The Excellent Executive

Effective Problem-Solving for Business Executives

Generally there are two ways of the human brain and nervous system to solve complex problems.

As business executive you can also make perfect use of the collective intelligence of your team or organization by following one of these approaches do develop high quality solutions.


An algorithm is a set of instructions that leads to a specific goal.
That means the goal is known and the instructions describe in detail how to achieve this goal.

This includes of course going forward, making errors and correcting course. This process is based upon a mechanism called “negative feedback”.

Due to this mechanism the way to the goal becomes more a kind of “steering” into the direction of your goal than a straight walk towards it.

There is no reason to be afraid of making mistakes, or of temporary failures.
All complex problem-solving processes with a set goal achieve this goal by negative feedback, which means by going forward, making mistakes and immediately correcting course.


A heuristic is a set of instructions without any specified goal. That means the goal is not specified and not known in detail.

Probably a range or class of goals may exist but the instructions don’t describe how to achieve a goal but rather how to explore it or even better: how to locate the area where the answer to the problem that you examine might be.

A heuristic technique is any approach to your problem that employs a practical method that is not guaranteed to be optimal, perfect or even rational, but is, nevertheless, sufficient for reaching a goal or an approximation of it.

In complex business environments it is impossible and totally impractical to find something like an optimal or a perfect solution.

Instead, heuristic methods can be used as methods and techniques to find satisfactory and suitable solutions.
Heuristics can also be mental shortcuts that ease the cognitive load of making a decision under time pressure with very little information at hand.

Trial and error, rules of thumb or educated guesses are typical examples for these kind of heuristics.

So while algorithms help you to steer and navigate towards your desired goal, heuristics help you to explore, discover and to scan an area where a solution, answer or goal should come into existence.

The only thing we must consider when we set out to find a new idea or the answer to a problem is to assume that the answer already exists – somewhere – and set out to find it.

How The Subconscious Mind Works

Your subconscious mind works like an automatic mechanism that uses exactly the same two approaches as described above to solve problems or to achieve goals.

It always works teleological, that means it operates or must be oriented to “end results,” either your specified goals or the goals you assume to be somewhere in a solution space.

Do not be discouraged because the “means whereby” may not be apparent to you. It is the function of your subconscious mind to supply the “means whereby” when you supply the goal. Think in terms of the end result and the “means whereby” will often take care of themselves.

You must learn to trust your creative subconscious to do its work.

You must “let it” work, rather than “make it” work. Exactly the same is true for the collaboration of your team or organization.

So effective business executives are able to apply a wide range of techniques based upon each of the two problem-solving approaches.

It strongly depends on the complexity of the task at hand which approach is more adequate and effective.

It takes some time, experience and a good business executive development program to learn strengths and weaknesses of both approaches and the right case for effective application.

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