The new normal has got most of our problem-solving skills to the fore front this year, be it in how to keep ourselves safe to managing our daily requirements or in finding ways to be more productive when working remotely or in coming up with engaging ways to communicate and educate online. Even though we had many limitations, brainstorming for creative solutions to keep many things running became absolutely necessary. Tough problems often keep us stuck from finding a plausible solution and as habit would have it, we often revert to same problem-solving methods that have worked for us in the past. However, what worked yesterday may not always work today. Sometimes you need to step outside the problem and look at it from multiple angles to analyse and solve it effectively.
Problems come in all sizes, shapes and forms like everyday problems or complex ones which are hard to understand, accomplish or deal with in our personal or professional life. Problem can be a task, a situation or even a person. Most of us view problems as distractions or obstacles in general. Going through our daily routines with such a view keeps us from pursuing many of our goals or objectives when confronted with complex issues. Inside of every problem, lies an opportunity and looking at our problems from multiple angles sparks fresh perspectives to identify them.
Problem and perspectives
There is an old story of three blind men and an elephant. When the men were asked to describe the elephant, one says, it’s thin and skinny like a snake. The other says that the first doesn’t know what he is talking about and says, it is like the trunk of the tree, round and thick. The third one says, they both are wrong and says, it’s wide and circular like a giant disk. As we all know each of the men is talking about different part of the elephant that they were feeling like trunk, leg and ear. The men are blind, so they fail to see the whole elephant and because their experience is limited to certain part of the elephant, they assume that the elephant was the part they could see.
Being creative in problem-solving is often like a blind person. No matter how smart we are, we will always have certain blind spots when it comes to solving some problems. Also, there are certain occasions, no matter how hard we may try, the solution seems difficult. We tend to look only through certain framework which may not be always helpful. This is one of the reason why we fail when we need to come with a new solution, either by choice or by circumstance. New solutions are possible only when you change the way you view the problem. When all you see is the ear and leg, you usually just need the trunk to completely your view of the elephant. Besides, while you may perceive a situation from one angle, others might perceive it from another which leads to arriving at no possible solution.
Importance of perspective thinking
We cannot solve all the problems with same approach or logic. Sometimes we need to expand our perspective beyond our usual mental tool box by learning things outside our norm to solve more abstract problems. Knowing problem from different perceptual positions will help you gain a new understanding and make new discoveries through seeing things from different points of view. If you have only one framework for thinking about a solution, then you will try to fit every problem into that framework where your potential gets limited in finding a solution. This is because the way you engage with and think about problems directly influences your ability to solve them.
Perspective thinking is also an important leadership quality where one must be resilient in solving certain problems and must be able to tackle issues head on to create certain momentum. The ability to step back and see the problems at hand through broader and circular vision is essential. Seeing the problem that lies directly in front of us makes certain problems tough to solve and block the possibilities that lie within them. Whereas seeing in totality as to what the problem represents and looking at the big big picture leads to a new way of seeing the problem. When a problem is specific, looking at how it fits into the next larger context and can help you refine your problem-solving process.
How to improve your perspective thinking
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to solve every problem we encounter. One needs to be competent and skilful enough to adapt to different approaches to fit the problem at hand to come up with creative solutions. Perspective thinking is one such skill you can add to your problem-solving tool box to deal with certain larger or tough issues. It’s important to gain better understanding of the problem and explore different methods to arrive at right solution. This way you can solve the problem completely, rather than just addressing part of it or the ones that are most obvious. And this mostly depends on how a problem is viewed, framed or described. Below are few strategies to frame your problem through different perspectives.
Define your problem
You cannot correctly address an issue if you are not aware of its context, implications and possible consequences. What usually happens is that as soon as we see a problem to work on, we are so eager to get to solution that we neglect spending any time to define it. Whereas in reality, the quality of solution you come up with will be in direct proportion to how well you can describe the problem you are trying to solve. It is important to put in as much effort in defining the problem as you do in solving it. In fact many do approach problem-solving by defining it, but end up poorly executing it in the process. There is much more to simply to provide a written definition or statement of the problem.
