How logic kills problem-solving ability

If you’ve studied problem-solving or decision-making, you’ve probably been told to take a logical approach. This means that what I’m about to propose might seem controversial. After teaching solution-focused thinking techniques for over 20 years, I’ve noticed there are three key ways logical thinking can hold people back when tackling tough issues. I call these the downsides of logic.

Downside 1: Being logical can stifle generative thinking

Think about what happens in many team meetings when someone proposes a new idea. Instead of building on that idea, other members of the team will often shoot it down without pause. They’ll come up with reasons why the idea won’t work or evidence that it’s been tried in the past without success. But what they rarely do is explore and expand. This behaviour limits the idea generation capacity of the team. If it goes on for too long, indeed, it totally stifles creativity. High performance teams don’t engage in this behaviour.

Downside 2: Taking a detached approach isn’t always a smart move

When you’re detached, you’re cut off from your own feelings. Being in this state means you, may not be making an emotionally intelligent decision. This concept was neatly summed up by a manager I overheard giving feedback to one of his direct reports. “Sure” he was saying, “that might be a logical thing to do. You won’t have any friends if you do it, though.” Cutting yourself off from your feelings can lead to a lack of empathy or self-attunement. If you want to make good decisions, this isn’t a great starting point for success.

Downside 3: Understanding a problem doesn’t mean you can solve it

Many people who take a logical approach to problem-solving operate from the belief that the more they understand the problem, the better placed they will be able to solve it. However, this isn’t always true, especially if your problem involves emotions or interpersonal communication. Milton Erickson was a therapist who revolutionised approaches to helping clients solve problems. He suggested that assisting clients to understand issues often led to a state of overwhelm and lowered creativity. The approach he took was radically different; he suggested that his patients imagine their ideal world and work out ways to get there. This is an approach which can significantly improve your success in solving tough problems.

Am I suggesting that you should throw logic aside altogether? Of course not. After all, that just wouldn’t be logical. What I am suggesting though is that when logical thinking isn’t reaping results, it’s time to switch your approach. Signs that you could benefit from doing this include:

  • Feeling stuck and unable to come up with new ideas
  • Becoming so swamped with emotions that you can’t think straight
  • Finding that no matter what solution you come up with the problem just keeps reoccurring

About the author of these tips

Eleanor is a trainer and coach. She consults to a range of sectors – including higher education, health, finance and local government – in the development of social and emotional intelligence at work. Eleanor has been running training and coaching sessions for people in high intellect professions since 1994. She is qualified in Social Anthropology, Applied Psychology, Adult Education and Neuro Linguistic Programming.