Personal Productivity

Jumpstart Problem Solving

How to solve problems
wrote this on February 17, 2013
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Avoidance is probably the number one reason behind all major problems. When something happens which requires your attention, you have to deal with it as soon as possible. Choosing to confront it and committing to a path that (you hope) leads to a solution, will help you jumpstart problem solving quicker.

But what do you do after you committed yourself to find a solution? What are the techniques you can use to reach solutions as fast as possible?

To tackle your problems, you’ll need to squeeze creative solutions from your experience, understand that complex problems might require complex solutions (there’s no going around this) and that your motivation to solve a problem will probably make the difference between success and failure.

The sooner you’ll dive in, the better.  Here are a few useful problem solving techniques.

1# To Commit or not To Commit, That’s the question (and answer).

Before you approach your problem you must decide that you’re committed to its solution, it doesn’t matter what the problem is.  If you make the commitment, then you already solved 50% of the problem, why? Because after committing, the problem transforms itself into a project.  Mentally, you know how to deal with projects: brainstorming, strategies, actions plans, timelines, etc.  Before commitment, the problem weighs heavily on you and affects your waking and non-waking hours.

2# Brainstorm to Solve Problems – Asking your peers what they think.

Use the power of the “hive mind” and gathering your friends’ feedback. You’ll be able to zoom in on possible solutions. You see, your friends are not experiencing your problem from the same point of view, and therefore are not limited to the same patterns of thought. The outside perspective gives them an advantage over your limited point of view.  This often gives them insights that you might consider “out-of-the-box” which for them seems trivial.

3# Divide and Conquer – They are weaker on their own.

Every seemingly insurmountable problem almost always consists of smaller chunk sized problems that can be solved much easier individually. By breaking down a problem into bite sized chunks, you turn huge problems into smaller, solvable problems.  For example, bemoaning why you can’t reach you goals is not as productive as breaking it down to the root cause, e.g., can’t focus after lunch, not having reminders for key tasks, inconsistent note taking, too many coffee breaks, talkative co-workers, too much surfing the internet.  Individually, I can easily come up with a plan to help eliminate my “bite-sized problems”.

4# Reduction and transformation – Ducks and sparrows are birds.

Sometimes you just don’t know the reason why you can’t do something. No matter how much you try banging your head against the wall, it won’t give. That’s why you need to do a reduction of the problem in order to transform it into another problem for which a solution exists. Problems sometimes stem from the same source, for instance: the inability to finish tasks on time derives from the same source as the inability to arrive somewhere on time, when one exists the other exists as well. We all know how to solve our “inability” to arrive on time but we still get lost one our way to meet deadlines…The same principals you’ll use to solve the first problem can also be applied in solving the other.

5# Problem Solving Through Trial and Error – The hard way.

You should not attempt this one too often. However, when all else fails, this problem solving technique probably helped me more than once to find solutions in the past. It’s a straight forward technique that will require a bit of planning on your side, testing several hypotheses and finding the one that works the best for you.  Trying something and failing is a huge time consumer that might not always give you the ROI you were expecting.

All of the above methods are great to tackle almost any problem.  There are others of course, but these are the methods I use most on a daily basis.  If you are up for it, check out also TRIZ.

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