Refresh your Problem-Solving Process

“No problem can be solved from the same consciousness that created it.” ― Albert Einstein

Is there a problem?

Problems surface as a sign something requires attention. Sometimes, in our haste to resolve a problem quickly, we put forward the solution we really want instead of rethinking the possibilities. In Peter Hollins’ book Mental Models, he says, “…we usually go with the most available, accessible, or alarming explanation which tends to represent what we either want to see in a situation or absolutely don’t want to see.”

What is required is a process that will get us to a solution quickly.

Refresh your process

“It will work if you forget all the reasons it will not.”–Paulo Coelho

Working through problems big and small requires rethinking. Proper problem-solving does take some effort, but it does not have to be complicated or slow. With a solid process, you should be able to correctly identify the problem and come up with several solutions in a reasonable time. My problem-solving framework:

  • Mindset — start with “how could that work?” instead of “that won’t work” or “we did that already”.
  • Desired State – get clear on the desired state. Between the current state and desired state is the space to generate solutions.
  • Invite Conflict — conflict is a critical component of problem-solving. To rethink something, you have to be open to changing your mind. Be sure to include a diverse group in your process — especially people that challenge your thinking.
  • Generate multiple solutions –
    • Frame/Reframe the problem – you have to make sure you are focused on the right problem. Be wary of another’s framing and solution of the problem. Take a fresh approach.
    • Group Source — When you identify your “rethink” group…try using the 6-3-5 Method as your brainstorming technique.
  • Decide – logic trees are helpful to map out possible solutions. Evaluate all of the solutions generated then decide. Don’t overlook the simplest solution (Occam’s Razor) — it just might be the answer.

Keep it simple

“Once the information is in the 40% to 70% range, go with your gut.” — Colin Powell

Perhaps focusing on making things “better” is a less stressful way to approach problem-solving.

  • Be clear on the desired state so that you don’t over-engineer the solution.
  • Start with a fresh approach so that you craft a solution that improves the situation.
  • The rush to decide could keep the best solution away. Take the time to frame and reframe, and generate many solutions. From there, you can be sure you have considered the possibilities and recommend an approach to make the situation better.
  • Include a peer review when evaluating perspectives.
  • Don’t wait for data perfection. Get enough data appropriate for the level of problem and then make a decision.

As a leader, you problem-solve regularly. How long it takes depends on how productive you are in each step. Pro-tip: If asking for resources to solve the problem, be prepared to answer, “what solutions did you come up with before recommending this approach?”. Problem-solving doesn’t have to be complicated or slow. Use a model that is appropriate for the problem and focus on just making the situation better.



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