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. A problem solver’s greatest leverage is directly related to their understanding of 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.
  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?
  3. Structures & Systems : Finally, identify the things, procedures or behaviors that contributed to this event. Why is this happening?
  4. Mental Models : What are the beliefs and assumptions that created and shaped the system?

Employing The Iceberg Method to problem-solving will lay a foundation for creating long-term, sustainable solutions.

Kishau Rogers

Kishau Rogers is the editor and founder of The bigThinking Project. The bigThinking Project is a resource center and collaborative innovation project which promotes the principles of systems thinking. Our mission is to empower the next generation of innovators to think bigger, to think better and to create solutions which make significant impact in the areas that matter. Kishau Rogers is an award-winning entrepreneur with over twenty years of experience in the computer science industry. She is a serial entrepreneur having founded and co-founded companies such as Websmith Group, TimeStudy, PeerLoc Inc., and Websmith Studio.


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