Category Archives: Problem Solving Skills

What Else Do You Need to Know?

Before you make any decision, before you solve any problem –

  • What do you need to know, to more clearly understand the problem?
  • Does what you know point to the symptom of the problem, or point to the cause the problem?
  • If you gave the cause of the problem a name, what would be its name?
  • What else do you need to know, to more clearly understand the cause of this problem you named?
  • Do you know enough about the cause of the problem to generate a plausible solution, or do you need to know more?
  • How would you explain the cause of the problem to someone else?
  • If you were someone else, how would you understand the cause of the problem differently?
  • If you were someone else, what other alternatives would you suggest?
  • As you consider these alternatives, could some be combined? Could you take the front end of one idea and patch it to the back end of another?
  • What would happen if you ran an alternative backward or upside-down?

Sometimes, solving a problem has more to do with questions than answers.

In the Gap

Humans possess the unique quality of awareness. Not only can we hold a thought, but we can simultaneously be aware we are holding that thought. Awareness allows us to change.

The first level of Emotional Intelligence (EI) is awareness. Self-awareness creates the platform for self-management.

The second level of Emotional Intelligence is social awareness. Social awareness creates the platform for relationship management.

For difficulties in either level, ask yourself – What am I not aware of?

This requires you to be quiet and observe – What am I not clearly seeing, clearly hearing, clearly feeling?

This requires defined periods of focused introspection – What is the cause of my response to the events around me? What is the influence to my behavior?

Awareness is that gap between stimulus and response, between what is coming at us and how we respond to it. In that gap is our choice. In that gap is awareness.

We have the unique ability to be aware. Awareness can have a powerful impact on the problems we solve and the decisions we make.

The Possibility of Wrong

Open minded people can hold on to their own way of thinking, while, at the same time, considering alternate points of view.

There is always the possibility that you are wrong, if you are open to that possibility. It is also possible the other viewpoint is wrong, if you are open to that possibility.

If you are not open to the possibility, then you can only solve the problem one way. And, if that doesn’t work, you are hopelessly stuck.

The possibility of wrong opens other alternatives, that just may contain the idea that saves the day. But, only if it’s possible that you are wrong.

Frustrated or Curious?

“You look a little rigid today,” I said, looking across the table.

“Yes,” Roland nodded. “I am having an argument with my sales manager and I just cannot move him off his position.”

“And, that makes you feel how?”

“Frustrated. If he would just listen to me, we could solve this problem straight away.”

“How are you, when you don’t listen?” I asked.

“When I don’t listen, it’s because I am right,” Roland flatly stated.

“Does your sales manager thinks he is right?”

Roland stopped, shook his head. Deep breath. “Yes,” he slowly drawled.

“So, if you both think you are right, how are you going to find out who is wrong? You get to decide if you want to be frustrated or curious.”

Benefit of NOT Solving the Problem By Yourself

As a manager, you are often faced with a problem to solve. And, you think, if I could just get my team involved, there are some benefits. Team problem solving –

  • Communicates the accountability to the team
  • Brings in a diversity of fresh ideas
  • Brings in ideas that can be combined with other ideas
  • Challenges the team to contribute their best thinking
  • Brings in other perspectives on what the real problem is
  • Surfaces additional “what if” scenarios
  • Speeds execution of the solution

So, why don’t we get our team involved more often?

  • We don’t have time
  • Our team members are already overworked
  • Our team members are too busy to attend a problem solving meeting
  • It’s not their problem

Our objections are just head-trash. Every time the manager solves a problem for the team, it cripples the team from engaging in problem-solving behavior.

The team still needs a guide. And when you float the problem, they will resist, at first they will panic. Your job, as a manager, is to simply outlast the panic. If you want to build a team, give them a real problem to solve. -Tom

The Sight of a Newbie

“Not sure what to try next,” Melissa lamented. “I have my best people on the problem and they are stumped.”

“And?” I asked.

“And, it just doesn’t make sense. We have tried every resolution, every best practice related to a problem like this.”

I waited for Melissa to stop, to take a pause in her thinking. “I talked to one of your new teammates this morning and he said he might have a solution,” I said.

“I know who you are talking about,” Melissa replied. “He’s new. He has never seen a problem like this. He needs to stick to his orientation training, maybe he will learn a thing or two.”

“Is it possible your new teammate can see the fix for your problem, and that if he completes the training, he might not be able to see it anymore?”

Legacy Thinking

The landscape is littered with technology initiatives that died. Some wimpered, some imploded, collecting significant collateral damage.

We know what happened and why it happened. The question – how to create technology initiatives that deliver on the promise?

What got you here, won’t get you there. – Marshall Goldsmith

The solution to a problem will not be found by the same thinking that created the problem in the first place. – Albert Einstein

Many technology initiatives fail in an attempt to preserve existing methods and processes. Adopting a piece of software supplants existing work. Technology changes the decision making and problem solving of humans. Human work changes.

Mother of Invention

The point is to determine the best alternative. Not the best alternative that you can imagine, but the best alternative that is possible. Step one requires temporarily suspending judgement, to consider alternatives outside of your own experience or imagination. Without suspending judgement, outside ideas get filtered.

But, why waste time on outside ideas that are likely nonsense?

See, you already filtered those outside ideas as nonsense.

Suspending judgement is difficult, because it requires you might have to admit you were wrong in your assumptions.

Suspending judgement, temporarily requires that you consider ridiculous alternatives. And if you consider ridiculous alternatives, it frees your mind to generate more ridiculous alternatives in a chain of ideas containing many elements, one of which may actually save the day. Idea fluency.

You may never get to the idea that saves the day without the meanderings of ridiculous alternatives. When we temporarily suspend judgement, it gives us permission to consider things run backward, the front end of one idea connected to the back end of another idea, the ridiculous context of one idea as the crucible for the right idea.

Productive by Design

The response in the room was silence. Everyone counted, one, two, three, waiting for Jeanine to nod her head indicating that the discussion was over. Today would be different.

The team knew that the less they contributed, the less they could be held accountable. Jeanine would describe an issue or a problem, and then ask for ideas. No one ever had any ideas. No ideas meant no accountability. The team was not doing this on purpose. Most counterproductive thinking is unconscious.

Productive thinking requires conscious thought. It most often happens by design, rarely happens by chance. Jeanine’s statement of the issue played right into the hands of chance. “The customer is complaining that their product is always late, even though they know it was manufactured by the deadline. Does anyone have any ideas?”

Chance of an idea? Fat chance.

We changed Jeanine’s question to make it more specific. “In what ways can we move the customer’s product from our manufacturing floor to the staging area and onto the truck in less time?” Suddenly, there were seven ideas.

Productive thinking happens by design. Make your question more specific. You will get more ideas.