We encounter numerous problems throughout our lives, and in all areas of our lives. The people that insist on putting a positive perspective on life have renamed problems, “challenges”, but for the purpose of this post we are going to stick with tradition.
Although problems can be simple or complex, we can go through a step-by-step process to try to solve the problem and provide a solution to it. Tackling problems is often a better solution than burying-our-head in the sand and hoping it goes away, although “doing nothing” can be a valid solution in itself. Burying our heads relies mainly on luck to solve the problem and takes the power away from us. Confronting the problem empowers us and in itself can be life changing.
One of the skills required for solving problems is decision making which is a topic in its own right, and is a crucial life skill that should be studied, and improved..
Stripping the problem solving strategy down to its basic components leaves us with 5 stages to go through.
1.Identify the problem and understand how it impacts your desired goal. I like to use the following equation to simplify this stage.
- Example = (EP) Enough traffic to site to earn living – (RP) not enough traffic to site = (P) need more traffic to site
- More specific example = (EP) 1000 visits per day to site – (RP) 50 visits per day to site = (P) -950 visitors a day to site
- Break the problem down – Evaluate the components of the problem and their relationship to one another so that you understand the problem from all angles. You must define it clearly. so that you can understand it.
- Find possible solutions – Research the possible solutions and expected outcomes of those solutions. Weigh the pros and cons of each. Use your creative thought process for this. You are not guaranteed the outcomes will be as you expect, but you can only judge on the knowledge you possess at the time. Research the models, systems, habits and relationships of others that have overcome the problem(s) you are trying to overcome, where possible.
- Decision making – Take action to resolve the problem. Evaluate the options and prioritise, moving on those solutions that you believe will solve the problem.
5.Review. Check that the problem has been solved. If not then go back to step one and re-evaluate, adding the information learned to the mix and begin the process again. Each failure to solve the problem takes an option off the table, and moves you a step closer to finding the right solution.
There are a number of tools and techniques available to help you solve different types of problems. Some have been designed to tackle particular types of problems, ,many of which can be modified to fit your needs. Here is a list below:
Pareto Analysis (80/20 Rule)
Pareto Analysis is a statistical technique in decision-making used for the selection of a limited number of tasks that produce significant overall effect. It uses the Pareto Principle (also known as the 80/20 rule) the idea that by doing 20% of the work you can generate 80% of the benefit of doing the entire job.
Force Field Analysis
Force Field Analysis is a method for listing, discussing, and assessing the various forces for and against a proposed change. It helps you look at the big picture by analysing all of the forces impacting on the change and weighing up the pros and cons.
Six Thinking Hats
Six Thinking Hats is a system designed by Edward de Bono which describes a tool for group discussion and individual thinking involving six colored hats
Starbursting is a form of brainstorming that focuses on generating questions about an idea.
Ishikawa Diagram (Cause and Effect Analysis)
The fishbone diagram identifies many possible causes for an effect or problem. It can be used to structure a brainstorming session. It immediately sorts ideas into useful categories.
Process Flow Chart
A flowchart is a picture of the separate steps of a process in sequential order.
Paired Comparison Analysis
Paired Comparison Analysis helps you to work out the importance of a number of options relative to each other. It is particularly useful where you do not have objective data to base this on.
The Stepladder Technique
The Stepladder Technique is a simple tool that manages how members enter the decision-making group. It encourages all members to contribute on an individual level BEFORE being influenced by anyone else. This results in a wider variety of ideas, it prevents people from “hiding” within the group, and it helps people avoid being “stepped on” or overpowered by stronger, louder group members.
A Venn diagram is a diagram representing mathematical or logical sets pictorially as circles or closed curves within an enclosing rectangle (the universal set), common elements of the sets being represented by intersections of the circles.
Grid Analysis (otherwise known as Decision Matrix)
Decision Matrix Analysis works by getting you to list your options as rows on a table, and the factors you need consider as columns. You then score each option/factor combination, weight this score by the relative importance of the factor, and add these scores up to give an overall score for each option. Check out more about the Decision Matrix/Grid Analysis on my Decision Making post.
The cost/benefit analysis is designed to summarize the overall value for money of a project or proposal. It looks at the benefits of a project or proposal, expressed in monetary terms, relative to its costs, also expressed in monetary terms.
