When you’re faced with problems, do you have the right tools to handle them?
I didn’t use to. My approach consisted mostly of guesswork and dumb luck. It worked sometimes. But I wanted to improve my ability to make good decisions. So I bought a lot of books on the topic, deciding to invest my time in finding tools that would improve my ability to solve problems.
The book with the most problem solving tools is one that I didn’t think I’d enjoy at all: Problem Solving 101 by Ken Wantanabe.
This book offered a simple way to deal with problems that I can still recall today: (1) understand the current situation; (2) identify the root cause of the problem; (3) develop an effective action plan; and (4) execute until the problem is solved.
While simple—and remarkably effective—the process is not easy to execute.
If you’ve ever found yourself in the middle of a problem solving meeting you know that our bias towards action causes us to want to skip steps 1 and 2. We’re prone to action. We want to shoot first and ask questions later.
This bias makes the simple four step approach above almost painful. If we think we understand the problem our minds naturally see steps 1 and 2 as a waste. The next time you find yourself in an unfortunate problem solving meeting ask yourself a few questions – are we addressing a problem or a symptom. If you’re addressing a problem, does everyone in the room agree on the problem? How will we know we’ve solved the problem?
Think about how doctors diagnose patients.
When you visit a doctor they first ask you questions about your symptoms and then take your temperature. They might run a blood test or two. Maybe order an X-Ray. They collect information that can be used to identify the root cause of your illness. After they’ve determined, and hopefully confirmed, a diagnosis they decide what to prescribe. While the process isn’t the most efficient, it leads to good outcomes more often than not.
If you want to learn to solve problems better, you should buy problem solving 101. If you’re really motivated, check out judgment and managerial decision making too. Exercising your brain is time well spent.
Still Curious? Check out these books on decision making.