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How To Problem Solve

Author: Mike Scaletti

No matter what your job is or what industry you are in, odds are that at some point during the course of doing your work you are expected to solve a problem. The more creative and efficient you are at doing so the better. As time goes on, creative problem solving is one of the soft skills becoming more and more valuable to employers, and it's only going to get more so according to the World Economic Forum.

If you're looking to improve your problem solving skills in order to take advantage of the work place of tomorrow, these tips can help.

Clearly Identify The Problem

The first step in solving any problem is identifying what that problem is. This may seem obvious, maybe even a bit trite, but the bottom line is you can't begin to address a problem until you have a clear idea of what it is. The truth is that what can sometimes seem like a complex problem, or even an entire series of problems, can often be traced to one underlying issue, and that identifying that issue can also identify the solution.

Even if that is not the case, identifying what the source of a problem is also allows you to identify why it is a problem and how it is negatively affecting your work, which is key to understanding how to address it so that those negative effects can be neutralized.

Be Creative

Being able to approach problems from multiple angles and try solutions that others hadn't thought of is an invaluable skill. It is not unusual for companies and people to find themselves in a cycle of facing the same problem over and over again. A creative solution can break them out of that cycle.

One way to source creative solutions from your team is with a brainstorming session. While brainstorming is an exercise in free-form creative thinking, there are also rules to keep in mind when doing it properly, at least according to its "founder", Alex Osborne.

  1. no evaluation or criticism of ideas is permitted, to ensure that people are more concerned to generate, rather than defend, ideas;

  2. participants are encouraged to suggest the most outrageous solutions they can conceive, on the assumption that these may often contain kernels of truth that can be extracted during the analysis session;

  3. as many ideas as can be thought of are voiced, in the belief that out of quantity will come quality; and

  4. participants attempt to build upon, integrate, and develop ideas that have already been voiced in the session.

Look To Your Team

No one person has the tools to handle every potential problem. Being able to recognize that, and identify who does have those tools, is a valuable skill in and of itself. It's important to remember that creative problem solving means trying new approaches, and having new approaches to try means using all the tools available to you. In addition, everyone is going to have a different perspective on the problem based on how it affects or interacts with them, and those additional perspectives can generate additional ideas for solutions.

At the end of the day, especially when you are dealing with large or complex problems, your solution should be a collaborative effort.

Act On Your Solutions

Coming up with creative solutions to problems is great, but if you don't act on those solutions than all you have done is participate in a complicated brain teaser. Figure out what the plan going forward is, and then implement that plan.

Once the plan is implemented you should track and evaluate the solution to see if it is working. This will give you valuable feedback on how effective this solution has been and whether there are any tweaks or adjustments you should make going forward.

Acknowledge and Give Credit Were It's Due

Remember to take the time out to acknowledge all those who contributed to the problem solving endeavor and give them credit for their contributions. This is honestly one of the most important parts of the entire process. It costs you absolutely nothing to make your coworkers or employees feel valued, but the benefits are immense and they will be far more likely to enthusiastically contribute the next time there is a problem that needs solving.

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