Like the characters from Star Wars, we spend our professional and personal lives being presented with problems that need to be solved and decisions that need to be made. Do we buy a house here? Do we go after that client? Should we fly into that asteroid field to escape that star destroyer? This can be daunting not to mention time consuming. My question today is, what is the best approach to problem solving? We’ve all been in those situations or projects where things change and panic ensues: “What has happened?” “What are we going to do?” “Who needs to know?” “How much is this going to cost?”
What this means is that sometimes we are the bearer of bad news. One way to make this easier is to come armed with a number of solutions. Don’t be like the guy who went to Darth Vader with no solutions. Simply put:
Difficult conversation + A number of possible solutions = Great outcome
Great problem solvers have vision, logic and resolution. Emotion for the best part, takes a back seat. Do you see Yoda or Obi Wan Kenobi running around like headless chooks? So what other tools or approaches makes a great problem solver? Here are some tips that I’ve picked up along the way in business and from George Lucas:
Take time to think – If something unforeseen happens, in most instances we don’t have to react to it straight away. We can take some time to fully understand what has happened. Give yourself permission to say: “I don’t know what the answer is, I need to consider possible options before making a recommendation, and you should have that by a specified time”. By rushing ourselves, or our colleagues, we run the risk of jumping to conclusions and not fully understanding what has occurred, which then leads to poor problem solving. Nobody needs a C3PO running around panicking.
Develop your understanding – Ask, ask, ask. Clarify what you know about the problem and what you think you know. Determine what you need to learn and develop questions that help you begin your research. No matter how much you already know about your topic, there will be plenty out there that you don’t. Make sure that you have read everything you can. There is also likely to be someone who is more of an expert on the subject than you, so ask their opinion. Don’t be fooled by an old Jedi mind trick.
Options, options, options – There is never “only one”, contrary to the belief of all those Star Wars fans. Going in with only one solution to a problem can show that you have rushed to a conclusion. Provide a few options, pros and cons of each, giving the estimated cost. You might also want to consider time to implement the solution. They were pretty lucky that Luke was a good shot when he destroyed the death star.
Don’t sit on the fence – after all is said and done, make a recommendation, state which option you believe would be best and why, but always allow for the person you are presenting it to have the final word: As Yoda would say “Do or do not; there is no try”
Make it easy to understand – Take the time to present your information in an easy to read format: in a table, on one page, colour coded for example. While the research and thought process above is important, it’s this final point, such as the presentation, which can define how well your options are understood, debated and finally decided. Think of simple language that even a Wookie or an Ewok could understand, not something that you would need C3PO to translate.
All of which goes to making great business decisions.
A Charles Kettering quote that summarises it all: “The only difference between a problem and a solution is that people understand the solution.”
Use the force, resist the dark side.
I hope that these tips assist with the next time you’re in a problem solving space!