27 September 2023

How leaders can become smarter at solving complex problems

Start the conversation

The Australia and New Zealand School of Government (ANZSOG)* says the pandemic has shone a light on the inefficient ways most of us try to solve problems.

Why were the public and private sectors able to innovate quickly to respond to COVID-19, but unable to apply the same creativity to wicked social, economic and environmental problems?

Dr Nick Fleming, ANZSOG presenter and founder of strategic advisory firm Innergise, argues that most people spend most of their time trying to solve complex problems in the wrong way – something that incurs big personal, organisational and societal costs.

In his new book Smashing the state of dumb·stuck Dr Fleming argues that our collective inability to solve the right problems culminates in a state of “dumb-stuck”.

Luckily, Dr Fleming says, the solution isn’t in sourcing more capacity or effort, but in refocusing our eye for complex problem solving.

“Many leaders are ‘dumb·stuck’ – unable to elevate their careers and contributions because their know-how and judgement is no longer suited to their situation,” Dr Fleming said.

“This is an argument backed by evidence and international experience.

“It is hardly surprising then that complex problem solving is the number one skill needed for the future of work.

“Our wicked problems are growing thornier by the minute and time is of the essence. We cannot afford a situation where smart people are wasting time doing dumb things.”

“It is possible to do less work with greater impact, when you truly understand the problems you’re tackling and can target effort effectively.

‘Smashing the state of dumb·stuck’ will be launched on 28 July, at an event featuring Dr Fleming along with ANZSOG Dean and CEO Professor Ken Smith AO, and former senior Victorian and Commonwealth public servant and current Allianz Australia Deputy Managing Director, Helen Silver, and Founder and CEO of WeAspire, Felicity Furey.

They will use real-world scenarios from both the private and public sectors to debate the “best practical methods” for solving the right problems in the current fast-changing environment.

The book integrates the secrets of influential leadership with practical problem solving tools all in one place, combining surprising insights with actionable strategies.

It provides leaders with step-by-step guidelines and a memorable problem solving framework, as well as several entirely new problem-solving approaches.

It integrates the insights of leaders from multiple disciplines, and deals with the messy real-life problems leaders face each day.

Dr Fleming has 30 years of experience consulting across the infrastructure, water, natural resources, energy, mining, defence and social welfare sectors throughout Australia and abroad, receiving multiple awards for his work.

He is an active thought leader, speak and author tackling the real impediments to thriving organisations, societal progress and sustainable communities.

He says that he had two linked reasons for writing the book.

“The first, is my abiding hope and ambition for humanity, coupled with a deep concern for our current trajectory.

“How is it that we can achieve amazing things with technology but struggle to progress societally on so many fronts?” he said.

“The second reason is that I have discovered an answer to this question.

“I’ve also seen the huge difference that answer can make to individuals, organisations and communities.

“I sincerely believe these insights are important to the success of individual leaders and, in aggregate, society.

“So, I wrote the Smashing the State of Dumb-stuck to share these insights. I want younger leaders to accelerate their learning and impact, not leaving it to chance.

“I want more senior leaders to elevate their thinking and contribution.

“Because it is a demonstrable fact that we need to enable a higher level of leadership to thrive in our complex, contested world.”

*ANZOG is an educational institution that teaches strategic management and high-level policy to public sector leaders.

This article first appeared at anzsog.edu.au.

Start the conversation

Be among the first to get all the Public Sector and Defence news and views that matter.

Subscribe now and receive the latest news, delivered free to your inbox.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.