10 Attributes of Problems and Decision-Making and Why You Do Care

Applying the Science of Systems Thinking to Decision Making

Problems and Decisions: 10 Similar Attributes

Likely you have read or heard mention of various numbers of problem or decision-making attributes. I have found those descriptors to be fair and somewhat helpful, but I was still left wondering if they were comprehensive enough. Obviously, this article declares they aren’t for two main reasons: they don’t mention range or degree, they aren’t comprehensive and they aren’t systemic. By systemic I mean that those descriptors do not include or imply their interconnectivity with each other or with other elements that are either contributors to or affected by problems or decisions and decision-making. In other words, those descriptors lack a Systems Thinking application, which leaves them more as discreet bits than a collective whole.

Knowing these attributes –their details– is what sets high-functioning, successful organizations and businesses from the rest of the pack. And this is primarily why you care. Not only will understanding these attributes help your organization handle issues and decisions more efficiently and effectively, you’re bound to save money on employee engagement and turn-overs, organizational management and consulting. You’ll gain tremendous insights to help lead your business organization, or your individual pursuits, to achieving your mission.

Note that for each attribute there is a range or degree. Is there a way to accurately gauge range beyond individual perception? Not easily, but there are guidelines, which we’ll examine in a separate article. Here we go:

1. Attribute of Difficulty

Problems and decisions range from simple to wicked or complex.

This attribute depends on completeness of knowledge, number of people, information including opinions, and economics. How much do people know or what is known about the problem or decision? How many people or items are involved? Is there adequate knowledge of the problem or decision to move forward optimally? Is it or could it be a costly problem or decision?

2. Attribute of Gravity

No, not the kind that keeps us grounded. Problems and decision range from not serious or near zero concern to traumatic or dire. How serious is the problem or decision? Is the problem or decision and decision-making of little to no concern or of critical concern?

3. Attribute of Familiarity or Proximity to the Affected

Problems and decisions range from personal to global including community. How familiar or close is the problem or decision to the affected? Is it a known or expected problem or decision? Who does the problem or decision affect the most: me, family and friends, department, organization, community, state, nation, globe?

4. Attribute of Scalability or Replicability

Problems and decisions range from non-transference to fully transferable or expandable to other problems or decisions. Is the problem or decision a 1-off or single event or is it fully scalable or replicable, or does / could it cascade or continue? Is this a single problem or decision or does / could it affect other areas? Could the problem or decision continue and grow or compound? Is the problem or decision localized or could it spread?

5. Attribute of “Systemicity”

Problems and decisions range from a single component to system wide or broad-ranging. Bear in mind that even single components are part of a greater system. Is the problem or decision a single entity or does it have farther reaching implications? How does the problem or decision relate to the whole system? Does the problem or decision include or affect “nested” systems (number of components, actions, resources, people, etc.)? What external factors or elements need to be considered that could have potential effects?

6. Attribute of Impact

Problems and decisions range from no effect or subtle to catastrophic or imminent. What noticeable or measurable effects are or could be evident from the problem or decision? Could the problem or decision have effects in other areas? Is the problem or decision practical or efficient? How could the problem or decision affect resources (economic, physical)?

7. Attribute of Viability

Problems and decisions range from short-lived to long future. Is the problem or decision a frequent occurrence? Is the solution or decision viable or sustainable for a lengthy time? Is the problem solvable or the decision implementable?

8. Attribute of Acceptability or Desirability

Problems and decisions range from selfish to widespread acceptance or buy-in or group consensus. Is the problem or decision the most desirable and by whom? How do people respond emotionally to the problem or decision, or How do people feel about the problem or decision and decision-making?

9. Attribute of Pliability

Problems and decisions range from alterable to immovable. Is the problem or decision easily adjustable, changeable or alterable, or is it set or firmly established?

10. Attribute of Rationality

Problems and decisions range from rationalsensible or logical to irrational or illogical. Is the problem or decision structured or unstructured or messy? Is the problem or decision clear or ambiguous? Is the information about the problem or decision accurate or contradictory? Is the problem or decision driven primarily by reason or emotions? You can’t and don’t want to avoid the emotional aspect of problems or decisions; however, the question of tolerable imbalance needs to be carefully considered.

Time and Agility

Time and agility range across, and will affect each of, the 10 Attributes. That is, the 10 Attributes will be affected or influenced by both time and the agility of the problem solvers and decision-makers in their response to problems or decisions and/or by decision-makers.


Response to problems and decisions ranges from immediate or quick to stalled or slow. Is there something that or someone who (a hierarchical structure or other elements or factors) impedes or facilitates a timely response?


Response to problems and decisions ranges from facile or flexible to fumbling, flailing or dysfunctional. The ability and willingness to respond efficiently and effectively to problems and explore decision options are a function of agility. Is there something or someone that impedes or facilitates an agile response? Could the response to a problem be done easily, with optimal effectiveness, and completed both efficiently and elegantly? Likewise, could the decision-making be accomplished easily, with optimal effectiveness, and completed both efficiently and elegantly?

Although elegance isn’t necessary and potentially near impossible given time or a particular attribute, elegance demonstrates an added touch of finesse and human flare that elevates the solution or decision toward the highest level of pleasure and satisfaction.

The role of Planning

Planning as a deliberate Systems Thinking activity is the action of considering the 10 Attributes in anticipation of a problem and/or of outcomes of decision-making that also incorporates time and agility.

FoRSE® Matrix

The FoRSE Matrix is designed to uncover all of the foregoing attributes, including time considerations, and serves as a planning or diagnostic tool for in-house use or by consultants. But seriously, do you want to save money and ensure you’re continually on the correct path to achieve your goals? Sign up now!

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