Take A New Approach to Difficult Problems

By Paul R. Scheele Ph.D. | Articles

Take A New Approach to Difficult Problems

You’ve heard of “thinking out of the box” but what are the practices that make it possible?

Three things.

First is mindset. Begin with the idea that every solution to a problem creates additional problems. For example, you want save time and work more efficiently. Your solution is to buy a new computer and run new software. The short-term effect? You just created a new set of challenges that will take time and be less efficient! Besides the obvious cash outlay, you are in for a long learning curve to get up to speed with your new technology.

The ideal mindset to maintain is that your solution will cost more than you expect, take longer to achieve than you expect, and create more problems than you could anticipate. Then, you are going to be okay to see things through to the end.

Second is problem definition. In groups, it is easy to agree on where we are going, but often we disagree on how to get there. The definition of a problem is very simply the difference between where you are now and where you want to be. However, this problem exists as the unintended consequence of your prevailing problem-solving approach.

Your job is to solve the way you solve problems. The best way to accomplish this is to NOT allow your knee-jerk approach to getting rid of problems. We tend to implement solutions in the same ways we’ve solved similar problems in the past. That’s a sure-fire way to stay stuck reproducing more of the same.

Instead, take more time up front to frame and reframe what the problem is and is not. Explore it from several points of view. For each definition of the problem, explore the possible obstacles or barriers to solving it. Each obstacle re-defines the problem and changes the potential success of a solution.

Third is solution generation. As a rule, don’t be satisfied with the first three solutions you come up with. Typically, the first solution is the most obvious one. The second solution is one you would implement if the first one doesn’t work. The third solution is your fallback position when all else fails.

Like solving a riddle, keep exploring possibilities. Every solution you generate will re-define the problem and obstacles. Consider 5, 7, 9, or 11 potential solutions. Each one will have its benefits and detriments. Eventually you will land on one solution that appears to handle all the objections, barriers, obstacles, and issues.

A useful guideline is this: Invest 80% of your problem-solving activity on defining your problem and your implementation of a solution will only take 20% of your time. Best yet, you’ve solved the way you go about solving problems. Congratulations!

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