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Expert Speak - How to be a better Problem Solver?

Jun 26, 2018 12:14 IST

    One of the key skills that we put in our resumes is – problem solving. Organizations believe that they excel at problem solving. Managers show their proficiency in this skill as a tool to solve client problems.

    We are all faced with challenges at different stages in life. Have you ever noticed some sail through them easily and some even loose courage to solve them? There is a fictional character in the Pirates of Carribbean, who rightly said that – The problem isn’t the problem, the problem is your attitude towards them.

    Most of you would have heard this story-

    Five wise men got lost in the forest.
    The first one said:
    – I will go left – my intuition tells me that.
    The second one said:
    – I will go right – there is a reason why right comes from the word rightness.
    The third one said:
    – I will go back – we came from there, it means I will go out from the forest.
    The fourth one said:
    – I will go straight – we should move forward, the forest will end and something new will open.
    The fifth said:
    – You are all wrong. There is a better solution. Wait for me.
    He found the tallest tree and climbed into it. While he was climbing everyone else scattered towards their own sides. From above he saw where they should go to leave the forest faster. Now he could even see in what order the other wise men will reach the end of the forest. He climbed higher and saw the shortest way. He understood the problem and found the best solution!

    Few of us are natural problem solvers, we visit such people whenever we are stuck in life. For some, it is an acquired skill which can be learnt by little conscious and systematic effort.

    Here’s is a 5 step process-

    1. Identify and understand the problem
    2. Brainstorm alternatives
    3. Create what if list
    4. Evaluate and choose the best alternative
    5. Implement solution

    1. Identify and understand the problem

    Identifying what the problem is – forms the first step to finding a solution. Many a times we are not even aware what the problem is and we keep on deviating ourselves.

    Let’s take an example scenario – Ram was caught speeding.

    Why did it happen?

    I am sure the first response is he was driving fast.

    So does driving slow solve this problem or have we identified the root cause?

    Let me share a tool – 5 WHYs

    Whether you are improving quality of a product or you are working on your own performance enhancement or solving a problem, this is a powerful tool to find a core of why the problem exists.

    When asked Ram why for 5 times, this is what we got-

    Why were you speeding? Because I was getting late for work.

    Why were you getting late for work? Because I got up late

    Why did you get up late? Because my alarm didn’t work

    Why did your alarm didn’t work? Because my alarm clock has weak batteries

    So the solution is – replace alarm batteries or get a new plug-in alarm clock

    2. Brainstorm alternatives

    The example I just shared was a simple one. Now if we have little complex challenge such as performance of my team is going down. The work being delivered is not of high quality. When you work with this problem using tools such as 5Whys or root cause analysis, we’ll be able to generate alternatives. List them down, encourage all the stakeholders to add their perspective. There can be alternatives like – having regular 1-o-1 with team members, putting them on training, may be they have unreasonable workload, shifting them to other team which match their expertise, may be they need to upskill their soft skills or technical skills

    3. Create what if list

    Now when we have the alternatives, it is very important to see the flip side. If the performance is not going good, and one of the solution alternative that you decided is shifting that person to another team or completely laying him off. What will be the effect on other team members performance?

    4. Evaluate and choose the best alternative

    Consider all options considered in step 2, choose the best alternative best suitable and in interest of everyone involved. May be the best solution that comes out to be in training the employees on soft skills.

    5. Implement solution

    Talk to learning and development team of your organisation, plan for trainings, encourage team to enrol themselves for e-learning modules, plan regular interactions with the team, build feedback channels and get it going.

    Problem solving seem straight forward at first glance, but many of us get stuck at different steps when it comes to solving problems in our personal and professional lives. Thus we need to acquire certain skills to sail smoothly from identification to implementation. Skills such as mind mapping, approaching an issue with different angles, following different approaches, being open to communication, use creativity, be logical, observation skills etc. Make sure to follow up and track your problem solving successes and their outcomes and you will groom yourself as the best problem solver.

    About the Expert:

    Ms Piyush Mahajan is a certified life coach and soft skills facilitator. She has over 11 years of experience in the GeoSpatial industry where she worked as a senior data specialist. Having found her life’s calling, she gave up a promising career as a Data Specialist and decided to become a life skills coach.

    DISCLAIMER: JPL and its affiliates shall have no liability for any views, thoughts and comments expressed on this article.

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