“All life is problem solving.”
As many problems as we are all faced with in our work and life, it seems as if there is never enough time to solve each one. Problems keep mounting so fast that we find ourselves taking short-cuts to temporarily reduce the tension points – so we can move onto the next problem. In the process, we fail to solve the core of each problem we are dealt; thus we continuously get caught in the trap of a never-ending cycle that makes it difficult to find any real resolutions. Sound familiar?
Problem solving is the essence of what leaders exist to do. As leaders, the goal is to minimize the occurrence of problems – which means we must be courageous enough to tackle them head-on before circumstances force our hand.
They have the patience to step back and see the problem at-hand through broadened observation; circular vision. They see around, beneath and beyond the problem itself. They see well-beyond the obvious. The most effective leaders approach problems through a lens of opportunity. A leader must never view a problem as a distraction, but rather as a strategic enabler for continuous improvement and opportunities previously unseen.
Here are most effective ways to solve problems:
- Encourage yourself with positive outlook
The first thing you should do when faced with a difficult problem is to start with a positive outlook. Sometimes our first reaction is to fear uncertainty. That’s pretty natural. However, unknown develops, the curiosity to try new things and aim for the stars. Don’t fear the problem itself. Look at it as an opportunity to learn something new and to test your ability and wit.
- Start thinking out of the box
The way you have done things in the past may not always work for all situations. In life, there are often many solutions to a given problem. Some are more effective than others. Some are more appropriate than others. When faced with a difficult problem, do not assume you know the answer from the start. Don’t jump to conclusions. Stop for a second and take time to understand what the problem or question is truly about before applying a solution or answer. Be open to all possibilities.
- Work on a real problem
Sometimes the problem we are trying to solve isn’t the real problem at all. It could be a symptom and not the cause. In order to solve a problem, we may need to take the perspective of looking down on it. From a different vantage point, we may discover that the problem we have focused on is in fact part of a bigger problem – one which would require a completely different approach. Before attempting to put a solution in place, seek out the “real” problem. Once you understand the problem in its entirety and context, only then can you determine the best course of action. Define the problem completely. Take a minute or two to actually define the problem. In doing so, identify what the problem isn’t about first. Isolate what the problem is about. When you understand the problem thoroughly, you may already know what tools you need to apply or what solutions to avoid because they are not appropriate. Always ask what, where, why, when, how and whom. Write the problem down, draw diagrams, create lists and plans, etc.
- Transparent Communication
Problem solving requires transparent communication where everyone’s concerns and points of view are freely expressed. It is very difficult to get to the root of the matter in a timely manner when people do not speak-up.Yes, communication is a fundamental necessity. That is why when those involved in the problem would rather not express themselves – fearing they may threaten their job and/or expose their own or someone else’s wrong-doing – the problem solving process becomes a treasure hunt. Effective communication towards problem solving happens because of a leader’s ability to facilitate an open dialogue between people who trust her intentions and feel that they are in a safe environment to share why they believe the problem happened as well as specific solutions. Once all voices have been heard and all points of view accounted for, the leader (with her team) can collectively map-out a path toward a viable and sustainable solution.
- Logical Thinking helps
When we work as a team, given a complex problem, or one which involves an extended time frame, having an actionable plan identifying what needs to be done is crucial. The plan can be a good reminder for what and when things need to happen as well as a communication tool for all the people involved. Dependencies must be revealed. Creating a plan requires that you think through all the issues logically and identify all the relevant issues and constraints.
- Have emotional balance
Emotions or stress can sometimes affect our thinking and judgment. Do not let these cloud your mind. In most cases, problems are best dealt with logically. Try adopting a rational mindset and let your mind govern your actions. If you find you are too emotionally charged, pause for a moment and let yourself calm down first. Step back from the challenge and maybe give it another day.
- Target End result
This is like visualizing the solution. Problem solving is about getting from one state to another state. This is known as traversing the solution path. Sometimes getting from the start state to the end state is not as immediately obvious as seeing how the end state can come from the start state. We can either trace a path from where we are to where we want to go or we can start from the destination and work backwards.
- It is ok to do the mistakes
Problem solving and making mistakes often go hand-in-hand. Sometimes in order to find the best solution to a given problem, we have to go through a hundred bad solutions first. The most important thing here is to remember that mistakes are okay. Don’t get discouraged. Don’t get frustrated. Use the mistakes as stepping stones to get to the desired solution.
- Take notes and record your progress
When a problem is open-ended and you’re working in uncharted space, be vigilant with your note taking and record your progress. Keep a diary. You may find months later an offhand note you made can be the breakthrough you are looking for. It may not be immediately obvious at the time, so record your progress and ensure you can trace back to the things you have tried and what the results were.
- Encourage yourself with positive outlook