Problems arise in all areas of our life, touching the workplace, our home life, and our most intimate relationships. Because problems are so prevalent and are bound to occur at one time or another, it is essential for our personal success that we learn how to solve them practically.
While some problems happen naturally, others are waiting to be intentionally discovered. And while some may be the fault of others, still more are direct results of something we did ourselves.
Regardless of the circumstances surrounding a problem, the fact of the matter is that we have to deal with it. It’s much less daunting and confusing to deal with a complex issue when we have solid confidence in our practical problem-solving abilities.
What is Problem-Solving, and Why is it Important?
At its core, practical problem-solving is simply the process in which we find solutions to issues. These issues can be simple or complex in nature, yet they all require some sort of process that leads to a productive answer.
Problem-solving is so vital because it is relevant in every job, every industry, and every individualized situation. At some point, every employee will have to deal with some form of problem-solving, whether it’s large or small.
Even outside of the professional realm, we all have problems that come up in our lives that require our attention, focus, and some kind of practical solution.
Leaving a complex, confusing, and urgent issue unresolved is a risky game and a dangerous response. An unsolved problem can lead to the termination of a professional position, the end of a personal relationship, or even the demise of a corporation. When left unattended, problems can spiral and become more substantial than they should have, leaving us with an even more complicated mess to clean up.
Of course, problem-solving is often much more than just quickly coming up with a solution to any old problem. It is using different techniques, tactics, and methodologies to identifying areas of improvement, determining key weaknesses, evaluating options, and selecting actions that are going to have positive outcomes.
Practical problem-solving is the very heart of human growth and development, which leads to community, family, and corporate development. If you want to live in an ever-changing and evolving world, you have to learn to keep up using practical problem-solving.
Many professionals and individuals see four main components to problem-solving that define why it’s so important and what exactly it is.
Fixing Broken Things
We can accurately define problem-solving as fixing something that is broken. This can refer to broken processes, systems, and products, or it can mean people, relationships, and interactions.
Whether you’re looking at a business situation or something a little closer to home, it’s inevitable that things become outdated and worn out over time. In some instances, the thing we’re trying to fix was never really right in the first place.
Problem-solving takes the things in our path that aren’t working correctly and tries to improve them. We can use problem-solving to identify what’s not working out and develop initiatives and innovations to make them better, more effective, and more productive.
Problem-solving is also profoundly connected with addressing areas of risk that we might come across. In any kind of endeavor, there’s a level of risk involved that we should factor in. When we don’t take the time to analyze the cause-and-effect relationships that pop up in our lives, we run the risk of facing the unexpected and being unprepared.
By addressing risk, we can be proactive in our problem-solving. If you identify the threat before it happens, you will likely be prepared to handle it should it occur. Being ready means that you won’t fall behind, you won’t feel the negative impact of the issue, and you’re less likely to fail in the long run.
Always expect the unexpected and have a plan set in place for the best possible problem-solving.
Problem-solving doesn’t always mean that a problem suddenly happens, and you have to fix it and get things back in running condition. Sometimes problem-solving occurs to make improvements to an adequate system.
Think about this in a business sense. A good CEO never wants a stagnant business. No matter the industry, companies are continually looking for growth. Managers and analysts can help make this happen by reviewing process, identifying areas of improvement, and implementing strategies to heighten numbers, profits, customers, etc.
There’s a lot of interdependence that goes on in a corporation or an organization, so even by making only slight changes, a business can impact their bottom line in a positive and powerful way.
All of this is accomplished through problem-solving.
The same goes for areas of personal growth and relationships. You may be in good health with no ailments to speak of, but some people are just not okay with remaining stagnant. Even though you’re a decent person, you can still choose to improve yourself beyond where you are at this moment.
Using problem-solving strategies and techniques can help you get where you want to be and take steps to improve performance.
Finally, we can also view problem-solving as a way of seizing opportunities. Opportunities are all around us, but if we aren’t looking for them, we may miss out on the chance of a lifetime.
Problem-solving goes beyond responding to a negative situation. Much like improving performance, problem-solving uses innovation and creativity to change and impact the environment around us.
We can implement problem-solving skills to exploit opportunities for our benefit and the good of those around us. By developing problem-solving skills, we open up the door to not only see a chance but to grab ahold of it and do something great with it.
In every process, there comes a robust set of skills that can let us reach our goals and complete an initiative with great success. Problem-solving is no different from any other process in that aspect, and so there are specific necessary skills that can be of use to us.
When solving a problem, try to focus on using and enhancing skills like the following to make it easier, smoother, and streamlined.
The best problem-solvers out there are highly creative people. They have a great intuition that allows them to make quick, effective decisions that have favorable outcomes. While some people are naturally innovative with superb instincts, others have to work a little harder to develop creative minds that think outside of the box.
The more complicated a problem becomes, the more innovation it will require. Common sense tells us the answer to many frequent and straightforward questions in our lives, but it will only get us so far in more complex situations.
Creative thinking leads us through systematic and logical solutions that benefit everyone involved, and it’s this kind of thinking that will deliver success to you in the various problems that you face.
