The Iceberg Model for Problem-Solving

Great problem solvers spend more time understanding the problem than they do brainstorming solutions. The solution is evident if you truly understand the problem. The real problem.

What’s the real problem?

The solution is evident if you truly understand the problem. 
How do you determine “What’s the problem?” Systems thinkers often use the Iceberg Model. We know that approximately 90% of an iceberg is underwater. Also, the width of an iceberg is nearly 30% larger than what you can see on the surface. The 90% of the iceberg that exists underwater is what creates the behavior seen by the 10% that exists above the surface.

You can apply the same logic to problem-solving. We are often alerted to a problem by a surface level event or experience. Creating solutions based on a single event may create a temporary fix, but will often result in a repeat of the problem. The Iceberg Model is a four-step approach to evaluating a problem. Your ultimate goal is to identify the root causes, underlying structures and mental models that trigger problematic events.

“Problems cannot be solved with the same mind set that created them” ~Albert Einstein

The Iceberg Model

  1. Events : First, observe and describe what has happened or what is happening. You’ll have better results if you are able to duplicate (recreate) or reenact the steps that led to the discovery of the problem.
  2. Patterns & Trends : Then, determine if this event or similar events have happened before? What are the patterns of occurrences? What trends have you seen? Is there a particular situation, environment or role that experiences this problem?
  3. Structures & Systems : Then, identify the things, procedures or behaviors that contributed to this event. Why is this happening?
  4. Mental Models : Finally, what are the beliefs and assumptions that created and shaped the system/triggers that caused this problem?

Addressing the issues that occur below the surface (structures, systems, mental models) will get you closer to discovering the real problem and to identifying long-term, sustainable solutions.

Kishau Rogers

Kishau Rogers is an award-winning technology entrepreneur specializing in wrangling complexity using computer science, systems thinking, creativity, and common sense. She is the Founder & CEO of Time Study, Inc., a high-growth startup offering solutions for using machine learning, advanced natural language processing, and data science to automatically tell a story of how enterprise employees spend their time and its impact on the areas that matter. As the Founder and CEO of Time Study, Kishau is one of the first Black women in Virginia to raise millions in venture capital to scale her tech startup. She is also the owner of Websmith Studio and the editor of the bigThinking project, a resource for promoting the principles of systems thinking.

Kishau’s work is featured in Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, Entrepreneur, and Black Enterprise. In addition, she is a recipient of many awards, including the VCU Distinguished Alumni (in Computer Science), NAWBO Wells Fargo STEM award, the Lyn McDermid Community Impact Award, and the MBL Entrepreneur of the Year Award.

In her commitment to using technology as a tool for social good, she also serves as an advisor to organizations and initiatives like AI for Afrika, Think Of Us, WAAW Foundation, Level Up Ventures, Virginia Commonwealth University Department of Computer Science, the first U.S. White House Hackathon for Foster Care and SheHacks Africa, a software engineering intensive providing training to women & girls across Africa.

She holds a Computer Science degree and has over twenty-five years of experience in the technology industry and more than 15 years of entrepreneurial leadership.



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