Being a Problem Solver

I hate when people are complainers, but not problem solvers.  If there is a problem, then let’s figure out how to make it better.  It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just needs to be better.

Football analogy:  2 minutes left, down by 5.  Don’t throw the bomb.  Just move the chains.  Throw for 5-10 yards at a time.  Little by little, you will move the ball down the field.

Here are some techniques I use to help problem solve:

List Possible Solutions
When faced with a problem, go to a whiteboard or a piece of paper and list out the possible options.  It’s amazing how this simple technique will quickly eliminate all but a couple of choices. The key to the choice will be to figure out each is optimizing for.  Often, it’s a question of values: Do we optimize for ease of use or for flexibility?  Once you define which you value more, your choice is made.  Then start to execute.

Don’t Talk in Opinions
Opinions are like nipples, everyone has at least one.  Opinions are not helpful in solving a problem.  Recommendations with justifications are much more helpful.  It’s not a question of “like” or “don’t like”, it’s a question of effect.  What is the goal?  What will help us get to the goal?

Describe with a Magic Wand
Imagine you had a magic wand.  No constraints, only possibilities.  What would you have?  It’s actually useful to describe this because often, other people will have ways of making part of your vision a reality.  Don’t constrain yourself to what other people do to solve the problem; imagine a new future.

Never get Stuck
Never get bogged down in can’t and won’t. There are solutions to everything.  Think out of the box.  Keep moving forward.  If one problem yields another problem, then keep delving.  Never get depressed and give up.  Losers give up.  Complainers give up.  Problem solvers keep trying.  You know what they call someone who tried to fix something 100 different ways and failed?  Experienced.

Today, I drove my kid to school.  He has 40 pounds of books in his backpack.  So many books, he needs a suitcase with wheels to lug it around school.  He has a locker, but he is complaining that he doesn’t have time to get to the locker, switch the books out and make it to class without being late.  My mind went into problem-solving mode:

  • Is he using his locker effectively?
  • Can we buy multiple copies of the books and put them strategically in the right places?
  • Does he need another locker on the other side of campus?
  • Could the books be put on an iPad?
  • What do the teachers think?
  • What does the principal think?
  • Is this a student-wide problem or just my kid?  Is it a segment of the school?

There are answers to every problem.  It just needs effort and a can-do attitude.  The will to solve problems is much harder than finding a solution that improves the situation.  I look at the US Congress and think these people have all kinds of answers, but no will to enact those answers.

Whatya think?