Solving problems practically often requires a great deal of research. Your ability to research thoroughly, accurately, and quickly will certainly be a strength for you in the long-run.
When solving problems, research helps you define the issue in detail as well as come up with some possible explanations as to why the problem is occurring. Research also goes hand-in-hand with analytics and data management, which allows you to gather information, organize it, and review it for trends and answers.
Sometimes research can be as simple as searching for answers on the web, but it can also be an in-depth process that takes time, patience, and outstanding attention to detail.
Like we talked about earlier, a considerable part of problem-solving is managing risks. This is not only a substantial component of problem-solving but an excellent skill to have when nailing down an issue.
Risk management skills allow you to take a proactive approach to a problem, identifying it as a potential issue before it even actually occurs.
When using risk management skills, you can weigh a situation and determine possible outcomes. You can also identify what will happen with a problem depending on the solution you go with. Sometimes risk management gives you enough information to allow you to hold off on solving the problem, which buys you and your team members more time.
Other times, analyzing risk can tell you the severity of an issue and that it needs to be addressed immediately, which can prevent further damage from being done.
Some of the best solutions to issues come from solid collaboration. When collaborating alongside a reliable team, you can often find answers to problems that you couldn’t think of alone. Teamwork is highly effective because it brings different perspectives together to form creative ideas and innovative options that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.
Teamwork is an excellent environment for fostering productive brainstorming as well, which you will see later is a vital step in the problem-solving process. Many people work efficiently by bouncing ideas off of one another. Someone might spark an idea in someone else by merely saying one word.
In many business situations, teamwork is absolutely necessary, so it’s crucial that you have or develop this skill to contribute to the problem-solving process. Being able to function independently is an excellent skill to have, but you also need to be able to work alongside others in a productive and effective manner.
We all have someone in our lives who we know can’t make a decision. Some people are afraid of making the wrong decision, while others simply can’t make up their minds.
But when it comes to solving problems, decision making is critical.
There is a lot of thinking, processing, analyzing, and brainstorming that goes into problem-solving, but at the end of it all, nothing will get done if someone doesn’t make a decision. While many prefer a quick decision, it’s also essential to make wise decisions.
Doing so requires a combination of quick thinking, confidence, and critical thinking. All of these skills together allow a leader to come up with the best possible solutions in the shortest amount of time, making the decision both smart and efficient.
When it comes to business, many people think it’s best to leave emotions out of it and go straight for the facts. However, the best solutions to problems often require the right amount of emotional awareness and intelligence.
Why? Because no matter how much we don’t want to admit it, our emotions matter and have a great impact on our choices and productivity.
And because our emotions can be so impactful, it’s well worth it for a leader to consider the effect a solution will have on the people involved. When employees are not happy, a business does not tend to flourish. In the same way, there’s nothing worse than unhappy customers.
Emotional awareness is also fundamental in problem-solving within personal relationships. A practical solution might come quickly to solve a marital issue, but it could also be hurtful to the other person involved. And when you hurt someone emotionally, it can be even harder to repair the damage.
Work on your emotional intelligence to really connect with others in the problem-solving process.
Practical Problem-Solving Steps
Now that we know more about problem-solving – what it means, why it’s important, and the skills required – we can delve into the practical steps to take in order to reach a viable solution. The steps are as followed:
- Identify the Problem
- Break it Down
- Set a Goal
- Define the Root Cause
- Develop Options
- Implement a Solution
- Monitor the Results
- Standardize and Celebrate
Let’s take a more in-depth look at all of the steps.
Identify the Problem
Problems can occur on all levels of an organization, all areas of life, and even within your own personal bubble. However, if you don’t take the time to define the problem, you’re going to have a more difficult time solving it.
Problems often fall into one of three areas: a deviation from the norm, the distance between your current state and your goal, and an unfulfilled need.
These areas are pretty vague and general, and that’s because they can apply to all sorts of situations. The gap between where you are and where you’d like to be can apply to both the sales within your company and your weight loss journey. Likewise, a deviation from the norm can refer to an employee who hasn’t shown up to work along with a sudden cough that disrupts your health.
Regardless of where the problem occurs, it helps to not only classify it in one of these areas but to clarify precisely what the problem is. Doing so allows you to focus on the details of the situation while also adequately explaining it to others.
If you know you don’t feel well and can define your exact symptoms; then you can better explain to your doctor what’s going on – which can lead to an accurate and productive solution. In the same way, addressing the problem of lack of growth in a company’s department helps you move forward with implementing solutions and collaborating with your colleagues to do so.
When everyone is on the same page with a definite issue and a clear goal, operations are much smoother and have a higher level of potential success.
Break Down the Problem
Identifying a problem can sometimes be enough to implement a solution, but when you find yourself in the midst of a complex issue, a good breakdown can be instrumental.
Breaking down your problem can look very different for different people, but certain techniques can make it a little easier. Take the Drill Down Method, for example.
