4 Steps to Better Problem-Solving

What separates good leaders from great leaders?

Well, a lot, actually. But one of the more telling qualities that great leaders have is their ability to approach challenges with fortitude, positivity, and open-mindedness.

Good leaders can be trusted to make solid decisions in the face of a challenge.

Great leaders involve their teams in the decision-making process because they value the opinions and contributions of others.

Good leaders mitigate failure.

Great leaders embrace the possibility of failure and know how to recover, learn and grow from it.

You see, great leaders have an elevated and perhaps even enlightened approach to problem-solving. You, too, can elevate your strategy to take this leadership skill from good to great. Here are four ways to start:

1. Know your problem.

Defining your problem might be the most important business skill you’ll ever have. You cannot find a solution unless you know your problem and define it well. Ask the right questions to discover more about your problem:

  1. What are the symptoms of our problem? What are we experiencing that leads us to believe this situation is a problem?
  2. Who is involved? What parties are causing or are affected by this situation?
  3. Where is this problem happening? Is this problem at a specific location, or is this problem symptomatic of issues at an organizational level?
  4. When does this problem occur? What are its triggers?
  5. Why does this problem happen?

The next and perhaps most important question you must ask is:

What about this problem can we control, and what can’t we control?

Once you’ve answered these questions, you’re in a much better position to start thinking creatively about a solution.


2. Remove negativity.

Rather than saying things like, “we’ve already tried that approach” or, “there’s no way that’s going to work,” allow yourself to explore your and others’ ideas without ridicule.

Solutions require a creative influence, and there’s nothing that stifles creativity quite like judgment and criticism. Give yourself and your colleagues a free pass to think, be creative, and come up with even the most absurd solutions. You may find that beneath the absurdity, there’s a real and totally doable solution.


3. Promote creativity.

Filters off, folks. Here’s where you get to unleash your creative juices.

Try these three words: How might we…

One of Twitter’s foremost product designers, Charles Warren, swears by this methodology. According to Charles, the how implies that improvement is possible, the might disarms people’s reservations about novel ideas or topics, and we establish the collaborative nature of the task.

Perhaps you don’t have the budget to automate that really tedious process right now. Or perhaps you have no control over your tight deadline to hire an additional 20 skilled nursing professionals. Forget those obstacles for a moment, and focus only on the best solution, period.

Ask the question: How might we…

How might we automate this process that’s been draining our time for so long?

How might we recruit, hire, and onboard 20 nursing professionals in 4 weeks?

Allow your creative juices to flow. Perhaps your team works up some calculations that prove to automate that process is actually going to save you money in the long run. Or perhaps a team member knows a thing or two about leveraging Google’s new job search feature to help you attract more skilled talent.

You never know what great ideas are lurking behind the veil of self-doubt!


4. Embrace the gray.

Problem-solving isn’t black and white, and there are no right or wrong answers. It may be that your solution ends up being a complete failure. So what? You tried. You took the challenge on, and now you’re one step closer to finding a better solution. And you probably learned more from a single failure than you would have from instant success.

There’s a reason “failure” has gained so much popularity in recent years. It’s in vogue to fail because people have come to realize that repeated failure is just another step in the problem-solving process.

Embrace the gray and stay positive. Eventually, one of your solutions is bound to be the right one. Continue your creative and analytical process, give yourself plenty of constructive feedback, and keep trying.


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