4 Golden Rules of Problem Solving
The ability to solve problems s a differentiating skill. How can you become good at it?
We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them — Albert Einstein
The ability to solve problems and successfully navigate challenges is one of the few qualities that differentiate star performers from average ones, it also differentiates happy and fulfilled people from others who are anxious and miserable.
Problem-solving is important to success and happiness because it enables us to exert control over our environments, learn unique insights and improve personal performance and quality of our relationships.
Mastering the art of solving problems is not only restricted to work or business settings; it also has its place in everyday life scenarios. We all regularly encounter minor and major challenges in our personal and professional lives that require our attention, these problems could present with the following questions:
- I don’t think my car is supposed to make that thumping noise, what do I do now?
- I recently got laid off, how can I find a new job in a pandemic?
- My business is now growing, how can I keep up with my bills?
- My proposal deadline got moved up to this afternoon, how can I finish everything on time?
- My academic performance has been sub-par this semester, how can I pass this course?
- Did I notice some strange swellings in my groin, am I sick?
- Geez! I made an ass of myself last night, did I damage my reputation?
- I am in a toxic relationship; how do I get out?
The bad news is that as long as we are alive, there will always be problems we have to deal with, this is inevitable. The good news is that we can do something about it, we can change our perspective and approach to our problems. Norman Vincent Peale famously said that “every problem has in it the seeds of its own solution. If you don’t have any problems, you don’t get any seeds”.
Our mindset is very important when it comes to successfully solving problems. If we approach problems with the wrong mindset, then we will most likely have a bad outcome. A problem well approached is a problem half-solved.
The problem is not that there are problems. The problem is expecting otherwise and thinking that having problems is a problem — Theodore Isaac Rubin
As an entrepreneur and consulting professional, I have had to regularly face many minor and major problems that demand my attention. These problems ranged from day to day business operations like finding business clients and resolving conflicts with irate customers to mundane challenges like learning how to edit videos or dealing with the stress and anxiety of living in a pandemic.
I generally have found success by using 4 rules to work my way through problems regardless of how small or big they are. These 4 rules are as follows:
- Personality Trait: Understanding my natural preference for absorbing and analyzing available information.
- Stoicism: Focusing on what I can immediately control.
- Emotional Intelligence: Awareness of my emotional state, skill-levels and motivation to deal with the problem.
- Vulnerability: Humility to know when I need to ask for help.
Problems are not stops, they are guidelines — Robert H. Shuller
Personality typing is a psychological system of categorizing people according to their tendencies to think and act in particular ways. Personality typing attempts to find the broadest, most important ways in which people are different, and make sense of these differences by sorting people into meaningful groups. The most popular and well-known system of personality typing is the Myers Briggs Type Indicator or MBTI.
The MBTI system describes a person’s personality through 4 opposing personality functions, preferences in the use of these functions act as useful reference points to explain how and why you are the way you are. You can take a free 5 mins test here.
This model tests your natural preference for the following dimension:
- Extroversion(E) or Introversion (I): How do you gain energy? Extroverts gain energy from people and their environments, introverts gain energy from alone-time and need regular periods of quiet reflection.
- Sensing (S) or Intuition (N): How do you collect information? Sensors gather facts from their immediate environment and rely on things they can see, feel, hear and touch. Intuitives look more at the overall context and think about subtle patterns, meanings and connections in their environment.
- Thinking (T) and Feeling (F): How do you make decisions? Thinkers look for logically correct solutions, whereas feelers make decisions based on their emotions, values and how their action impacts others.
- Judging (J) and Perceiving (P): How do you organize your thoughts? Judgers prefer structure and like things to be clearly regulated, whereas perceivers like things to be open and flexible and are reluctant to commit themselves.
While all of these domains are sliding scales with varying degrees of preference to each of them, having an understanding of your personality type and your natural preference will help you better understand how you subconsciously interpret, process and act on available information.
For example, if you observe your car making a thumping noise, and you have a preference for Sensing (S) as a way of collecting information, your natural preference will be to rely on what you can smell, see or touch to try and diagnose the problem.
An intuitive might prefer a holistic approach to diagnose the problem which might involve taking a step back to look at the bigger picture. They might try to connect different information they have gathered over the years about their vehicle from previous problems to diagnose the problem.
There is no wrong way to approach problem-solving, the issue arises when you don’t understand your preferred way of taking in and analyzing information and the potential blind spots these preferences can create as you make decisions.
Understanding the inner mechanics of your subconscious will help you to be better calibrated to adjust your approach as needed while working through problems.
Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced — James Baldwin
Often, it is very easy to feel overwhelmed when faced with a problem, particularly big ones. Worrying about them is often useless and unproductive, however, focusing your attention on what is under your control can help you to assume responsibility and take your first step to solve the problem.
Focusing on what you can control will help you to stay levelheaded and centred regardless of external events. There are few things you usually can have full control over, they include your thoughts, beliefs, perceptions, actions and reactions. This is stoicism.
A stoic is someone who transforms fear into prudence, pain into transformation, mistakes into initiation, and desire into undertaking — Nassim Taleb
Stoicism is an ancient Greek philosophy founded in Athens around 300BC by a man called Zeno of Citium. Zeno was a former merchant who lost everything he had in a shipwreck before becoming a student of philosophy. You don’t have to be bankrupt to adopt this philosophy, you can choose to focus your attention on what is in your control when you deal with life problems.
How can you apply stoicism?
- Choose to take responsibility whenever you can. Rather than just blaming the world or other people for your situation, you can choose to accept that at the end of the day, you are ultimately responsible for your own success and happiness, no one else!
- Draw a line between what you do and do not have control over. You can get easily sucked into the exhausting cycle of helplessness, powerlessness and bitterness if you don’t draw a line and acknowledge what you have control over. It is helpful to brainstorm and write down everything you have control over around the problem you are solving. For example, when I suddenly lost 2 key employees in my business, I still had control over how many job advertisements I could post to attract new candidates, I also had the option to hire temporary sub-contractors if I couldn’t find ideal replacements.
- Start acting on what you can control. The famous Chinese proverb says “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”, start acting on the items on your list to begin solving the problem. You can control your attitude towards the problem, your willingness to put in the work, hustle and do your very best.
Sometimes problems don’t require a solution to solve them; Instead, they require maturity to outgrow them — Steve Maraboli
Renowned psychologist and researcher Daniel Goleman defines emotional intelligence as the ability to identify and manage one’s emotions as well as the emotions of others.
Skills in emotional intelligence are critical to successfully solve problems; they help you to remain highly conscious of your emotional states whether positive — joy, love, gratitude or negative — frustration, sadness or resentment and helps you to build key relationships and collaborations that are usually needed to find solutions and help.
How can you apply emotional intelligence?
- Emotional awareness: Awareness helps you recognize and label your emotions and feelings while they are happening. This awareness will help you to consistently align your response and actions with your long-term goals.
- Emotional management: Emotional management is helpful to control your feelings and how you express them. When we are frustrated, it is only natural to sometimes want to lash out or act impulsively. Emotional management helps you to stay calm and levelheaded during these tense and trying moments. This can often be the difference in escalating or de-escalating a tough situation.
- Empathy: Empathy helps you to notice and correctly interpret the needs and value you can add to others. Sometimes, solutions are found when you take an active interest in the concerns of others around you and when you are not just primarily motivated by your own self-interest.
- Self-motivation: Self-motivation helps you to continue to keep your actions aligned with your goals regardless of distractions or feelings as though nothing has changed. Self-motivation helps you to delay gratification and keep putting in the work even if you can’t see immediately see the light at the end of the tunnel.
A positive attitude may not solve your problems, but it will annoy people to make it worth the effort — Anonymous
In your quest to find solutions, you have to show humility, drop your ego and be willing to be uncomfortable. Adopting this approach when solving problems helps you easily change course, ask for help or reach out to others in your network. This is vulnerability.
While you are working on strategies based on your list of what you can control, start making another list of people in your network who could help with your problem. Make a list of 10-15 people in your network you can ask for help or recommendations to someone in their network who could help.
Oftentimes, solutions to problems are found when you take a chance, put yourself out there and risk rejection. Rejection is OK because, in the end, it’s all a numbers game, if you talk to enough people, there is a higher chance of finding someone who can help you with your problem.
In Daring Greatly by Brene Brown, she shares her research on how the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love and lead. She explains that “when we shut ourselves off from vulnerability, we distance ourselves from the experiences that bring purpose and meaning to our lives”.
When we step back and examine our lives, we will find that nothing is as uncomfortable or hurtful as standing on the outside looking in and wondering what it would be like if we only had the courage to put ourselves out there and take a chance.
Hi, I’m David and I am on a mission to support professionals in their careers and entrepreneurship pursuits. I coach professionals and entrepreneurs to improve performance in areas of self-leadership, emotional intelligence and soft-skills. You can learn more about me at davidowasi.com.
I am a business owner, consultant and creative entrepreneur. I bring a lot of energy, passion and optimism to any project I am involved in. I drive to maximize my talents and potentials alongside those I work with. I bring a wealth of business ownership and coaching experience.