Problem-solving is a key ability that we use every day in every part of our life and is crucial to being able to run a successful business. New business ideas stem from solving preexisting problems in a market, clients no doubt will have issues with your service/product and there will be a whole host of other little problems you will face day-to-day that all need to be resolved in order for you to rest easy at night. With it being such a much-needed skill I thought I would do some research into how to improve the art of problem-solving.
There are a few aspects that it the ability boils down to which are:
- Evaluating the information and the situation.
- Breaking this down into key segments.
- Considering multiple ways to solve the problem.
- Deciding on the best option.
In evaluating the problem, first of all, you have to clarify what it actually entails, this is the most important step because determining the answer to the wrong issue will obviously not be productive. Constantly ask the question why in order to get to the heart of the problem rather than just accepting what you can see at face value without digging deeper into the heart of the problem itself. Ask the other questions too, start with the general questions such as; what is it doing?; how is it doing it?; why is it doing it?; what are its relationships with other components?; what can I do to test the assumption?. Then move on to the more specific questions once you have a better understanding of the dilemma. Another thing that is necessary is to gather as much information as possible. This element is very similar to asking constant questions as it will help to have an extensive knowledge on the issue. Once all of this is done you can clearly define an objective to set out and solve.
Breaking the problem down is doing just that, making the whole process more manageable so you don’t feel overwhelmed and frustrated by creating smaller slices of work. With a clear objective and the material you have gathered, you can set about analysing the problem and implement steps that can be taken in small chunks. Once this has been done identify the easiest step and start with that, after this is completed, move on to the next easiest step until you have completed all of the steps you set out to achieve.
When considering multiple ways to solve a problem make sure that you are focusing on the solution rather than the actual problem as this will only draw negative emotions and block potential solutions. One of the major things you can do at this stage is to have an open mind as this will allow you to consider every bit of knowledge you have acquired to solve the problem. Having a closed mind will only mean you can only come up with a small percentage of solutions compared to an open mind as you shut off anything that you feel is not necessary but actually could be more important than you realise. These ‘stupid solutions’ may trigger more viable solutions to be found as they stimulate creative thinking. Another way to inspire a solution is to think laterally about something, try new ways to look at problems from all angles for example changing the objective so you are finding the solution for the polar opposite. Or just simplify things, strip the problem of all the complications and go back to basics to find an obvious solution. Throughout these steps, you should always be inquisitive and notice not only the problem but everything that surrounds it like patterns, anything that shouldn’t be there, anything that’s missing. After doing this you then ask why? It may also be helpful to ask someone from outside the project about the problem to get either beginners eyes or an opinion of someone who isn’t as close to the issue. You should come up with 2 or 3 options that you think may solve the issue before moving on to the final step.
Once you have created a few hypotheses it is time now to decide on the best option to take forward. This can be a tricky part of the process but remember that even if it fails you will learn from this allowing you to make a better judgment in the future. That is why it is important that if you do fail you dust yourself off and learn from it then go at it again. It is good practice when deciding to view the whole thing neutrally so you have no biases when making the decision and it is purely from logical thought. Then when ready it is time to test your hypothesis by putting it into action. Work out how you will review it to see if the plan produces the desired results and go about measuring it.
Ways to practice problem-solving
- Pick an everyday item and think of as many things it can be used for other than its intended purpose.
- Games such as Mastermind (logical thinking), Set (observation), 2048 (planning ahead), Petals around rose (observation), Sudoku, Chess.
- Computer games which involve strategic planning.
- Practical interests such as programming and computer repairs.
If you have any tips about practicing problem-solving share them in the comments!