The Drill Down is a tool often used to expand a problem into a more detailed, specific picture. It starts by identifying the more significant problem at hand. From there, you move out in layers to define the problem. Break the main problem down into three to five smaller problems. You can then break those problems down even further until you feel like you can’t go anymore.
By doing this, you not only have a clearer picture of the issues that you need to tackle, but you can see in full detail what’s going on and what’s not right.
Sometimes it’s easier to deal with small, individual problems rather than the whole complicated problem at once. And oftentimes, solving the small problems is what will lead to a more comprehensive solution.
Breaking down your problem will give you a solid direction and a more manageable process, which can prove to be very effective.
Set a Goal
Goals play a huge role in all of our lives, and we all have them at one point or another. But why do we set goals for ourselves? What’s the point?
Well, goals are made to drive us to achieve our best and to get us where we want to be. Goals solidify the progress we want to make and often give us a timeline in which to do so. They challenge us and motivate us and give us something to focus on.
The same goes for goals during the problem-solving process. When we set a goal, we have something to aim for. A goal is a commitment that grabs our attention, focusing us on what we need to accomplish in order to solve the problem at hand.
After identifying a problem and fleshing out the details, the next step is to set the desired goal. This goal makes it clear to everyone involved where they need to be at a certain point in time. In a sales department, perhaps the problem is that there aren’t enough customers to support growth. Therefore, the current goal may be to secure a certain number of customers by a specified deadline.
It’s important to set goals, but it’s imperative that these goals are realistic and attainable. There’s nothing wrong with a challenging goal – in fact, these are the goals that tend to drive us the most. But setting unrealistic goals sets you and your team up for failure, which can be disheartening and is completely unnecessary to the process.
Define the Root Cause
It’s easy enough to look at a situation and figure out what the problem is, i.e., the car won’t start, and the problem is that you and your family are stuck in the middle of nowhere. But the real question that’s going to get you to a solid solution is this: Why won’t the car start?
And the answer to that question will be your root cause.
Of course, life is not always that simple, and oftentimes, there is more than one root cause affecting your issue. But that’s why we use root cause analysis – to define what’s causing the issue.
Once you know the source of the problem, it becomes astronomically easier to solve it. Think about trying to fix that car without knowing what was broken. Where would you even start? Do you just start randomly poking around at the engine, the battery, the gas tank?
This kind of problem-solving is likely to leave you irritated, frustrated, and disappointed. You might even end up causing more damage rather than actually fixing anything.
The same goes for every other kind of problem-solving situation. Use this step to determine the root cause, identifying the factors that caused the issue. Then you can delve into potential solutions.
Once you have identified the problem along with the root cause, you can start brainstorming your options. Part of solving a problem involves going through all of the possible solutions you could implement.
This can be a team process or something you do on your own, but regardless, you should take every idea and option seriously. Seek guidance from others if needed and bounce ideas off of one another.
Write everything down, using the information you have gathered from the previous steps to make logical conclusions and innovative ideas. Make sure that your options address the root cause; otherwise, they won’t be very helpful to the overall solution.
Implement a Solution
After coming up with a substantial list of options, you can start to narrow them down until you come to a decision. This step can involve heavy communication if you’re working with others. You are bound to make mistakes, and there may be some disagreements on the best course of action.
The important thing is to stay open-minded, focus on the root cause and the goal, and stay persistent and patient.
Work through the ideas on the list and discuss the potential risk on each of them. It’s vital through this step that you remember to factor in risk management as well as the impact on your final goal.
Make your decision during this step and implement a solution.
Monitor the Results
Though you have already analyzed your options and nailed down a solution, you’re still not quite finished with the problem-solving process. From here, it’s crucial that you monitor the results of your decision.
No one is perfect, so there’s a chance that, although you did the work and the research carefully, you will make a mistake and choose the wrong solution. Or, perhaps the solution had very little risk and simply didn’t work out for a number of reasons.
Regardless, monitoring the solution as it runs its course will let you keep track of the effect it’s having. By doing this, you can see any negative effects right away and stop the process. You can also see any benefits that have occurred since making the decision.
This is also the time that you can make any necessary adjustments to the solution you have come up with. Perhaps, after a couple of months, you notice that one particular component isn’t where it should be. You can make any adjustments you need at this point and carry on with the process.
Standardize and Celebrate
After you reach success in your problem-solving process, you can put the new initiatives or solutions into place permanently. This might mean standardizing the new processes as part of the corporate norm or simply making something you’ve tried a permanent part of your life.
If you have been working with others on this process, you should take time to meet with them and reflect on everything that has happened. You can discuss any issues that occurred along the way, as well as praise the hard work that was completed.
The problem-solving process can also cause a lot of negative emotions through high-pressure situations, so now is also an excellent time to address any concerns or feelings that may have been overlooked for the sake of the project.
And finally, you should celebrate your success. It feels good to do a good job, and that should be recognized. Make sure to give yourself a pat on the back, and congratulate those who were involved in the process with you.
But don’t celebrate for too long – there’s always another problem that needs to go through the process. Use these steps, tools, and information to get going on your next problem in a practical way.