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How to Better Solve Problems

If you are solving a problem, you first have to define the problem. What is it that’s wrong? What needs to change? What new result do you need to produce? Defining your problem is the critical first step of problem solving.

But the second step is just as important. It’s identifying all of your options.

Too Few Options

One of the reasons that resourcefulness is critical to success is that overcoming all of the challenges you encounter requires ideas.

A lot of people find one solution to a problem and decide that is the only way the problem might be solved. Then they get hooked on that idea, usually the most obvious idea and the one that will make a lot of people unhappy.

Most people identify two possible ways a problem might be solved. You can choose option 1 or option 2. Both options aren’t ideal, but at least it is a choice. But for most problems, there are far more that two options. But it’s work to identify them.

By identifying a few ideas, none that are ideal, you don’t do the real work of problem solving.

The Real Work

The real work of solving problems is identifying all of the options available. You brainstorm; no idea is too wild, nothing’s off the table.

You ask yourself what else is possible? Is there a substitution that can be made, a way to avoid solving the problem altogether? Is there a solution that means that you look for a different result than you were when you originally set out to solve the problem? Is there a new outcome that will leapfrog your present results?

A Quick Example

Right now I am helping to guide a startup Nano-technology firm to market. Most of the problems we encounter are complicated, but they generally revolve around resources. Most of the problems are framed up as a choice between A or B, neither of which is ever ideal.

Instead of choosing between A or B, we have decided to spend more time identifying options. In one case, we thought we had two options, but it turns out that we have five options—one of which was never considered but eliminates any negative outcome. Even better, someone else has agreed to do it for us. We would have never gotten to that idea if we stopped at a choice between two ideas.

Defining a problem is easy. Creating more than a few options to solve that problem is more challenging. But the more work you do here, the better your solution.

Questions

How often do you solve problems by choosing the lesser of two evils?

What problem are you trying to solve now?

How many options have you identified?

How many of those options allow you to do something very different than you first imagined?

Who can you get to help you identify more options?


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