Once you identify what the problem is, who is involved and when and where it occurs, it’s important to expand the definition of the problem. To not to make it too vague, define the problem by
• Establishing boundaries and
• Distinguishing its characteristics.
• Stating the nature of the problem.
• Describing it precisely and stating the meaning of the problem.
Knowing the nature of the problem, its importance and urgency of it, it’s frequency to occur and others involved in it, causes, circumstances and where the problem first started will allow you to come up with more logical methods of solving it.
Defining your problem helps you to look at the problem from the perspective of people involved, methods in the process, overall view and if any constraints in terms of available resources. By considering all of these you can reframe your most toughest problem in a way to solve it.
Use Positive problem statements
Rephrase the problem without it losing its meaning, giving another name to the issue at hand can generate ways to improve productive thinking and help unclog what was previously stuck. Words carry strong meaning and play a major role in how we perceive a problem. For instance, replacing ‘increase’ with ‘develop’, ‘extend’ or ‘improve’ and see how your perception of the problem changes. Using positive language constructs increases the expectations of finding a solution and engage our brain in understanding the big picture and in active listening. Whereas negative words activate fear and anxiety and positive language constructs reduce emotional and physical stress.
Negative sentences require a lot more effort to process as they slow you down or derail your train of thought. Positive statements help you find the real goal behind the problem and are much motivating and engaging. For instance, A positive way to start your a problem statement is “In what ways might i” over ‘How can I’ as it creates space for more alternatives and not just one or may be none. If a certain problem looks too boring for you, come up with problem statements that truly excites you so you are in the best frame of mind to think creatively about solving the problem.
Focus on what is right
Appreciative inquiry is the problem-solving method that was developed by David Cooperrider. According to his model, appreciation is to recognise and value the contributions or attributes of things and people around us. Inquiry means to explore and discover, to better understand and being open to new possibilities. Changing your perspective to what is good and valuable in the present situation, you can find ways to change the situations for better.
Imagine your problem is to expand your business, but you can’t find the right people or your budget is tight or you feel that some of your approaches aren’t working. Instead of approaching the problem by focusing on the things that are not working, you can shift your focus to a positive perspective. Look at the things that are working and build on them.
Frame your problem in the form of a question
Questions open up our brain to new streams of thoughts. Whereas statements reduce the views to the simplistic negative assumptions that things are not going well. “How can we improve our sales?” opens the door to new possible solutions rather than stating your problem as “our sales are falling”. Also better understanding often comes from asking questions framed around right concerns Understand the nature of the problem to avoid asking irrelevant questions. Instead of giving quick answers, brainstorm which answers will bring the most value.
While framing your problem in the form of question, focus on what role your are playing in creating the problem and rethink on the goal you are trying to reach. Make sure your questions refer to action, object, how to improve and end goal. Taking the above instance, framing your problem -“In what ways might i present (action) my product (object)more attractively(qualifier) so people will buy more of it to increase my sales”(end result) is more helpful in solving and makes bigger difference to your purpose.
Focus on the solved state
Pay attention to the solved state as is paid to the problem state. When solving a problem, we typically wish to do more than simply rid ourselves of some unacceptable situation. More often than not we are trying to change it to more desirable state. If we do not focus on the solved state, the likelihood of finding a solution reduces. This restricts us to come up with a solution where we tend to move from problem to problem where solution to one problem creates a new problem. Changing your perspective to solved state is to define it the same way you would define the problem like listing all the possible indicators of its attainment. Ask yourself, How will i know the problem has been solved? What will i accept as evidence? What does the solved state look like?
If your problem is a part of a greater problem, explore it by chunking up or by broadening your view of the problem. Consider a wider frame of view can help you come up with previously unseen solutions. If you feel you are overwhelmed with details or looking at a problem too narrowly, try and gain a general perspective. Ask yourself, what is this part of? or what is this an example of? or what is the intention behind this? framing your problem statement with words that have much broader meaning helps you gain more general view of the problem. This way, you can discover the roots of a problem that are far beyond the level you were previously trying out.
