Everyone has problems. Big problems, little problems, work problems, relationship problems; pick an area of your life and you probably have at least one, or have had one.
At some point along the way you may have received some problem solving training. I know a little bit about that kind of training; I’ve attended some and taught some as well.
In all of those workshops, or in any book you will read on the subject, you will get some great ideas. You also may get some very robust tools for solving big meaty organizational problems.
That isn’t the point of this article.
Rather, I want to share seven fundamentals with you. Regardless of your past experience with problem solving with highly structured tools or otherwise, it all starts with the fundamentals. And often it’s the fundamentals you need the most – when the problem is pressing, right in front of you and causing you frustration, stress or pressure.
These seven fundamentals will help in any problem solving situation; moving you towards better solutions, less stress and greater confidence.
The Seven Fundamentals
Is it a problem?
First things first. Is the situation you are facing really a problem? This may seem elementary, but if you can’t define what you want (and what you think you want is different than what you’ve got) it isn’t a problem. That gap between what you have and what you want helps define your problem. If you haven’t got a gap find one or let go of the situation – you are worrying or complaining for no good reason.
The gap you have just defined helps you; but in order to solve a problem, big or small, you must be able to describe the problem in a succinct statement. Talking things out is fine to help you determine the problem, but at this point you need to name the problem and write it down. This provides clarity and focus – two things too often lacking in problem solving activities.
What’s the cause?
Too often we react to symptoms of a problem without understanding the real cause. Focusing on symptoms won’t likely solve the problem, and may make it worse. Take the time to drill down to the root cause.
Slow down (enough).
Taking time to understand the cause of the problem is part of slowing down, but it is more than that. Good problem solving requires some planning. Notice that none of the points so far are “solving steps”; rather they are “planning for solving” steps. You must adequately plan in any problem solving situation. The balance is that you must slow down enough to create a solid effective plan, but not so much that you never move to solution.
To better understand the problem and create an effective solution you may need to dive into the details of the situation. You may need to ask some questions, gather some data and be a bit of a detective. In other words, sometimes you must get closer to the problem to understand it completely.
Perspective is required too. If this is your problem and is causing you pain, anguish, stress, embarrassment or any other emotion, you may need better perspective. Consider stepping back, both physically and psychologically. Look at it logically and in the third person if possible. Think about it from the perspective of others (other departments, co-workers, family members, Customers – or whoever else is involved in this particular problem). That perceptive will help you create better solutions.
The Lone Ranger had Tonto. Holmes had Watson. This isn’t just true in books or on television. Get some help in your problem solving efforts. You may naturally do this on bigger problems, but even in smaller situations another person often can provide ideas, perspective and help you wouldn’t find for yourself.
All of these fundamentals work for individuals (just like you and me) . . . AND . . . there is a clear lesson for leaders here too. Are you remembering these fundamentals and, more importantly, using and teaching them to your team members?
Often, the fundamentals will help people move forward more quickly than the detailed, documented processes from the workshop binder gathering dust on your bookshelf.
Use the detailed process when needed; just remember to always start with the fundamentals.
Potential Pointer: Problem solving is a process we often take for granted or leave to our subconscious. To solve problems more effectively, you must consciously remember – and apply – the fundamentals first.
Remarkable leaders know problems will occur and that they must become successful problem solvers. One of the ways many aspiring and successful leaders build their problem solving skills (and many other skills too) is by participating in The Remarkable Leadership Learning System – a one skill at a time, one month at a time approach to becoming a more confident and successful leader. Get $748.25 worth of leadership development materials including two months of that unique system as part of Kevin Eikenberry’s Most Remarkable Free Leadership Gift Ever today.