There’s no questioning that problems cause some level of unhappiness in all of us. However, I challenge you to question whether it’s the problem that’s the issue, or your mindset about the problem. When presented with a brick wall, what do you do? Do you grab a chair, look for a box of tissues and an audience to cry about your brick wall to? Or, do you look for a sledge hammer, a climbing rope, a ladder, a shovel, or start walking alongside it until you find an opening? Whatever you do, you need the right tools for the job. This starts with your mindset.
The path to a positive attitude about difficulties begins with developing a problem-solving mindset. Rather than focus on how bad the problem is, how overwhelming, unfair, ridiculous, etc., check your attitude. Start by asking one six-word question: “How can I make this better?” Once your attitude is in the right place, you’re on your way to a solution.
Identify the source.
This is absolutely the first and foremost step to solving any problem! All problems stem from somewhere, so the first step to a solution is to identify the cause. If you skip this step, you’ll only be dealing with symptoms rather than the actual issue. This takes some deep digging. The surface cause is rarely the source, merely a symptom. In Lean training they teach you to ask “why” five times to get to the cause.
For example, do you struggle with productivity? Why (1)? You’re just not motivated in your work anymore. Why (2)? You feel like you’re not making a difference? Why (3)? No matter what you do, nobody seems to notice. Why (4)? You haven’t received any positive feedback for months. Why(5)? Well, your boss has been really busy preparing for a new product launch. There you go. Maybe it’s time to ask. You see, you could have stopped at motivation, but that wasn’t the source. Your motivation comes from somewhere and in this case it comes from positive feedback. Your boss has been too busy. If you’re not getting the feedback you need, ask for it.
What’s your next step?
Do you remember story problems? I used to hate story problems. I mean hate them. I remember sitting at my parents’ kitchen table crying and spitting on my math homework because of story problems. You see, to me, story problems were overwhelming. I tried to look at the problem as one thing to solve at once, and it was too hard. The key is to break it down into smaller little problems. Do the first thing first, then the second, then the third. When you break it down, then you can find the answer, but not when you try to tackle it at once. So, look at it and say, “what’s my next step?” Complete it, then repeat the question until finished. Voila, done.
Know when to ask for help and who to ask.
No matter how many pieces you break a problem into, you can’t do it all alone. Know when to ask for help and, more importantly, who to ask. You can’t be an expert on everything, so become an expert at who the experts are and talk to them. When you come across something you don’t understand, ask someone who does. Keep asking until you understand.
Become an expert at research . . . or find one.
In addition to consulting the experts, know where to find answers yourself. You can’t always rely on the experts, so become expedient at research. Search your company databases, archives, documentation libraries, technical resources. Learn how to find answers. When you’re not sure what your company resources are, ask. If research is not your cup of tea or you don’t have the time, then find someone who is good at research and utilize their skills.
Keep an open mind.
No matter how good you believe your solution to be, know that there are always multiple options. Be flexible with your decisions and be willing to shift gears if one isn’t working or creates additional problems for someone else. When you keep an open mind, you’ll find there’s (almost) always a solution that works for everyone.
Let go of perfection.
A good solution isn’t (always) the perfect solution. Many factors come into play. Company resources, technical capacity, employee knowledge base, time constraints, money, money, and money. Sometimes, to move forward, you need to let go of the perfect solution, take the next step, and do the best you can with what you have.
You will face problems and difficulties in this life; that’s pretty much a guarantee. When you approach problems as an opportunity to do something better, you’re going to find they’re not so insurmountable after all. So, start by asking, “How can I make this better?” And go from there.
I’d love to hear from you. Share some of your most effective problem-solving tips in the comments below.
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Copyright © 2016 Katherine J. Wheeler. All rights reserved.