Throughout our work day, things don’t always go according to plan. At some point, we might encounter something that went wrong, or maybe someone else brings a problem to our attention, expecting a solution.
When faced with such problems, our first instinct is to attempt to solve the problem straight away. However, a Smart Thinking strategist should adopt a different approach.
Instead of immediately thinking of solutions, ask yourself: “Should I really solve the problem, diverting my energy, resources and time towards it?”
If the problem is insignificant or if it is a problem that is not worth the effort, why waste resources in the first place? The most important benefit of this initial analysis of thinking is maximising the limited resources we have at our disposal. In their book Breakthrough Thinking, authors Nadler and Hibino argue that competent people approach problems by first ‘questioning the purpose of solving it’. This simple strategy enhances the effectiveness of managing workplace problems.
The authors continue by listing seven basic principles for effective problem-solving.
1. Each problem should be seen as unique
Despite the presence of some similarities between problems we might encounter, we must learn to recognise the uniqueness of the situational needs (context) when solving problems. Although our inherent schemas might serve to solve simple hiccups easily, they hinder the process of addressing the complex and larger needs of our workplace. By look at the unique circumstances of each challenge, we will be able to develop solutions that will meet the unique situational needs.
2. Focus on the reasons for solving the problem
This is essential if you would like to minimise the waste of resources – money, materials, manpower, machinery and methods. Only when we are able to focus on the purpose(s) will we be in a position to see the larger picture. Instead of asking what is going on here and what is wrong, learn to ask what are we attempting to achieve from this situation. This will trigger our minds to seek a number of possible desired solutions. To further propel this process, we should learn to ask: “What else…?”. This will help us to develop as many solutions as possible.
3. Seek solutions using a long-term perspective
Whenever possible, identify the ideal and perfect solution to the problem, and then work backwards so that you can create practical short-term solutions that can eventually become a part of the ideal long-term solution. The authors describe this practice as ‘The Solution-After-Next Principle’.
4. View the problem(s) from a systems approach
Once we learn to view each problem as part of something else, we begin to adopt a systems approach to managing problems. The realisation that each problem we face is part of larger problem enables us to anticipate the challenges(s) we may face when implementing the solutions. This will enable us to develop the appropriate strategies we need to successfully execute on our solutions.
5. Learn to work with minimal information
Some of us are trained to seek out a complete and comprehensive information set when managing problems and work-related challenges. However, seeking this much information is usually extremely time-consuming, and even after we collect it, we become overwhelmed by the data. Having too much of information on hand also prevents us from considering new and innovative solutions. Our intuitive spark goes missing when inundated with too much of information. This principle, of course, has to be balanced with actually having enough details to understand the real problem at hand.
6. Keep the people factor in mind when developing solutions
As far as possible, involve those who are impacted by the problem and potential solutions. The participation and involvement of these individuals will be critical to the overall success of the proposed solution. Keep solutions broad and flexible so that those who will be managing and executing the solution will have some degree of flexibility, and not be disoriented when everything doesn’t go according to plan. A Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) type solution should be avoided.
7. Incorporate the timeline principle
Each and every purpose we develop to manage problems should be in the right sequence. Only then we can maximise the outcome of our breakthrough solutions.
Enabling our people to think smart starts with encouraging them to adopt the above seven principles in a consistent and coordinated manner. We need to let our employees understand the importance of defining the purposes of working on a problem. The emphasis is to find out what are we trying to accomplish. Problems and challenges should be seen as situations that require change.
The best way to bring out the change is by asking: What are we trying to accomplish here?
If you have any questions about this article, need more information about how this could work with regards to your company/team, or simply want to say “Hi”, feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.