The Risk/Rewards ratio is a ratio used to compare the expected returns of an investment against the amount of risk undertaken to capture these returns.
- Decision trees
- Critical thinking
- Impact analysis
- The ladder of inference
- Blindspot analysis
- The kepner-tregoe matrix
- Nominal group technique
- The delphi technique
- 5 whys
- Check sheets
- Concentration diagram
- Activity sampling
- Ranking and rating
- Solution effect diagram
I’m sure there will be many other tools and techniques available, if and when I come across a new one I will add it to this list. I will in the course of time add some posts specifically about each of these tools, and link from this post to them, so keep this post bookmarked.
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Quotes are a great way to draw inspiration, shift perspective and escape habitual thought patterns, here are a selection of problem-solving quotes I’ve collected over the years.
“Focus on the solution, not the problem.”
“Stop talking about your problems and start thinking about solutions.”
“If you don’t solve the problems from your past, they will follow you into your future.”
“Life is a continuous exercise in creative problem solving.” – Michael J. Gelb
“Every problem has a solution, you just have to be creative enough to find it.” – Travis Kalanick
“When solving problems, dig at the roots instead of just hacking at the leaves.” – Anthony J.D’Angelo
“Never bring the problem solving stage into the decision making stage. Otherwise, you surrender yourself to the problem rather than the solution.” – Robert H. Schuller
“Problems are nothing but wake-up calls for creativity.” – Gerhard Gschwantner
“You’re either part of the solution or you’re part of the problem.” – Eldridge Cleaver
“Solving problems is a practical art, like swimming or skiing, or playing the piano; you can learn it only by imitation and practice.” – George Polya
“People who believe a problem can be solved tend to get busy solving it.” – William Raspberry
“The best way to escape from your problems is to solve them.” – Unknown
“Running away from any problem only increases the distance from the solution. The easiest way to escape from the problem is to solve it.”
“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” – Albert Einstein
“Instead of thinking outside the box, get rid of the box.” – Deepak Chopra
“It isn’t that they cannot see the solution. It is that they cannot see the problem.” – GK Chesterton
“You can’t teach problem solving unless you are a problem solver.” – Jim Wilson
“Stay away from negative people. They have a problem for every solution.” – Albert Einstein
“The only way to get good at solving problems is to solve them.” – Seth Godin
“Problem-solving leaders have one thing in common; a faith that there’s always a better way.” – Gerald m. Weinberg
“It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.” – Albert Einstein
“Any problem, big or small, within a family, always seems to start with bad communication. Someone isn’t listening.
“If a problem can be solved, there is nothing to worry about. If it can’t be solved, then worrying is useless.” – Unknown
“Sometimes problems don’t require a solution to solve them; instead they require maturity to outgrow them.” – Steve Marboli
“When people tell me “you’re gonna regret that in the morning” I sleep in until noon, because I’m a problem solver.” – Unknown
“To launch a business means successfully solving problems. Solving problems means listening.” – Richard Branson
“There are solutions; even to the hardest problems.”
“Problem-solving is hunting; it is savage pleasure and we are born to it.” – Thomas Harris
“Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced.” – James Baldwin
“The important thing is to never stop questioning.” – Albert Einstein
“Abilities essential for academic success and productivity in the workforce, such as problem solving, reasoning and literacy, all develop through various kinds of play, as do social skills such as cooperation and sharing.” – Susan Linn
“Insanity; doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein
“Problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them.” – Albert Einstein
“All life is problem solving.” – Karl Popper
“Leaders spend 5% of their time on the problem and 95% of their time on the solution.” – Tony Robbins
“It’s very important to have a feedback loop, where you’re constantly thinking about what you’ve done and how you could be doing it better.” – Eton Musk
“Problem, means that you are dwelling on a situation mentally without a true intention or possibility of taking action.” – Eckhart Tolle
“To solve our most difficult problems we must radically change our thinking.” – Stephen Covey
“Mental acuity of any kind comes from solving problems yourself, not from being told how to solve them.” – Paul Lockhart
“Hate has caused a lot of problems in this world, but it hasn’t solved one yet.” – Maya Angelou
“Our problems are not solved by physical force, by hatred, by war. Our problems are solved by loving kindness, by gentleness, by joy.” – Buddha