“What are we supposed to do here?” is a question that I use to gauge what the team is thinking as we tackle problems together.
The steps to problem solving are universal, and we can apply all to situations throughout life – including business. Let’s imagine that the last problem we worked on is one that holds everyone’s focus, yet to which there will seemingly never – ever – be an end. One infuriating obstacle follows another. There is a lot of backtracking, and redoing different work. For such situations, the steps to problem solving represent a good beginning for shaking things up. We might just be able to fix more by knowing four simple actions to start building up those problem-solving muscles.
But wait a moment. How do we determine if the perceived “problem” is really a problem?
Maybe it’s not the root cause but rather a symptom … and ironing that out creates a cycle of other similar situations endlessly popping up. Solving the same thing(s) over and over indicates that these are actually symptoms. There is a problem lurking in the shadows that is waiting to be discovered.
To solve a symptom, a recurring issue that has a process in place for resolution, options always exist…
We can keep using resources and energy to solve the persistent problem, or we can try to improve upon practices to use less resources and energy. There is another option, too: take time to find and fix the deeper problem (I call that a root cause).
Though solving a root cause takes more up-front commitment, it also creates more time; frees up resources to explore other initiatives; and saves money over time. When we prioritize problems through the lens of our one-year comprehensive strategy AND the company mission, we choose what to work on that supports keeping all work on track (time and budget).
Luckily, methods exist to help us become “unstuck” from all manner of challenging situations. Some are fancy and some aren’t. What Red Direction does is not fancy. It’s effective. It’s repetitive. It produces results.
So, there’s no trick, no gimmick to the steps. There is work. We do have to bring the will, the drive, the commitment to become proficient at problem solving, which is is a skill that is sorely lacking in all levels of business today.
To lead by example, to add value to the company and the team, to meet goals requires a specific mindset. A Curiosity Mindset.
A Curiosity Mindset involves being open. A willingness to seek out information from people and sources. To include unusual or different sources and opinions. The ability to sift information for reliability. The capacity to connect seemingly unrelated information together to find THE custom solution for your problem.
Ever hear the colloquialism “can’t see the forest for the trees”? This is a common pitfall serving to diminish a Curiosity Mindset and detracting from the problem-solving process.
Remembering to reach beyond never-ending day-to-day tasks and into a review process of business goals is paramount to ultimately and successfully problem-solving … whatever comes up.
While we can never get rid of squeaky wheels, fires and unexpected problems that make everything else stop … not all problems HAVE TO make things come to a standstill. When this type of cycle happens, everyone gets into a pattern that turns into a bad habit. It’s comfortable to have things to do that fill the day and recurring problems to solve … until something changes and processes stop working. It’s really hard – painful, in fact – when things stop working. Such pain helps us realize we were stuck and didn’t even know it.
When we practice steps, skills start to emerge that will become second nature over time. It’s a way to add to our are natural gifts. To expand abilities and make it look easy, we just have to start. To have the courage take on something new. We choose.
The next time there is a particular outcome that is important, and a problem standing in your way, pull out these steps. Your commitment, your responsibility will make it happen.
With a Curiosity Mindset, we make the commitment to be open to answers and information beyond the core group – which requires a definitive process applicable not just to a single problem but to any that occur in business. (And, of course, there will always be quandaries that crop up. Such is life!)
The 4 Steps to Problem Solving in Business:
- Recognize there is a problem.
- Collect data.
- Gather solutions.
- Choose a solution.
Here is a bit more on each of the steps:
1. Recognize there’s a problem.
How? There’s something in the way, something dislikable. Ask how much you care about this issue (i.e. are you willing to go further towards a solution).
2. Understand that data is necessary.
How do you get data for consideration, and furthermore, how do you obtain uncommon data? Common: search on the internet. Uncommon: ask the people closest to you. Always using the same internal reports? If so, do other people have the same problem and what have they done about it? Get out of your data and go collect someone else’s reports and/or data!
3. Gather solutions.
What are the possibilities? This is where opportunities come in. Remember not every problem is an opportunity – is this particular problem one that matters to you? (If not, let it go!) If it does matter, what are the solutions?
4. Choose a solution.
Of those identified, which one makes the most sense and/or presents the greatest opportunity to address everything about the problem? Get it implemented and observe the results.
Sometimes repetition of these steps is necessary to find a working solution.
If achieving your end goal the first time around, terrific. However, business, like life, is often composed of a not-so-simple messiness. Sometimes more time is required to get more data. Sometimes it can be that new information came out of the process. Sometimes a different solution turns out to be better. We iterate our way through problems to complete resolution. Just like riding a bike and then adding some tricks (balancing with no hands or doing pop-a-wheelies), we build on what we know.
Give yourself 30 days. Keep these steps on hand. Use them every day – even on seemingly straightforward problems. See what happens. Build a Curiosity Mindset and build a new skill at the same time.
We’d love to hear your insights and experiences on the problem solving in business. Please share your thoughts in the comment section.