Human beings are natural problem-solvers, and our skills are such that we can tackle a vast range of problems, from the most mundane to landing a person on the moon. An essential ingredient in any problem-solving situation is to have the necessary self-esteem and confidence to get involved. In addition, we need motivation, i.e. a strong desire to see the problem solved. And for difficult problems we may need the capacity to take risks and handle failure.
When embarking on a problem-solving project it is worth considering the following:
- Someone else may have already solved your problem or a very similar one, so talk to people, search the web and find out all you can first.
- Try to break down difficult problems into a series of simpler ones which can be tackled independently. For example, landing a person on the moon can be broken down into three smaller sub-problems: escaping the gravitational pull of the earth, traversing the distance between earth and moon and then the actual moon-landing itself.
- Draw on the expertise and skills of others, and use team-work where there is an advantage in bringing together a range of complementary skills and temperaments. And for some interesting insights into how groups can problem-solve in a creative, co-operative, non-aggressive way see the Wheatley and Crinean reference below.
- Apply yourself creatively and playfully to your task, using your imagination and various relaxation techniques to come up with fresh perspectives and ideas. Use mind-mapping to track and facilitate your emerging ideas.
- Use a prototyping approach to test your half-baked ideas. In other words, first produce something rough-and-ready which does most of the job, and then progressively refine it until you have created exactly what you want. This approach can be applied to large-scale projects, as well as more elementary tasks, such as writing a 'difficult' letter.
A good way to learn about and become more proficient in problem-solving is to do some regular problem-solving! In my series of Brainware workshops I used a practical exercise in juggling with three bean bags for just such a purpose, and this can be strongly recommended. Because everyone ultimately finds that they can juggle it builds up confidence and the feeling that any problem can be tackled. Other, more leisurely, problem-solving pursuits which people enjoy include crossword, sudoku and jigsaw puzzles.
For further information on problem-solving see:
- A 5 Step Problem Solving Strategy (Cuesta College)
How Leaders Solve Problems by Steve Moore
Solving, not Attacking, Complex Problems by Margaret J. Wheatley
and Geoff Crinean
Why Sleeping on a Problem Often Helps by Kate Ravilious