by Beverly Clair
Management is just problem after problem. That’s a good thing: Without problems, we wouldn’t need managers, right? When you think of problems as puzzles or challenges, and appreciate that most big problems are just sequences of smaller problems to be solved, the issue of ‘problems’ and problem-solving actually feels quite pleasant. Indeed, if you can get good at the process, there’s almost nothing you can’t do!
So how can you improve your problem-solving skills?
The first step is to figure out what skills you already have, or, to put it another way, what type of problem-solver are you?
As people, we can broadly be separated into three categories of problem-solver:
The intuitive type depends on their instincts to tackle problems. Maybe they have good instincts and this approach has worked in the past, so that’s why they keep at it. They jump right into the process, deal with it by themselves, and then go back to work like there was never any problem in the first place. Impressive, huh?
Well, yes and no. When it works, it works. But a failure to engage with the mechanics of a problem makes it likely that you’ll learn little from solving it. And it just takes your instincts to be wrong, or for you to be confronted with a problem for which your instincts have nothing to draw on, to come to the wrong solution and only make things worse. In other words, it is a clumsy method.
They can up their game by setting themselves a two-ended deadline. A period of time in which they will work on the solution to a problem whether they find it or not. This forces you to look hard and long at the puzzle and see it from different angles. It means maybe you’ll reach out to others for their input and feedback. It also means you get on with solving it, instead of waiting – perhaps interminably – for your instincts to deliver an answer.
Use this time to ask yourself:
- What is the problem?
- What are the component parts of the problem?
- What are the consequences?
- How does the problem make you feel?
The inconsistent problem-solver
They don’t have a particular system for approaching challenges. Their strength is that they are adaptable and want to grow and develop: If one approach isn’t working, they’ll switch up and try something else. But this can be a bit of a scattershot technique. It is far from efficient or failsafe.
This type of thinker would benefit from figuring out a strategy that works for them and developing it through time. This way, the inconsistent problem-solver can capitalize on their good instincts but also master a framework for ensuring that problems are dealt with logically and systematically. For example, they might start with a timed brainstorming session, using either written or pictorial prompts, depending on their type of mind. Making charts, keeping records, and setting deadlines for the various stages of solution-finding, can help ensure their work doesn’t become sloppy or random.
The systematic problem-solver
This is certainly the most reliable and consistent – but that doesn’t mean there’s not room for improvement! They approach a problem patiently and methodically at one end, and at the other end they take steps to prepare for or prevent similar problems from occurring. However, the gap between these tasks can be large long if the systematic problem-solver is too cautious or doesn’t have the tools to analyze an issue at the required level.
What are these tools?
There are many, and different ones work for different people and different problems. One example is CATWOE analysis, for which you ask:
Clients: who does the problem impact?
Actors: who will action the solution(s)?
Transformation: what needs to change?
Worldview: what are the knock-on effects?
Owner: whose problem is this – and whose solution?
Environment: what external factors might complicate the matter?
Work through these questions as you approach a problem and you are likely to see your results improve – whether you start out as an intuitive, inconsistent, or systematic problem-solver.