PROBLEM SOLVING IN SEVEN STEPS
A methodical approach to problem solving is the best approach. Effective problem solving comprises seven steps:
- Define the problem clearly, and in writing. Writing something down incorporates many senses, embedding it into the brain more deeply. Putting the problem in writing not only clarifies the issue, it immediately brings more brainpower toward its solution.
- Read, research, and gather information. Data gathering is extremely important. The more information that is available, the more likely it is that a solution will emerge.
- Do not reinvent the wheel. Many problems are similar to other problems or have actually been solved previously. Consult experts and do the research to avoid duplication of effort.
- Let the subconscious work.After spending time on a problem, shifting attention away from it can inspire a new idea or solution.
- Use sleep. The brain continues to work during sleep, processing, analyzing, and categorizing information. Thinking about the problem right before bedtime can reveal a solution in the morning.
- Write it down. Breakthrough ideas can happen anytime. It is important to record ideas and insights — whether on paper or electronically — for future evaluation.
- Take action. Hesitation can make the difference between a good idea being implemented or wasted. Act on a solution as soon as it is selected.
Information without practical application is of little use. However, most people hold on to a lot of knowledge. Individuals can use the following techniques to stimulate their minds and make the most of the knowledge they have acquired by putting it to good use in solving problems:
*The quick list method: Take 30 seconds to quickly write down three important life goals, assign a grade to each one in terms of current level of satisfaction and fulfillment, and then select the one with the lowest grade to work on.
*The brutal questions: Ask, “What are today’s three most pressing problems,” then commit to focusing efforts on those areas.
*The 20/80 rule: This principle states that the source of 80 percent of problems is internal. Therefore, identify which problems are internally based, then focus attention on internal factors to solve them.
*Identify favorite excuses: Articulate the excuses for any particular problem to better target a solution. The excuses provide an opportunity for focus.
*Practice idealization: Creating a clear vision for the future and then taking deliberate steps toward achieving that vision is the path to success. Keep the vision in sight.
*The magic question: Imagine success without the option of failure and create a step-by-step plan to achieve that success. Even small steps make a difference.
USE YOUR THREE MINDS FOR THINKING
All people have “three minds.” Each is different from the other and each plays an important role in creative thinking.
*The conscious mind: The conscious mind thinks both quickly (reacting to immediate situations) and slowly (giving careful, deliberate thought to information as it is presented). While fast thinking is necessary for decision making in a crisis (such as a medical emergency), slow thinking is important for more in-depth problem solving. Writing things down can help the brain transition from fast to slow thinking.
*The subconscious mind: The subconscious mind stores huge amounts of information and helps the brain make sense of the world. Instinct comes from the subconscious mind and can help tip the balance in decision making. The subconscious mind is also the storehouse for positive thoughts.
*The superconscious mind: The superconscious mind represents a deeper level of the subconscious mind. This is where insight, intuition, and breakthrough thinking dwell.
The best thinking happens when people learn to use all three of their minds, taking time to gather and absorb information, process it in a thoughtful way, then relegate it to the subconscious, trusting that the superconscious will help reveal a solution.
PRACTICE TWO APPROACHES TO THINKING
People’s thinking styles impact their levels of creativity. While every person’s thinking style is molded through experience, each individual also has the power to alter the direction of his or her thinking toward more creative thinking.
Mechanical thinking, which is narrow, rigid, and inflexible, lies at one end of the thinking style spectrum, while adaptive thinking, which is flexible and open, lies at the other. The goal is to move from mechanical thinking to adaptive thinking. By deliberately suspending judgment, asking probing questions, and working toward an optimistic and positive attitude, individuals can become more adaptive, and thus more creative, thinkers.
PRACTICE LATERAL THINKING
People tend to think in a linear fashion, with one thought logically following another. However, to think creatively, people need to learn to thinklaterally — to consider totally different and unusual solutions from what is typical or logical.
Lateral thinking can be developed by:
*Reversing keywords: Word play (like labeling a problem as an opportunity) can change a person’s mind-set.
*Restating the dominant idea: It is helpful to consider an issue from a different context or a different perspective. This is similar to the concept of “standing in someone else’s shoes.”
*Focusing on the customer: Too often companies are focused on product development rather than customer development. Knowing and identifying with customers, then developing solutions from their perspectives, is a more lateral approach. Businesses should focus on how they can develop (in other words, improve) their customers’ lives.
*Fantasizing: People can visualize a world in which all obstacles to achieving their goals are gone, then imagine how those goals would be achieved. Solutions are often leveraged from those imaginings.
HOW THE MIND WORKS
The mind is an incredible information processor, taking in information from all five senses. The mind processes information for creative thinking through three main methods:
- Visual (seeing).
- Auditory (hearing).
- Kinesthetic (doing and “feeling”).
Each person’s thinking and learning style is dominated by one of these three methods. Even though one will naturally dominate, to boost creating thinking it is good practice to pay attention to and use all three — especially when sharing information with others. People should know their own dominant methods, and leverage those in self-learning, as well as adapt teaching and information sharing to others’ dominant methods and styles.
SYSTEMATIC PROBLEM SOLVING REVISITED
One of the goals in problem solving is to keep emotions out of the process so as to arrive at the best solution. Below is an expansion on the step-by-step process to problem solving that helps ensure objectivity and the best results:
- Assume a logical solution. Maintain a sense of calm and the belief that every problem can be solved logically.
- Use positive language. Reframing a problem in positive terms (i.e., as an opportunity) encourages creative thinking.
- Define it clearly. Getting clarity on the situation ensures that efforts are targeted in the right direction.
- Diagnose the situation. It is important to know if the issue is a one-time situation or something more systemic that requires broader change.
- Expand the possibilities. Look for all possible resolutions to make sure nothing is missed. A thorough investigation is an objective investigation.
- Make a decision. Typically a solution will emerge if the previous steps have been performed properly.
- Assign responsibility for action. Without accountability, the best solution can go by the wayside.
- Set deadlines. Establishing a time frame for execution ensures the solution is more than simply a topic for conversation.
- Take action. Solutions without action are wishful thinking.