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Problem Solving Skills 4 0f 4


In order to build an evaporating cloud that represents the overall un­derlying situation, the tasks are to summarize each of the blocks in the cloud separately. Begin with Block D of the three evaporating clouds (which should be a circumstance that pulls in a direction worth com­plaining about). If Blocks D and E are reversed in one or two of the

clouds, it is a simple matter to reverse the directionality so that they are consistent. If Blocks D and E are reversed on a cloud diagram, Blocks B and C should probably also be reversed to maintain consistency of the specific diagram. When all three clouds are consistent in their di­rection, write down the contents of the three Block D sections next to each other, and write out a generic statement that represents all of them. Next, do the same process to summarize the three Block E sections. Write them down next to each other, and develop a generic statement that represents all of them. This process is repeated with Block A for all three clouds. Then Blocks B and C are each summarized in turn.

Once a generic statement has been developed for Blocks A, B, C, D, and E, the next step is to write it out in the form of a generic evapo­rating cloud in diagram form. At this point, it is likely that it will be necessary (or at least very helpful) to modify the wording of the con­tents of the blocks as needed. When this is done, the relationships should be easily read in terms of "In order to have [A], I must have [B]," and so forth. Recommended procedure is to read it aloud. If it sounds as if it should be changed, it probably should be changed. There should be no need to add explanation in reading it to someone else aloud.


The process of solving an evaporating cloud is the same as outlined in the fourth graders' TV watching example. The first step is to write down the reason or assumption that underlies each of the relationships in the logic of the cloud diagram. This would be expressed as: "In order to have [A], I must have [B], because [reason]." It should be recognized that there may be more than one reason or assumption behind such a relationship, and that each assumption presents a potential solution ap­proach if that assumption can be invalidated. For the conflict relation­ship, it should be expressed as "D is in direct conflict with E because [reason]." Avoid the tendency to simply restate any of the relationships, since this does not get at the real reason for the continued existence of the conflict. It may require some fundamental examination of the system at hand, but experience has shown that being able to verbalize the as­sumption can be greatly aided by discarding the notion that things must necessarily continue as they have been in the past. Just because no one else has thought of the current state of affairs as based on an assumption does not mean that an assumption has not governed the process without having been verbalized. If in doubt, ask someone for help. The helper should be someone who knows the situation, but has a different vantage point to see it from. A list of assumptions that was developed for the example story regarding pricing is shown in figure 6. Note that each of the relationships has an assumption identified, including the conflict re­lationship. One of the most powerful avenues to solution of an evaporat­ing cloud is to find an opposite to the conflict assumption.

In this case, solving the example evaporating cloud on pricing is left as an exercise for the reader, since it is very unlikely that a solution handed to someone would actually be implemented. Also, since this is a very real problem that applies to many specific companies in a vari­ety of industries, the best solution is likely to vary depending on spe­cific circumstances. As a word of advice, those who want to have a specific solution implemented would do well to ensure that the appro­priate decision-makers and holders of the keys are an integral part of the team that develops the solution approach.

As a hint to those interested in solving the pricing evaporating cloud presented in this paper, it is strongly recommended that a rereading of Eli Goldratt's novel It's Not Luck would be appropriate in helping to develop insights.


The evaporating cloud (or conflict resolution diagram) provides a simple and powerful means of resolving problems. The conflict that keeps the problem in place is highlighted, as are the supporting cir­cumstances that lead to the conflict situation. The primary reason for using the evaporating cloud diagram approach is to identify and ex­amine the assumptions that underlie a specific problem. If even one of the underlying assumptions leading to a problem can be reversed or invalidated, a potentially powerful solution to the problem becomes available. This approach can be used to address everyday problem situations as well as those that have seemed unsolvable, sometimes for decades. This paper presented a step-by-step approach to con­structing an evaporating cloud to analyze such problems, in order to make the method easier to use.


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