Here is an overview of the problem solving model I have used successfully over the years. There are four key phases, each requiring a different set of skills.
The boundaries between the phases of the problem solving model can be vague, but being aware of them allows you to consciously direct your thinking.
Step back and review the problem you believe you have. If your view is clouded with strong emotions, it can be useful to feel through these and then offload them to paper to reduce their intensity.
I suggest you try to see the big picture. Who is involved? What are the broad issues? How do they relate to the big picture? Having this level of understanding can reveal solutions and prevent repetitive symptomatic fixes.
What do you want to happen? What is at stake? Be aware of yours and others’ expectations and assumptions; which may or may not be real or appropriate.
Consider this: is it even your problem?!
Gaining deeper, alternative insights to your problem is invaluable in revealing the underlying causative patterns and your part in the problem. This can be done via questioning and reframing.
Ask more and different questions. The better your questions, the deeper your insights.
Use empathy to understand the problem from others’ viewpoints.
Describe the problem in different ways. How would you summarise your problem to a ten year old? What if you were someone else observing your life from afar?
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When generating ideas, it is really important to entertain and build on any and all possibilities without immediate judgement. Premature evaluation quickly kills ideas, resulting in the safe and the mundane. Go with the flow as there is plenty of time to evaluate later.
If you find yourself stuck on the obvious and logical solutions, offload them to a piece of paper and set them aside.
You need to be in a positive and creative state of mind. You may need to further work through any strong emotions first.
Here are some more ways to generate ideas:
- If you were your hero, whether they’re a real person or a fictional character, what would you do to fix your problem?
- What if you had no fear and no expectations?
- Can you combine two or more solutions?
This is the analysis phase of the problem solving model where you decide the best way to proceed.
Use your gut feel to shortlist the best ideas. Identify the strength and benefits, the weaknesses and cost of each possibility. Remember to include non-financial costs.
Imagine executing each of the solutions. Which feels right? Which is more authentically you? What are the fears involved?
Write up a plan and you are now ready to start executing your solution.
Here are some general actions I have found to be consistently useful in the problem solving model:
- Don’t be afraid to revisit any of the phases, especially if your instinct tells you something needs more thought.
- Get opinions from others. Cleaners and taxi drivers have given me great insights.
- Brainstorming on your own is possible, although doing it with others can be more rewarding and expedient.
- Check in with yourself regularly – how are you feeling, what is your instinct saying?
- Challenge your assumptions and fears. Or at least be willing to admit you have assumptions and fears around an issue.
Problem solving is a creative and learning exercise. Have fun!