In life, and work, we are presented with different problems that we need to solve. Some people seek out puzzle games to exercise this part of their brain. Other times, the puzzles and problems that we’re presented with are a little more difficult than doing a Sudoku. Here are five tips to help you think clearly and find a solution when you’re faced with a difficult problem.
Do you remember back in school how your math book would have the answers to a few questions? I remember working on a problem and checking my answer—it was wrong. I reworked the problem and it was still wrong. I went and asked my teacher for help and it was then I learned that I was looking at the answer.
That doesn’t say a lot about me, but it taught me an important lesson: You can’t get the right answer if you don’t know the problem.
Learning to ask the right questions is an acquired skill. When confronted with a problem you can learn to ask the right questions to discover the most important details. This will help you prioritize the important items and create an action plan based on them.
Sometimes, you have to sacrifice short-term happiness for long-term success. As a leader you’ll be faced with difficult decisions that may be painful right now, but can lead to success down the road.
Steve Jobs was faced with that exact dilemma in 1998 when he returned to Apple. He decided to cut the number of products the company was selling from 350 down to 10. Ten products! He sacrificed short-term profitability for long-term success. Steve’s decision ultimately led to Apple focusing on the good products and turning them into great product, which led to them changing the face of mobile technology.
When looking at the future you need to evaluate the most important features first and make decisions based on that. Look at potential impact, cost, benefit and potential unforeseen consequences.
Prioritizing which items are the most important part of the problem also helps you avoid analysis paralysis; over-analyzing a situation so that no action is ever taken. Studies have shown that the more options there are the less likely people are to make a decision. So, focus on the three to five most important items of the problem and make decisions based on that information.
A Chinese proverb says, “He who asks question remains a fool for five minutes. He who does not ask, remains a fool forever.”
There is a stigma associated with asking questions. If you ask a questions, then you don’t know something and you’re stupid. That thought-process needs to be reversed. We need to praise those that are curious enough to ask questions and who try to learn new things.
Don’t be afraid to ask others for their opinion on your problem. Having a different perspective can help reveal a different outcome that you didn’t think was possible. It can sometimes lead to a resolution to the problem that you hadn’t thought of.
Once you’ve evaluated all of your options it’s time to create a plan. Having a plan makes it easier to follow through with what you need to do. A plan also allows you to measure where you’re at in the process of a decision. Sometimes the problem can be resolved with a simple talk, other times it involves a detailed plan that can take several weeks, months or even years to complete. Having a general understanding of long an issue should take to be resolved will help you move through it without feeling discouraged.
Annabelle Smyth is a freelance writer who covers everything from HR to technology and leadership skills. Her most recent work involves partnership marketing with Bamboo HR where she has had the opportunity to learn about the relationship between leadership and successful businesses.