Good problem solving skills are fundamentally important, especially when leading a business. But problems (what’s that consulting term… challenges) are something that we don’t particularly like. They’re time-consuming. They bogart their way into our already packed schedules. And the queue never seems to end! A formula that primes us as humans to find the easiest or quickest way out. Have you ever chosen this route – only to realize that you missed a much better solution? Or, worse yet, failed to identify the problem correctly only to have the situation get much worse? Don’t feel bad, we all have at some time. Doing so in a business situation is inexcusable. The risks – reduced profitability, loss of creditability, and gasp, the termination of your role – are too high.
Why people at times fail
Problem solving is a complex multi-stage process that requires several varied skills. Despite all of our natural and hard earned talent we each are better at some stages than others. Some of the most common reasons for failure are:
- misinterpreting the problem
- not being methodical and thoughtful
- perceptual or emotional blocks
- following an inappropriate approach
- poor culture (a business’) for problem solving
Overcome the blocks
The good news is that being an effective problem solver isn’t difficult but it does take focused effort and a process. This is because you need to make sure all the relevant angles are captured. Good solutions are the result of navigating through the following problem solving stages:
- recognizing and defining the problem
- discovering possible solutions
- choosing the best solution
- solution implementation
If you wish to dive into understanding the process there’s a very strong library of material you can access both on and off online. I would recommend the Simplex Process which was created by Min Basadur, and was popularized in his book, “The Power of Innovation.” However, our goal here isn’t to just understand the process but to strive to be master of the art.
3 habits of great problem solver
Getting to the core of what’s going on. The need to have a clear definition of the problem you’re facing is the not only the best first step, it’s also where even seasoned business leaders and consultants often go wrong. This may sound silly, but make sure it exists. Discover exactly what it is and if it is important enough to warrant the time and energy to solve it. If it is then, listen, listen, listen. Often we want to talk and do. Suppress this urge, allow those that you talk to be candid and speak in confidence. Help them out by playing Columbo (TV character for a 1970 series) and guide them with trigger questions like:
- Who else could we help by using our core competences?
- What would our customers want us to improve?
- How do you expect the market to change?
Influencing the construct of their MI (Mission Impossible) team. Now that you have feel for what’s going on discovering possible solutions and choosing the best requires both halves of the brain (analytic and creative). One needs to be able to switch from analytical skills to creative and back again, although this is not always easy. This is where your team needs to pick-up the slack. Be sure to pepper your team with both those that can switch gears and those who are dominantly locked into the creative or analytical realm. You’re going to confront a lot of friction and contentious moments, overcome this by always focus on driving the team toward consensus. Executing well. It all boils down to taking action. This involves three separate stages:
- planning and preparing to implement the solution
- taking the appropriate action and monitoring its effects
- reviewing the ultimate success of the action
If you aren’t so good at crossing the T’s and dotting the I’s, then investing in getting someone on your team who is. BONUS: Communicating well. Keep the key stakeholders and project influencers from guessing. Let them know what to expect, your progress, and what if anything you need from them. For your team, set expectations and express confident in their ability to work through the complexity of the situation. There you have it. Is it always going to break in your direction? No, but take in the lessons and be ready for the next time. After all, everything above is based on problems and we know that another one is right around the corner. photo credit: DangerMike via photo pin cc