Murphy’s law is an adage that broadly states: "Anything that can go wrong will go wrong." It is therefore inevitable that businesses must solve problems. The success of a company can depend to a large extent on the ability of its staff to solve problems effectively, both in their day-to-day work and through innovation. This applies not only to senior management, but at all levels in an organization.
It's not enough simply to teach effective problem solving techniques. The working environment has a very powerful influence on the individual's ability to solve problems effectively and it needs to be supportive and stimulating.
Possessing good problem solving skills does not make people automatically use them to the benefit of the organization. They need encouragement, support and guidance in applying them to the organization’s problems. This can be achieved through:
- Commitment to Innovation
- Systems and procedures
- Good communications
The most effective system is where all staff is informed of specific problems which the company faces in reaching its business objectives, and are notified of the results of evaluation of the ideas that have been submitted.
Just because you’ve got a hammer, doesn’t mean every problem’s a nail! We’re often tempted to apply the tools that we know in order to solve the problems that are in front of us. But just because you’ve got a tool doesn’t mean it’s the most appropriate one to use. Always ask, is this the most appropriate method to tackle this problem? Would a more simple “Just Do It” approach be adequate or do we require more robust data analysis in order to get to the heart of the issue? A pragmatic approach is better than one that attempts to pigeon-hole everything into the same approach.
Identifying the right root causes is necessary, but unless you then implement a solution, you still have a problem. Double-check to be sure your solution plan really will eliminate the causes you’ve identified, and then execute the plan. It’s easy to get distracted by other projects once you get to the implementation phase and never finish.
Problem solving requires two distinct types of mental skill, analytical and creative.
Analytical or logical thinking includes skills such as ordering, comparing, contrasting, evaluating and selecting. It provides a logical framework for problem solving and helps to select the best alternative from those available by narrowing down the range of possibilities (a convergent process).
Creative thinking is a divergent process, using the imagination to create a large range of ideas for solutions. It requires us to look beyond the obvious, creating ideas which may, at first, seem unrealistic or have no logical connection with the problem. Don’t be afraid to consider new or even unusual solutions to your problem.
Effective problem solving requires a controlled mixture of analytical and creative thinking.
Although it’s generally understood that it costs more to deal with crises than to prevent them, many companies do not recognize and reward those who push past the symptoms to the root causes, preventing future occurrences. If you want to focus on prevention, be sure to reward those who do it successfully.
Don’t be disheartened if you’re unable to solve the problem as quickly as you would like to. Taking your time to find the right solution, when you can, is always preferable to jumping to conclusions or rushing into making decisions. Remember to keep those who need to know (e.g. your team members or line manager) updated in terms of your progress, and to manage their expectations throughout the problem-solving process.
Once your problem is finally solved, take some time to reflect on which aspects of your approach worked, and what you would do differently next time. When you are faced with a problem ask yourself: How can I use this? What is the good thing about this? What can I learn from this? What hidden opportunity can I find within this problem? You may be able to apply some of these approaches the next time a problem arises.
We are all faced with problems to solve in our workday. We are often not in control of the issues we face at work or home. Problems just present themselves. And chances are the issues you're facing aren't so cut and dry. Having the right attitude can make the difference between success and failure.
You can find at least two ways to look at virtually everything. A pessimist looks for difficulty in the opportunity, whereas an optimist looks for opportunity in the difficulty. Unfortunately, many people look only at the problem and not at the opportunity that lies within the problem. Everything is possible with right attitude behind you to push you forward.
Success in your business and for that of your company is a matter of effective problem solving. If you do one thing well this is paramount.