Problem Solving Skill
Finding the right problems to solve
Finding the right problems to solve
Á problem solving skill is perhaps normally seen as a reactive tool. That’s to say, it’s applied to existing problems, once these have been identified.
However, problem solving can also be done pro-actively. The application of key questions to existing situations, even in the absence of obvious problems, can still yield benefits. Asking why and why not, is perhaps one key to innovation and improvement.
Consider this little known but momentous exchange:
“Why,” she asked, “do I have to wait a week to see my pictures?” After all, a week can be a long time for a young child. Edwin could have responded like countless parents faced with this most ubiquitous of childhood questions.
“Because that’s just the way it is.” Instead, Edwin Land chose to say “why not?” His daughter’s simple question sparked a challenge that had never occurred to him. “How might I make a camera that creates instantaneous pictures?”
Within about an hour, he had formulated several solutions. Within approximately four years, Edwin Land had commercialized a product. The Polaroid Land camera was the world’s first camera capable of taking photographs which developed within minutes.
This is part of our series of management tips based on a comprehensive Seven Step Problem Solving Process. We argue that finding the right problems, and defining problems as opportunities, are two crucial steps missing from many problem solving processes. How do you see problems as opportunities? That’s the subject of our article: The Power of Positive Thinking: 5 questions to transform problem solving. But the first step, and the crucial problem solving skill, is to find the right problems to solve!
So finding the right problems to solve is an invaluable problem solving skill and comes first in our seven step problem solving process. This can be done by firstly asking questions about the current situation. Follow this with questions about the likely future. The result: pro-active problem solving, which may just open the door to creativity and innovation.
Frustration and unrest with the current situation is often a good place to start. Use the first table below to evaluate current issues and to brainstorm any possibilities which could arise from those. The second table contains questions which might help you to identify future possibilities. Remember, the key to this problem solving skill is to ask: why not? Just as this same question is routinely asked by innovative experts such as Toyota:
These questions are adapted from Min Basadur’s: “The Power of Innovation“. There you’ll also find the Edwin Land story, in an excellent book, full of advice, tips, techniques and a clear process for making innovation work. In particular, Basadur recommended a three stage problem solving process:
You could either work through the questions on your own or discuss them with your colleagues. If you decide to use this activity with your team, here is a possible process:
Summarise the ideas and possibilities generated. Decide on follow-up actions or meetings, so that everybody leaves knowing what will happen next. Arrange a follow up meeting, a creative session for idea generation. Or maybe ask for volunteers to further investigate ideas you’ve already captured and produce a feasibility report.
Remember, it’s not enough to just ask “why not”. This only becomes a problem solving skill when the next step is action!
Once you’ve read this article, put our problem solving technique to good use with our great-value e-guide: What’s the Problem?! A comprehensive guide to problem solving, complete with these 9 essential tools:
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