What is your problem-solving style?

]If you are not a part of the solution, you are a part of the problem.African proverb [ of the best of the best possible smjjj

People who want to innovate are always on a look out for effective problem-solving skills that help them to come up with appropriate solutions. Finding solutions to certain complex challenges in different walks of our life depends on the way we approach these problems to a larger extent. In other words it mostly depends on the individual problem-solving styles. Also, your ability to solve problems impacts success in your personal or professional life, whether you are ma part of a team, group or individual problem-solving.

Too often we take short cuts and rush to solutions, later regretting that we didn’t take more time to think things through. Or sometimes we bring to bear assumptions that limit our ability to conceive fresh solutions as we each put our own spin on things because of our different life experiences, skills, training and personal values.

We often suffer from pike syndrome when it comes to solving certain problems where we easily give into wrong assumptions. A large carnivorous fresh water fish was put into an aquarium which has glass portion dividing it. In the other half, there were many small fish. The pike tried repeatedly to eat the fish but each time it hit the glass portion. But the pike did not attack the little fish even after partition was removed. It stopped eating as it learnt that trying to eat the little fish was futile. Likewise, past problem-solving experiences conditions us giving into wrong assumptions.

What obstructs problem-solving

Most of our complex problem-solving requires teamwork and collaboration. Sometimes problem-solving involving group of people or a team can easily get derailed because of personal biases, flawed assumptions or poorly defined problems.

And when it comes to dealing with a complex problem, we each are prone to using the same old thinking and behavioural patterns. However, there are many other obstacles that can interfere with the ability to solve a problem quickly and efficiently. Here are few of them.

Assumptions. When dealing with a problem, we often make assumptions about the constraints and obstacles that prevent certain solutions.

Functional fixedness. If you have a tendency to view problems only in the customary manner, or have a fixed way of thinking. Fixed thinking can make it difficult to come up with solutions that can imped the problem-solving process.

Irrelevant or misleading information. When you are trying to solve a problem, it is important to distinguish between information that is relevant and irrelevant data that can lead to faulty solutions.

Confirmation bias. This refers to the idea that people pay more attention to people or ideas that they had previously agreed with. Tendency to use solutions that have worked in the past rather than looking for alternative ideas.

Personal blinders like perceptual and value-based filters that lead us to see or not to see certain things or we might end up interpreting them in certain ways. This makes us place our own personal spin on things.

Labels like terming a problem a personal problem, or business problem or an attitude problem can make you look for solutions only through limited frames.

As there are different obstacles, there are also different ways how each person takes on problems. For instance, an idealist might welcome different perspectives, seeks ideal solution, and prioritise values. An activist takes a diverse view and seeks shortest route and is adaptive. Whereas a realist relies on expert opinions and facts, seeks solutions that meet current needs and is interested in results.

That is why it is important to understand your strengths and weaknesses as you approach problems. This awareness can help you whether or not the situation requires your skill, the skill of other members of the team o a combination of the two.

Different styles of problem-solving

  • Analytical style of problem-solving. Solving analytically gives you the ability to get into the detail of a problem, evaluate alll components and perspectives to understand it and determine what is needed. Analytical thinkers ask questions to fill in any gaps they see in order to foresee next steps. They have confidence in their ability and make assumptions and decisions based on facts. Although their assumptions are credible and decisions are well supported, they may not quickly find a solution because their fact finding process takes time.
  • Logical thinking of problem-solving style involves approaching the problem helps you to put detail into sequence that allows you to use the big picture and evaluate where the problem exists and why. Then using the data, they infer solutions based on similar situations. You carefully weigh pros and cons of various ways to solve the problem and consider additional information about alternatives and possible consequences of each alternative. The problem with this type of problem-solving is that when past situations do not exist or a new solution is required, the logical problem-solving may not work.
  • An intuitive thinking of problem-solving involves relying on your internal signals. You identify the solution based on what you feel is the best possible solution for everyone involved. If you are of this style, you may not gather facts and collect information before narrowing down to a solution. This may be useful when there is no factual data available. But you cannot always substitute intuition for gathering information needed to solve a problem.
  • Rational problem solver has the ability to take in format that is available and make assumptions based on that information deducting the most optimal solution. A rational person provides his perspective as to what the best solution according to him or her is. The problem although is the approach may be rational, the starting point of the reasoning may be completely unjust to another. Rational problem solvers often miss alternative perspectives.
  • Fixed approach is viewing the problem as black or white and a solution as right or wrong. Absolute thinkers believe that there is right way of doing something and if there is a problem it is because they are unaware of the solution that exists. These individuals often have difficulty moving past a problem and cannot make decisions without affirmation that they are moving forward without an accepted approach. They tend to group their thoughts based on information that they have confidence in.
  • Creative style of problem-solving involves envisioning several outcomes, make assumptions as to what needs to be done to achieve an outcome. Creative thinkers are willing to take risks and are not limited by steps or processes, instead they create unique paths to new solutions. The limitation of creative problem-solving is that they may struggle because they have difficulty on focusing and can lose sight of more obvious solutions.

