Success in life and in business often comes as a result of effective problem solving. When we identify a need or recognize someone’s pain, and then meet that need or relieve that pain, we are solving problems. In fact, if there were no problems to solve, many of us would be without purpose or, at the very least, out of a job! It's important to remember that what we identify as a problem is simply an opportunity to test our skills in meeting needs and relieving pain; an opportunity to exercise our purpose.
The Pain of Indecision
Choosing to delay action or assuming that a problem will go away if ignored is usually the worst possible decision one can make. Like a leak in the roof or a minor insult, inattention makes them bigger, messier and harder to fix. Not only does the original problem swell, the peripheral damage spreads as well; until an insignificant problem becomes a major mess. The best way to prevent big problems is to catch them when they are still minor disturbances and the fixes are quick and easier to implement.
When something isn’t working the way it's supposed to, how often do we resort to a quick workaround solution just to get the job done? In software programming this is called a patch. In any environment it is essentially a Band-Aid solution—it stops the bleeding for now, but doesn’t get rid of the sharp edge that caused the cut. In the short term, this appears to save time since the immediate task is completed. Unfortunately, underlying causes eventually catch up with us.
Occasionally a collection of patched up problems spring a leak at the same time and we end up struggling to stay afloat. While the immediate patch, Band-Aid or workaround might be necessary to contain a situation in the short term; remember to follow up with further investigation and address the source. The ultimate goal is to eliminate the underlying cause of a problem for long term benefit.
Solution or a Monkey Trap?
In business, and in life, we know that success is often more dependent on persistence than on any other single factor. Many of us march to the drum of “never give up.” Yet a story is told of the Monkey Trap—a hollowed out coconut tied to a tree, with a hole just big enough for a monkey to put its hand through. Inside the coconut is an enticing piece of fruit. When the monkey slides its hand into the coconut and grabs the fruit, its fist becomes too big to pull back out through the hole. Because the monkey is determined to achieve its goal, it's trapped and can't escape.
Sometimes, when all avenues and resources have been exhausted and success remains elusive, we have to consider the possibility that it’s time to change tactics. Sometimes we have to let go to move forward.
When it Can’t be Fixed
After all the brainstorming is done and creativity is tapped out, there are some things that just can’t be fixed. The trick is to recognize quickly when we're faced with a reality we must accommodate rather than a problem we can solve. A leaky roof is a problem that can be resolved; too much rain is a reality we have to work with. By identifying the things we can’t fix and taking them off our plate, we're free to focus our energy and resources directly on fixing the problems we can
Why be a Problem Solver?
The need for creative problem solvers is growing, as our world becomes more complex and we increasingly operate in a global arena. At the same time, the supply of creative problem solvers appears to be shrinking, as our educational system strives for memorization and measurability over critical thinking. As a result, creative problem solvers and critical thinkers are in great demand. That demand will only increase in the current environment of escalating complexity and speed.
If that’s not reason enough to become a problem solver, consider these additional benefits:
- By solving problems yourself, you build self-reliance and continually expand your transferable skillset.
- You may create an entirely new and better solution that makes the world (or at least your workplace!) a better place.
- You’ll enjoy the sense of accomplishment that comes from overcoming obstacles and adding to the world’s store of original thought.
- It’s likely what your boss really wants from you.
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