Ten great problem-solving hacks

Problem-Solving 2

We are constantly confronted with various problems. It can be at home or at work and vary from small everyday problems to major life-determining issues. The following tips can help you become a more effective problem solver.

Hack 1: It’s a good habit to occasionally stop and scan the surroundings to see what can be improved. Is there anything around you that is not the way you want it? Note this in a place to which you can return. In this way, you will build a bank of things that can be improved or problems that need to be solved. You do not necessarily have to jump on them right now, but if you do not write them down, they will quickly be forgotten.

Hack 2: When facing a problem, try to find as many alternative problem formulations as possible and preferably from completely different starting points. Comparing the different problem formulations, often gives you the first key to solving the problem and the solution is likely to be more creative than if you initially had locked yourself in only one way of considering the problem.

Hack 3: If you are facing a big and difficult problem, take enough time to list all possible sub-problems and attack them one at a time. The by far most effective way is to break down each problem to its very smallest element. It is then easier to solve each part separately without jeopardising the overall problem-solving.

Hack 4: When you identify a problem that really engages you, it’s important that you both mentally and emotionally commit yourself to solving it. Taking this commitment seriously is the starting point for the upcoming process to solve the problem.

Once you have assumed the challenge, you don’t want to disappoint yourself by giving up before you reach the goal. However, despite assuming the challenge, you may still have to struggle a few rounds more with the problem to make it really clear to you before you can move on to the actual problem-solving phase.

Hack 5: To get the best solutions, you will often need to highlight the problem from all possible angles, both the width and the depth. Start to see, really see, and not just from different angles. Get closer to your problem so you capture the very smallest details. Take a step back and consider it from a distance. Turn it over and twist it. Learn to draw and use pen and paper to capture the details.

You can then proceed by asking questions. The more questions you ask, the better you will understand your problems. If you work with problem solving in a company, maybe the questions might sound: What is the strength of your product? Weaknesses? What does the market want? What are the competitors doing? What are the latest trends? What are the rules? Will the legislation be changed? Are there any customers you do not reach?

Hack 6: Do not just ask questions about your business or other external problems. Often the really important questions are introspective. It is within you that you have both the right questions and all the answers. Those questions may be: Why do I do this way? What I do not understand? What am I afraid of? What is it that hinders me? What is I feeling about this problem? Is this what I really want? What does my intuition tell me? Please meditate on these questions for a while. The answers can come quickly and give you valuable clues in the ongoing process.

Hack 7: Thoughts thrive best in the context in which they belong, which is behind the well-known phenomenon that finding a name of a colleague from work when meeting her in the store can be difficult. You can make use of this peculiar way of our thinking, if you have become too fixed to your problem, with your thoughts just running in circles.

If this happens, it may be useful to temporarily change environment. When you walk then go where you have never been before. If you have time, then make a trip. If you don’t have time, think carefully or plan for a fantasy travel as far away as possible. Dig into thoughts and impressions that are as remote from your problem as possible. This makes it easier for your mind to find completely new perspectives on your problem that you did not reflect on before.

Hack 8: If you have the task of improving a product or service, start by describing it as carefully as you can. Make a list of all its properties. In the next step, you go through the list point by point and think about what opportunities would open if that property would no longer apply. How could a bike look like without handles? How would a knife work if it does not have a blade? Can you make a book with three binders?

Hack 9: Do not look for variants of the solution you have in front of you without trying to move in other directions. For some problems, it is easy to find many alternative solutions. You may come up with some fifty or more different suggestions, while for another problem you may have only one big idea. Regardless, take the trouble to think another round for additional options before you begin to go through what you have.

Hack 10: As inspiring as getting the brilliant one-on-one-million idea, the frustrating it is to see it dissolve and disappear in oblivion. There is only one cure for not forgetting your ideas and that is to document it as soon as you get it. How you do it is of less importance. All that matters, is to make sure that wherever you are and whatever time of the day or night it is, you should be able to do it immediately.

Today, this is relatively easy. Most people do not go many steps without their smartphone and this often includes both note function and voice memo. Take the habit of regularly transferring them to another medium, such as an idea diary that can be either physical or electronic.

Although the ideas may not be Eureka experiences (as most are not), and they may not even be relevant right now but just a fun observation, save them systematically and pick them up from time to time. Not seldom, these ideas can trigger your association machinery and spark new thoughts and ideas.

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Author: Karl Ekdahl

International public health leader and creativity blogger.

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