Since his early years Dimitri had a great passion for solving problems, especially problems that occur in real life which he always saw as opportunities. He was fascinated by problems which offered the prospect of many potential solutions although only one or two might prove to be optimal. Not only did he think through and solve problems that affected his own life, he was also concerned to analyse and describe the process of problem solving so others could use it and thus be more consistently effective themselves
He looked for ways of simplifying and summarising approaches to complex issues and often used acronyms. Although the acronyms he developed did not satisfy him because they seemed too static for what he knew was a dynamic process, the organisational strains of a growing company in 1952 spurred him to use acronyms as a means of reminding those around him of what he was constantly seeking to achieve in the working environment. Perhaps the best known was ITGB
Intolerable, Tolerable, Good, Better
The attitude of mind he consistently tried to encourage others to acquire was the dissatisfaction he always felt with any current situation. No matter how good any outcome was, he inevitably wanted it to be improved, which made him exasperating to work for. Staff would show him work over which they had sweated long and hard to achieve perfection and he would say ‘Let’s do better next time’.
He was constantly searching for a generic problem solving procedure and produced many diagrammatic forms of increasing complexity which he knew instinctively were too convoluted. This did not stop him defining his first Problem Solving Procedure, known as PSP, in March 1956.
In 1971 Dimitri began to write a book on problem solving which he was still working on when he died in 1988.
It remained unfinished because he always felt he could improve on what he had written. He did, though, come close to achieving his objective by defining the essential ingredients for problem solving and achievement:
PACRA (Purpose, Alternatives, Criteria, Resources, Action)
which finally evolved into what became the GRASP process (Getting Results And Solving Problems).
This latter acronym, however, might be better defined as Getting Results and Seizing Potential because it became most effective in helping people to achieve their full potential. The elements of the GRASP process are
- Define your purpose in terms of what you want to achieve, not what you want to do (these are often very different).
- When defining purpose, keep asking the question ‘Why?’ each time you think you know what your purpose is. Ask “What do I really want to achieve?”
- Imagine in detail how it will be when you have succeeded and use this picture of success to establish the criteria by which you will know if you have succeeded.
- Examine alternative means by which the desired result might be achieved and never allow yourself to think that there is only one way to succeed.
- Choose what seems to be the best option and make a plan.
- Carry through your chosen plan.
- Repeat the process to see if you can do better or have redefined your purpose, which often happens.
- Review the process at each stage.
This process sounds simple and to some extent obvious, but is difficult to carry out in a disciplined way until it becomes an integral part of everyday thinking
Dimitri and the team developing GRASP in the mid 1980s identified that introducing the GRASP process to education might be innovative and effective. An opportunity arose with the Dudley Education Authority who saw the opportunity to use GRASP in their schools ‘to enable young people to get results and solve problems at work’ which was stimulated by the Department of Trade and Industry’s Technical and Vocational Education Initiative. A project was initiated with funding from the Comino Foundation and the DTI Industry/Education Unit. The project in what were known as the Dudley GRASP schools developed innovative practice such as lessons lessons beginning with children not only knowing but agreeing on the purpose of a lesson, what they were going to be taught and why. Criteria were established by which they would know at the end of a lesson whether its objective had been achieved and wherever possible alternative means of achieving the purpose of the lesson were discussed before it started. A review at the end of the lesson enabled both the pupils and the teacher to know if they had succeeded. The motivating effect on teachers and children was dramatic with pupils being engaged in asking why they were at school and why it was important to learn. A Comino Centre was established in 1987 to develop the GRASP approach across the Dudley schools and this was successfully maintained with funding support from the Comino Foundation until 2000.