UPDATE: One of my fellow Carnies, the fabulous Sandi Amorim of Deva Coaching, shared this quote today and it’s so fitting, I had to include it here:
“Always be on the lookout for ways to turn a problem into an opportunity for success. Always be on the lookout for ways to nurture your dream.” – Lao Tzu
In a sense, all of us couch warrior solopreneur types are perennially, constantly engaged in the process of solving problems.
Think about it: Our very livelihood is based on solving problems. We sell solutions to our clients & customers for their problems.
When we’re not solving their problems during work hours, we’re solving various problems of our own. And when work’s over, many of us continue to solve problems – the problems our kids create, or the problems of our relatives and loved ones, our spouses and significant others, life problems, love problems, pet problems …
With all that problem-solving going on, you’d think we humans would have this problem-solving thing down.
And yet, the reality is far different, isn’t it?
Problems have the capacity to knock us on our couch-lovin’ asses. Especially the ones we don’t see coming.
Here’s the thing: problem-solving is a productivity issue.
If we don’t get a handle on the process of figuring out our problems, deciding on a solution, implementing it, and moving the hell ON, our problems problem will quickly morph into a productivity-killing, time-sucking mess that, if allowed to rage unchecked, can kill our businesses.
Productivity Public Enemy #1: Ineffective Problem Solving Systems
There are so many ways we can screw the productivity pooch with problem solving.
We can mope around endlessly without ever getting clear on the problem itself, wallowing in our icky low-level anxieties and fears. (Or so I hear.)
Or we can dive into the warm, welcoming waters of the research pool and swim there for a few dozen days (weeks, months… um, not that I have any personal experience there, either).
Or maybe we just keep playing the spaghetti game with possible solutions – you know, throwing crap at the wall to see what sticks – but not giving any single strand nearly enough time to actually work so we just keep cycling endlessly through possible solutions, that we keep discarding because … well, we’re not sure why, really … Yeah, me neither.
And if you’re really talented at the time-wasting thing, you can manage to work all three (bad, awful, destructive) strategies into the same damn problem.
Yes, that would have been me, during the Cat-5 crap storm. (The specific problem – just one of many – I was attempting to solve: client info/data intake, storage, and retrieval.)
Getting Your Problem-Solving Shit Together
So what’s the solution, then?
Well, if you’ve been paying any attention at all to this space, you’re probably able to guess the next two words that are gonna pop up on this screen …
You need a solid business system in place to deal with business problems.
Here’s a good example – feel free to mold, modify, adapt and adopt as you deem appropriate.
Step 1: Identify the Problem
No, I mean really identify the problem.
Where a lot of us get hung up: we’re not really crystal-clear on what the problem is to begin with.
We might know what the problem’s about, but we aren’t sure about the exact, precise contours and consequences.
So step one is get clear. Be as precise as possible, as clear as you can be on each specific facet of the problem. What is that you need to be different?
Step 2: Brainstorm Solutions Without Editing
Remember the thing about the hats?
And how if you wear the wrong hat during a task, you’re shooting yourself in the foot?
Brainstorming solutions requires creativity and an open frame of mind.
Critiquing and analyzing solutions requires a whole different skillset, a whole ‘nother (critical, in the good sense) frame of mind.
So don’t edit or critique your possible solutions while you’re coming up with them.
Step 3: Identify What You Don’t Know and/or Don’t Have
Before you can adequately solve a problem, you need to know what gaps you’re working with. The gap can be one of knowledge or one of resources, or both. (Usually for me, both.)
What are you lacking? What don’t you know?
Who do you know that can fill those gaps?
Again, don’t edit. Don’t start talking yourself out of listing Joe Black, that guy you used to work with who has a knack for setting up wireless networks, just because you’re not sure he’s forgiven you for eating his turkey and avocado sandwich out of the fridge that one time.
List first. Edit later.
Step 4: Crowdsource the Analysis
Once you have a fairly clear notion of what the problem is, and what the possible solutions are, consider crowdsourcing your next step: analyzing the options.
Please note: I wrote “analyzing” – not “analyzing and choosing among.”
There’s a reason for that, and it goes right back to that same “wearing the correct hat” concept.
Analysis is its own special game, and I’ll share more suggestions on how to do this step in the next section down.
But this is a very good area in which to seek the help of others.
One of the best parts about my little mastermind group is our process of putting one person on the hot seat in each bi-weekly call.
That person selects a problem she’s currently facing, and shares some critical, basic information about the problem with the group – what the problem is, what she’s already tried, what she’s looking for from the group specifically.
And then we go to work on that problem.
We ask questions first – getting information from her to flesh out our understanding of the problem. Then we segue into solving.
Now, these are incredibly smart women, all of them. Individually, each of us would be capable of solving the problem on our own. If we couldn’t do it ourselves, we’d find the right person or business for outsourcing purposes.
But there’s an inherent energy in a crowd – especially when the crowd is made up on members who know each other and each other’s businesses well – that makes us as a group greater and more powerful than the sum of our individual parts and talents and skillsets.
You can tap that same energy yourself. If you haven’t already created a mastermind group (or advisory board or “Council of Jedi Knights” if you prefer), give it some thought now. Or just use your personal Facebook page.
Step 5: Make a Decision
At this point, if you’ve followed each step fully above, a decision is much easier to reach and make.
A few strategies here I’ve employed over the years:
- The five-second gut check. Especially helpful when you’re evaluating two options side-by-side. Close your eyes and try each one on for size, imagining you’ve implemented first one option, then the other. Visualize what that looks like and then – this is the important part – check in with your body. How do you feel? More times than not, the best decision for you is the one that makes you feel energized and pulls you forward slightly in your seat. The less-right one makes you feel a little dead inside.
- Pros and cons, pleasure and pain. A twist on the old two-columns, pros vs. cons approach, this exercise asks you to look specifically at the pleasure you’d get from each approach as well as the pain you’d avoid. Sometimes phrasing it this way makes the decision-making part of problem-solving easier and more intuitive.
- Head-heart-soul-wallet voting. Each part of you – your head (intellect), your heart (emotions), your soul (spirituality and morality) and your wallet (financial interests) – gets one vote each. Tally up the votes.
Solve the Problem, Win Back Your Productivity
By adopting just a few simple strategies and a clear systemized approach to problem solving, you can stop the productivity-busting in its tracks.
How about you? Do you have a system for problem solving that’s different from the one I just outlined? What are your favorite strategies and tactics for making those hard decisions about which solution to implement? Share in the comments!
This post is part of the monthly Word Carnivals, a round-up of small-biz bloggers writing on a common theme. This month’s theme: The Art and Science of Problem Solving. Check out all the Carnie bloggers here!