When I was in High School there was an extra curricula program called Problem Solving which students were selected to join and, I guess, learn how to solve problems. I’m guessing because I was never picked, which ironically felt like a problem in itself.
I always wanted to be a problem solver, and felt because I wasn’t part of this program that I wasn’t able to solve problems. It turns out they were maths problems and I hate maths, so I would have been awful at it. Knowing this also made it easier to give this away to the nerds.
Years later I would now absolutely call myself a problem solver. Everyday I have to solve problems and some of them quite complex. It’s an environment I thrive in and love the challenge of having very difficult problems to solve. In light of this I thought others may benefit from knowing the mental grid I apply to problems to make them solvable.
[Tweet “Big problems are just a series of mini solutions waiting to be lined up.”]
The grid of a problem solver:
Create a framework within which a solution will lie. This requires asking great questions. If the problem belongs to someone else and you are just helping, ask them great questions. If the problem is yours, ask questions of yourself that require you to think about the issue in ways you haven’t previously. Great questions will reveal hidden facts and truths that shouldn’t be ignored. This will give you a framework within which to work. (To learn how to ask great questions I’ve written this post: Really Great Questions Will Transform Your Leadership.)
Brainstorm the potential solutions available to you. Obviously this will not be a complete list, but it needs to be where you begin.
Identify the consequences as each of these solutions play out. With complex problems, rarely is a single solution with no downside poissible, at least in initial stages.
Test each of the potential solutions. You need to find the best option and there’s nothing like road testing a solution with others, who are either in the know or affected by the solution, to discern whether it’s a good choice or not.
Seek external stimuli. This is absolutely essential. Go to other great problem solvers, explain the skeleton of your problem to them and before you tell them what you’ve already tried, ask them what they would do. By doing it this way you don’t pollute their creativity in offering you a solution.
Solve the problem. Make a decision on what needs to be done. Once that decision is made, action the highest ranked possible solution.
[Tweet “Many problems are not solved because action is never taken.”]
As a leader, you are the chief problem solver. This means you need to become a very good problem solver. If you know you need to grow in this area, find a small problem that has been bugging you for a while and set your mind to solving it. Use the above grid and solve that problem. Then move onto the next one. In no time at all you’ll find you are quite proficient in solving problems.