’t seem to resist talking about the weather) is an unknown realm—we don’t know enough about what’s coming to provide an algorithmic response—but that means it is an extraordinary creative opportunity. And there are many more. Face the fronts that are approaching—an aging population, a future oil shortage, ubiquitous high-speed live video streaming, and others—and ask: What opportunities do they create? Again, creative thinking is the way to exploit these opportunities.”

How Can You Learn to Address Problems Successfully?

If you want to succeed in management, you have to understand the nature of problems and you have to be skilled at addressing them. That’s why so many business professionals turn to the top MBA programs for help.

When you earn an MBA degree, you can gain the knowledge and skill set you need to solve a wide range of problems—and make the most of opportunities. But what if you don’t live close to one of the best business schools?

Online learning can help you solve that problem. Unlike campus-based MBA programs, online MBA programs don’t require you to live close to a university. Instead—as with all online graduate degree programs—an online MBA only requires you to have internet access and a willingness to learn. That means, you can earn your business administration degree from home. Plus, when you earn an MBA online, you’ll enjoy a flexible schedule that lets you attend class at whatever time of day works best for you. This accessibility makes online education a good choice for working professionals looking to earn their business administration master’s.

Problem solving is a core skill of any business manager. And with online learning, you can earn the degree you need to help improve your problem-solving skills.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering a Master of Business Administration degree program online. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.


Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,