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Managerial Problem Definition: A Descriptive Study of Problem Definers

Description: This research examines problem definition as the first step in a sequential problem solving process. Seventy-seven managers in four diverse organizations were studied to determine common characteristics of problem definers. Among the variables considered as differentiating problem definers from non-problem definers were cognitive style, personal need characteristics, preference for ideation, experience, level of management, and type and level of education. Six hypotheses were tested using the following instruments: the Problem Solving Inventory, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator Schedule, the Preference for Ideation Scale, the Edwards Personal Preference Schedule, a Problem Definition Exercise, and a Personal Data Questionnaire. Among the managers studied, only twelve were found to be problem definers. Such small numbers severely limit the ability to generalize about problem definers. However, it is possible that problem definers are scarce in organizations. In terms of cognitive style, problem definers were primarily thinking types who preferred evaluation to ideation in dealing with problems, making judgmental decisions on the basis of collected facts. Problem definers were not predominant at lower levels of the organization. One-third of the problem definers held upper level management positions while another one-fourth were responsible for specialized activities within their organizations, overseeing special projects and individuals much like upper level managers. Sixty-eight of the problem definers had non-business educations with none having more than a bachelors degree. As knowledge and judgment on which to base evaluation expands, managers may become less adept at defining problems and more adept at selecting and implementing alternatives. Several tentative hypotheses can be tested in future research including: 1) determining whether problem definers are scarce in organizations, 2) determining whether problem definers are more prevalent in some types of organizations than others, 3) verifying unique cognitive and personal need characteristics, 4) determining whether non-managers rather than managers have problem defining skills.
Date: August 1985
Creator: Phillips Danielson, Waltraud