“The problem is not that there are problems. The problem is expecting otherwise and thinking that having problems is a problem.” Theodore Rubin
We are often told to see problems as ‘opportunities’, and certainly they can be if approached correctly, but how practical is it to you in your everyday life to be told this whenever a problem arises.
What you want is to solve these problems.
Once solved you can move on. Here are some useful tips on how to shift your approach and mindset so that solving problems gets easier each time.
1. Don’t avoid problems.
“Problems are meant to be solved, but unfortunately, a lot of people choose to worry complain, worry and cry about them.” Edmond Mbiaka
Confront problems head on. Once you commit to address a problem you’ll find they are less daunting. Sticking your head in the sand and avoiding the problem will not make them go away and probably only add to your stress level – it might work for ostriches but not you!
2. Clarify the problem in order to effectively solve it.
“A problem well put is half solved.” John Dewey
Do you really understand the nature of the problem. Don’t assume your assessment is the same as everyone else.
Firstly define the problem and be clear about what needs to be addressed.
Break the problem down into its’ elements and identify what is a key factor to its existence. No problem exists in isolation.
If you understand the complexity and interrelationships that support the problem you will be able to stand back and see the root cause and then begin to consider solutions. This approach is what underpins the ‘root cause’ analysis that is used in critical incident review.
3. Focus on solutions not the problem.
““We can not solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.” Albert Einstein
A focus on the solutions shifts your thinking about the problem, you are no longer focussed on the problem per se but how to solve it. You’ve effectively shifted in your mind from the negative to the positive.
This shift in perspective has an impact on your emotions and how you see the situation.
Our natural tendency is to adopt a ‘negativity bias’ so we need to consciously shift our thinking to counteract this bias – focussing on solutions will assist.
4. Don’t assume you have to tackle problems alone.
“A problem shared is a problem halved.” Anon
While some believe that a problem shared is a problem multiplied it is worth exploring if you might have some allies or partners in solving the problem.
It is likely the case that among your colleagues and work-mates someone has confronted the very same problem (or a variation of it) and will have some insights and tips to share. Explore the approaches used by others as they might prove beneficial to your predicament.
Get the collective input of others will also force you to take time out and look at things from different perspectives. The added bonus of this tip is that you might find a colleague willing to share your load.
The power of collaboration to build and cement team spirit while breaking down silos should not be overlooked. It is important to consider how you can strengthen the opportunities for success when using a collaborative approach.
5. Open up your mind to allow creative thinking when problem solving.
“I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” Abraham Maslow
- drawing a picture of the problem (or process),
- simulate through role play the issues and outcomes,
- take the issue to the extremes,
- mind map the problem,
- write the problem as a newspaper headline (actual problem or solved solution),
- consciously change your perspective on the problem and advocate from this perspective, and
- exploring any triggers and systems that contribute.
Using these approaches will challenge any functional fixedness you might have about the problem.
Using brainstorming techniques would be a great collaborative and team approach to thinking differently when problem solving.
6. Eliminate the irrelevant when examining problems.
“Erroneous assumptions can be disastrous.” Peter Drucker
When examining the problem you need to consciously test every fact, data or assumption that is presented as part of the problem. Dismiss any data that is irrelevant so that is doesn’t cloud your thinking or formulation of solutions. This could also be seen as not making the problem more complex than it is.
This requires a skeptical and inquiring mind and verification of fact from fiction or assumptions.
7. Shift the language you use when problem solving.
“The most serious mistakes are not being made as a result of wrong answers. The truly dangerous thing is asking the wrong questions.” Peter Drucker
How you approach the problem and describe it will significantly impact your solutions. This is aligned to Step 5 but it is so important its covered here as a separate step.
Alway use language that opens up possibilities and invites broader thinking – don’t use close ended or negative language. Read an earlier article titled ‘In business can the way your ask get you better results’ for more pointers and discussion on the language we use and the results we get.
Book – Your Leadership Edge – an exhaustive list of techniques to improve your creativity around problem solving p106-108