Effective problem-solving process

There is no step-by-step process that will guarantee you a solution to every problem. The problem-solving process is a search for and implementation of the best possible solution for a specific problem. Develop your own method for solving a problem and one of the best way is to try to use the effective ways of the different styles. Here are some strategies to overcome the obstacles irrespective of what your approach to problem-solving is.

Challenge your assumptions

Start by recognising that you and everyone else have ingrained assumptions about every situation. They are the filters that we look through to guide our problem-solving process. Rather than let assumptions be the driver of your solution-finding, challenge them to really validate what is true.

Ask plenty of questions in order to discover and challenge those assumptions. Write a list of all the assumptions and ground rules that apply in your problem-solving and ask yourself, “What would happen if we deliberately broke this rule?” “What we did the opposite of the norm?” From an outside perspective, ask yourself, Why do we have to follow this method? Try to reduce a situation to its simplest components and restate the problem in completely different form.

Define the problem.

Most of us are not precise in defining the problem we are trying to solve because of which we miss opportunities, waste resources and end up pursuing ideas that aren’t aligned with solutions. Establish the need for a solution. The purpose of this is to define the problem in simplest terms possible.

Asking yourself, “What is the basic need?” can provide you with an answer to help secure the resources to address the essential problem. It is important to clearly state the need instead of jumping to a solution. “What is the desired outcome?”can help you understand the perspectives that can be used to approach the problem. “Is my effort aligned with the goals?” In other words, will satisfy the need and serves organisation’s or your personal goals. If they are not, you can reassess and consider whether the problem fits with your personal or organisation’s priorities.

Approach them in structured way.

Problem-solving is a process and approaching them in a structured way can help you solve them successfully.

  • Analyse the problem by identifying and investigating issues, uncovering root causes and defining the problem.
  • Generate ideas to solve the problem, by thinking creatively about possible solutions.
  • Evaluate your possibilities to find out where the expectations are not being met. The attempted solutions, what could you change?
  • Implement your chosen solution by planning and carrying out your solution. Try out a solution that might solve the problem.
  • Assess the solutions to see if it has worked as you expected, discard if not, and try something else.

Weigh pros and cons of past efforts

Weigh the consequences of past efforts to find a solution to save time and resources and to generate creative thinking. Ask yourself, “why haven’t others address it in this way? What approaches have they tried? The aim is to find so,union that might already exist. Finding out what methods are being used, what was working or what wasn’t helps you with various solutions. Use logical way of weighing the pros and cons of each option and what do you think would have been the outcomes of each option?

Self-reflection space

So, what is your approach towards problem-solving?

What are your strengths and weaknesses in arriving at solutions to a problem?

Do you find that it works for you all the time or some of the times?

How aware are you of the problems you are solving?

How often do you make opinion-based decisions during problem-solving process?

Do you weigh the consequences of your course of action?

How often do you get trapped into solving the wrong problem by defining it with prejudice or assumption?

Did you use any particular approach or technique recently to solve a particular problem?

Do you ever consider past options and outcomes of each option?

To conclude,

Effective problem-solving is an opportunity to move forward. By being aware of different approaches, strengths and weaknesses, you can better tackle different problems and can be effective in finding precise solutions to the problems. Some people are naturally skilled at one approach verses another. But when you understand the different paths, you can use the best problem-solving technique for a given situation. The purpose of this article is to help you think in a little or more detail about the work you need to do to make your solutions work.

“Always look at the solution, not the problem. Learn to focus on what will give results.”


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