Similarly, Chunk it down if your wide-ranging problem is not finally responding to a very tiny and specific cause. This provides you insights that you might have overlooked in viewing it in general perspective. It might be worth compartmentalising the problem into smaller elements. Dealing with one part of the issue at a time will help ease of solving and in turn help speed things up. You can make a problem more specific as, what are parts of this? Reframe your question with words that are more stricter in meaning. For instance, instead of saying furniture has to be changed, be specific as to chair or table.
Reformulate it on the reverse
One way together unstuck with certain problem is by turning it on its head or by reformulating it on the reverse or tackle the issue from the core to outwards. You will only see obvious answers when you look at the problem from an opposite direction or by deconstructing it backwards right upto its origin. This way, you can understand how every single element played against you so as to lead you there and learn how to effectively counteract the emerging problems.
Be aware of your own blinders
We all get into a fixed mode or use of custom-tailored procedures while dealing with certain problems. These can be perceptions, preconceived notions and value-based filters that lead us to see or not see certain things or we end up interpreting in some ways. One of the ways we do this is by giving labels, For instance, if we label a problem personal, for instance, we invoked one set of models and concepts. If we label that same problem a business problem or an attitude problem, we use different sets of models and concepts. Labels influence the way we frame a problem, that lead us look in different places for different things. To change your perspective, it is important to ask yourself how you have labeled the problem. Deliberately changing the label can be useful to shift your perspective in approaching it in order to solve.
Another way to change how you view the problem is to pay attention to the solutions you propose. if you think your staff needs more training, you have framed the problem in one way. If you recommend a reorganising, you have framed it a very different way, if you think replacing certain people will do the job, you have viewed it differently. Looking at the possible solutions or your preferences will lead you into classify and frame problems as well as your underlying biases and filters. Some of your blinders might be rooted in your goals and objectives. Thinking about what you wish to achieve, persevere, avoid and eliminate and why can help you approach problem with different perspectives.
Challenge your assumptions
Trying to solve a problem without being aware of your frame makes you give into your assumptions. No matter how complex or simple you problem is, it comes with some assumptions attached to it. Assumptions are always inaccurate and misguided that may prevent you from connecting dots that are right in front of you. Make a list of your most obvious assumptions asking yourself, What am i assuming to be true? What am i assuming to be false? What would i do if that wasn’t the case? to bring more clarity to the problem at hand. Go further and test each assumption for validity. Since most of the assumptions are self-imposed, checking their validity helps you drop them. Identify if any disparity between your perceptions and your preferences. There are also some we seek to persevere or avoid. So gain clarity on your goals as to whether to achieve, persevere, avid or eliminate.
Use external perspectives
Solutions are often a two-way streets. What some regard as a solutions may be the root of the problem for others and vice versa. Understanding how a specific solution could affect others can help you see other points of view. If what causes as a major inconvenience to you may turn out to be beneficial for others and it may well be worth considering. Sometimes gaining insight of people not related to the problem can provide you with a fresh and new perspective into the matter. Bringing in people with other areas of expertise can complement the knowledge that already there to arrive at the final piece of puzzle.
Space for Self-reflection
What is your approach in dealing with some of the toughest of your problems?
How often do you consider different perspectives in problem-solving?
How much effort do you put in defining a problem?
Do you understand the problem you are solving — What is known or not known or what may have contributed to the problem? Or What are the outlines and boundaries of your problem?
Are you solving the right problem — How do you know this is the right issue?
Do you have all the information you need to solve?
What do you know to be true and what and how much have you assumed to be true about your problem?
What are you trying to achieve by solving the problem— Are you trying to avoid? or
Are you trying to persevere in your efforts ? or Are you trying to eliminate certain methods or procedures?
*Build these questions into your problem-solving tool box *
There is no easy way or a shortcut to become a good problem solver. Sometimes to solve your toughest problem is to know what the problem is and change the problems you solve through reframing. We cannot solve certain problems with the same old methods or thinking we used in the past or have been using. Sometimes you need to adopt right perspective of a problem to make it less of a problem.
View a problem less as an obstruction or distraction and more of a chance for you to do better. Substitute, combine, adapt, modify or eliminate and rearrange to use different perspectives when addressing tough problems next time around. The above tips might help you to approach problem from different perspectives especially when you are innovating new methods or have to be creative or to make decisions about specific problems.