Practical Problem Solving Strategies In The Workplace
Have you ever set a goal only to have it thwarted by an obstacle or, worse, person?
Achieving goals is one part intention, two parts commitment, and three parts (read: majority) flexibility in action. While popular culture may interpret flexibility as compliant or weakness, I believe real flexibility is knowing your limits coupled with some ninja problem-solving.
Keep It Simple
We live in a world where drones deliver household supplies, refrigerators can notify your smartphone about what’s running out, and a private shuttle will soon take you to a weekend escape on the moon.
Complexity is the new normal.
During my corporate days, if someone raised an issue, someone else would undoubtedly suggest a taskforce. The question of the future of television beleaguered so many in my last company that they made it a CEO offsite, which spiraled into a dog-and-pony show of people vying for their next promotion.
Whatever your politics or stance on immigration, President Trump’s campaign for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border appealed to many because of its simplicity.
So when confronted with a problem, what is the easiest solution? This means what would require the least amount of…
Being creative is such a buzzword these days. But the truth is that creativity is often rejected, especially in corporate cultures.
Instead, I encourage my mentees to be resourceful. For example, consider these prompts when faced with a problem: how can you reasonably…
- Adapt – what can be done to modify a situation? Increase frequency of check-ins? Outsource redundant activities?
- Shuffle – rearrange a schedule to accommodate decisions or change the layout so people interact more…
- Switch – be George Costanza and do the opposite!
- Unite – is it possible to combine ideas or approaches to do double-duty?
- Reuse – a great example here is when Pfizer developed Viagra, originally tested as a high blood pressure treatment. The rest is history.
- Ease – can you reduce the scope of a project to make it more manageable?
- Swap-out – so you ran out of sour cream, can you use yogurt instead?
Regular readers know I bring this up time and time again. The best medicine is preventative. You don’t need a cure if you’re not sick.
Effective problem-solving works much the same way. Few crises arise without showing some small symptoms at first.
Here are some tell-tale signs to nip detractors in the bud:
- Someone stops showing up to the meeting
- A friendly co-worker gives you a heads up
- The jokes are personal: someone vying for my position once suggested I should be fired in front of me and my boss then laughed like it was a joke.
- You feel like you’re on trial
- They exclude you from meetings you should be at
- You hear someone is taking credit for your work
Trust your gut in these cases. Studies reveal our inclination is to fight fire with fire: most victims become perpetrators in toxic workplaces.
This is a human reaction that I’ve seen play out over and over again at work and any Law & Order: SVU episode. Don’t let someone else’s abusive actions justify changing your behavior for the worse.
How? Take a breath, talk to close friends, or reach out to a mentor for an objective perspective.
Let Your Subconscious Speak
There’s something to be said about not trying so hard to solve a problem. The anxiety and tension we bring onto ourselves seems to exhaust us more than getting us closer to a solution.
I like to ask my mentees, “What are you going to do to relax this weekend?” The question forces them to voice out plans for hopefully fun, non-work activities. If I get a sad “nothing” in response, I set aside a few minutes to brainstorm events they could attend to nourish and recharge.
“Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are.”
There’s a great urban myth that starts with a truck getting stuck under a highway overpass. The best engineers from all over the country analyzed and discussed how to get this truck unstuck. They drew up blueprints and argued for weeks. By then, the whole town knew about the problem.
One day a young child walked by the site with his mother. The child pointed and asked aloud in the way only a child can, “Why don’t they just take the air out of the tires?”
Let your inner child out to play. She has all the answers.