How to be a Good Problem Solver

There is a saying that there are only two certainties in life: Death and Taxes. I think that you could add one more certainty which is: Problems!

Everyday in our lives we are faced with problems which can be big or small. In our workplace we have problems which can be work related or relationship related. Likewise in our personal lives we are faced with problems with our spouses, siblings, in-laws and many others. Sometimes we wish that we could just wake up in the morning and face the day without any problem at all. This is wishful thinking as the very nature of our existence is based on our innate ability to solve problem. In fact our very survival is based on how good a problem solver we become. Apart from the fact that we have technologically, culturally and socially developed over many millennia, we still are confronted with problems of many variations. To put it crudely, if you look at your fundamental job scope, you are being paid to solve the problems of your organization.

Your inability to resolve your organizational problems will spell disaster for your career. There is no way around it. Rather you will be better off if you learn the fine art of being able to solve the problems that confronts and confounds you daily. Question that you need to ask is whether you can become an excellent problem solver?

My answer is Yes! However it is not going to be easy. But the more you take on the problems that confound you head long the better you will become with time. By being able to solve problems efficiently you will become a very powerful and effective individual. Also as the great French dramatist, Jean-Baptiste Poquelin puts it: “The Greater the obstacle, the more glory in overcoming it.”

You can teach yourself to become a good problem solver. This is obviously not going to happen overnight, but if you put conscientious effort into trying to resolve the problems that you face you will slowly learn the fine art and science of problem resolution.

Identifying the problem

The first step in becoming an excellent problem solver lies in your ability to identify the nature of the problem. You need to ask yourself two very important questions. Is the problem that is confronting you a ‘fix-it’ kind of problem or a ‘do-it’ kind of problem?

Fix-it problem usually involves something that has gone wrong and you have to put it right. Like for instance the photocopier in your office broke down and you’ve got to print one hundred copies of an important document to be distributed during the meeting which is going to be held in fifteen minutes. This kind of situation puts you in an urgent and important quadrant as you will have to take effective steps to resolve the key issue which is ‘how to find another way of photocopying the document so that you can get them ready for the meeting?” Your thought is not in getting the photocopier repaired as you have a more important and urgent task at hand.

After the meeting is over, you may find yourself having more time to look into the reasons as to why the photocopier broke down and thus take necessary steps to repair it. When you engage in this process you are now demonstrating what is called the ‘Do-it’ problem solving.

‘Do-it’ problems apparently deal with something that has to be done in order to prevent further problems from arising. Like for instance: the roof is leaking; the computer program has a virus; the car broke down. In these kinds of ‘do-it’ problem situations you have to learn to look at the situation objectively to see what cause of action you may want to take.

Analysis of the problem

The next stage in problem solving is the analysis of the problem. This will require you to ask some hard-hitting questions like what is the cause of the problem; who started it; why does it occur; what can we do about it; whose responsibility is it to solve this problem; do we have all the data to solve the problem; how can we get the information we want to solve the problem; what is the ideal outcome that we want here etc.

The more questions you ask once you’ve identified the problem the more information that you might have to solve the problem. There are some problems whereby there is no answer to its resolution. Like for instance if you want to solve the problem of poverty in the world, this would be a tall order and one which you may not be able to resolve if at all. This would be an example of a ‘fix’it’ problem which is extremely difficult to ‘fix’. However, if you were to change your outlook by making this into a ‘do-it’ problem you might be able to solve some small aspect of the problem. Like you can start a company trust fund to collect monies for the poor people living within your vicinity and create a distribution channel to give these poor people what they need. You are not solving the world poverty problem, but moving from a ‘fix-it’ to ‘do-it’ you get to do something worthwhile.

Implementation of solutions

Ultimately, the concept of problem solving involves the ability to find solutions. There may be more than one solution for a problem. This is when you need to integrate the process of decision making to see how best you could implement the most effective solution. When implementing the solution to solve the problem you should take note too that what works for one situation may not work for another. Therefore you need to re-engage yourself to come up with new strategies to solve new problems that arise.