There are those one or two people in an organization that are known as excellent problem solvers. It is not always clear why, and chances are they may not even know themselves why they are as good at it as they are. This is because they probably possess a certain combination of skills that make them particularly good at this job.
The good news is that anyone can learn these skills. The issue is that most of us never sit down to think about how we approach problem solving. I think it pays to have a plan in place, so that whenever such a problem arises, we are ready to deal with it in a systematic way. The steps below really worked for me.
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Be sure you understand the problem
When a problem first arises and you realize that you are going to have to apply your problem-solving skills, the first step is to take a deep breath and decide that you are going to overcome this problem easily by applying your skills. Then, write down the problem, as well as every single aspect of the problem that poses a challenge. You will already appreciate that the problem looks a lot smaller once you have broken it down into bite-sized chunks. The other reason why writing down the aspects of a problem is so helpful, is that you can see the problem for what it really is, instead of it just remaining in your head. All of a sudden, you are the one in control. Once you can visualize the problem, it becomes much easier to find solutions to it.
So, what’s new?
When a problem arises and we try to think about how complex it is, it may seem overwhelming. But now that you have written it down and broken it down into its individual components, more often than not you realize that you have dealt with similar problems in the past. Once you have broken down the problem into its components, you may find that you have dealt with those individual challenges before, and that solutions already exist. Then you need to decide whether those solutions be perfect for the current situation, or whether more brainstorming is needed?
You can then brainstorm the parts of the solution that require new thinking. People often think that brainstorming and problem solving are the same thing, but problem solving tends to be slightly more complex. Brainstorming is just one element of it. Then, when you have brainstormed the solutions, pick the best idea or mix of ideas to address the problem in the best possible way.
Worst case scenarios
When you are solving a new problem for the first time, the chances of hiccups are greatly increased. Therefore, during the planning process, worst case scenarios should be considered and plans to deal with those should be in place. Since we cannot predict the future, we should also not be disheartened if even our best plans don’t go as expected. Sometimes, it may even be necessary to start the entire problem solving exercise from scratch.
Put it in the memory bank
Once you solve a problem, you will rightly feel a sense of accomplishment. When that moment arrives, take some time to reflect on how you solved the problem, which aspects worked, and which aspects need revisiting. In doing so, you ensure that your problem-solving skills continue on an upward trajectory.