Taking a Closer Look at Problem Solving

The first step in problem solving is to define the problem by evaluating the difference between the current situation and the desired goal. In other words, a problem is the difference between the goal and the result. The sooner you observe and correct any deviation between the goal and result, the smaller the problem will be. Problem solving is closely related to decision making. The processes are much the same.

Part of defining the problem is also identifying the causes. At times, the apparent problem is not the real one; it is merely a symptom. The real problem may be hidden beneath defensive accusations, confusing data, complex processes and procedures, or poorly constructed reports. Be sure you address the causes rather than the symptoms.

For example, one individual on your team may continually bombard you with questions. You need to ask yourself: Is that really the problem? Or is it a symptom of a lack of training? Or is the real problem that this person once received a harsh reprimand for a decision and is now hesitant to proceed without prior approval? You can usually narrow down inadequate performance to one of these three root problems: training, environment, or motivation.

After you define the problem, you need to decide whether it is even a problem that must be solved. Some problems resolve themselves in a short time without any action. Other problems are not worth your time to take action to solve. Spend a hundred dollars’ worth of your time on hundred dollar problems, not twenty dollar problems. If a problem is not worth your time, assign the solving of it to someone else who is paid less than you are. Of course, you need to make sure that it will be solved before it becomes a more costly problem.

When the problem does require your attention to be solved, use this time proven formula for approaching the problem:

  • Make sure the real problem is defined clearly and relates to an important organizational or personal goal. Address causes, not effects or symptoms. You may find that a number of negative symptoms may all have the same root cause. By dealing with the root cause, you may solve more than one problem at a time.
  • Set a deadline for making the final decision about a solution to be chosen. Allow adequate time to gather information, suggestions, and opinions from others.
  • Identify the purpose to be met by the solution. Refer to specific organizational and personal goals as guidelines for deciding exactly what the solution must accomplish. This prevents investing too much time and material in solving a relatively minor problem. Specifically state any criteria that must be met, including budget, time frame, quality requirements, efficiency, and simplicity.
  • Compile and study information. Collect and assemble information in a logical and useful form, and study the facts to be sure that you understand everything involved.
  • List possible solutions. List all of the possible solutions. Make no attempt to rule out alternatives; use free association, visualization, and creativity to generate as many solutions as possible. Consider the possibility that a given solution could cause other problems. Decide if other actions will need to be taken to ensure a net positive effect, or if another solution altogether needs to be considered.
  • Make a choice. Look over the list of possible solutions that you have made. Cross out any items that you know immediately you do not want to use. For each possible solution left on your list, answer the question, “What would happen if I chose this solution?” Then choose the one that appears to have the best possible chance of success.
  • Decide what action must be taken to implement the solution. The action may be simple and require the attention of only one or two people, or it may have several steps and involve the whole department. Make sure that every person understands what to do, how, and why. Then make sure the predetermined steps are followed.
  • Request feedback. Keep open the lines of communication between yourself and those who must carry out your decision. Be open to their ideas, and do not judge feedback based on your preconceived ideas about the person giving it. Let your team members know you are interested in their problems but that your instructions will be carried out. When necessary and practical, be willing to modify the plan when the feedback you receive indicates a need for adjustment.

Overcome Problems with a Vision

One of the most distinguishing characteristics of humankind is the creative power of our imagination. There is significant power in our ability to imagine our ideal future. The LMI Process™ refers to this power as “vision.”

There were some studies conducted back in the 1960s that scientifically substantiate the power of vision. A group of behavioral scientist randomly selected a group of junior high boys and girls and divided them into two groups. The test was to shoot a basketball through the hoop for a set number of free throws from the free throw line on a basketball court. The two groups were given an initial test without any practice to establish a base line. Then each group was given one week to practice.

For a set time period each day, the two groups practiced shooting free throws; however, one group physically practiced with the ball and actually shooting it, while the second group practiced mentally by imagining standing at the foul line and shooting the ball successfully through the hoop.

After the one week of physical vs. mental practice, the two groups were pitted against each other in a final test. The purpose was to measure and compare the improvement from the first test. The result of the test showed that not only did the group who mentally practiced show the highest percentage of improvement but actually beat the group that had practiced with the ball.

From this classic research grew the trend for professional athletes to spend specific practice time on positive vision of a successful performance. Clear vision is the key to your future. Clear vision is the key to the future of your organization. Ask yourself these questions: What vision do I hold for my future? How much time do I spend weekly imagining my success? How clearly and vividly do I see my future? How do I feel when I vision my success? If you can answer these questions with clarity, you are well on your way to your desired future vision. If, however, you have difficulty with these questions, you would benefit from learning how to build a clear vision for your future and the future of your organization.


Leadership Management® International
Reprinted with permission
Strategic Essentials is a Managing Partner for Leadership Management® International, Inc.

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