Having great problem solving tools has been my secret ingredient to overcoming some of the biggest struggles I’ve faced in life. It’s that skill that you may not even realize that you need until someone spells it out for you in explicit detail.
The truth is, most people aren’t very good at it and it causes them to struggle longer and harder than they otherwise would. But once you realize that it’s a skill you need to develop, you can learn strategies use problem solving tools that work.
Being a creative problem solver has been the biggest skill that’s helped me to overcome the challenges that ADHD brings (and other things, as well). It’s been invaluable to me and I know it will be to you, to so, if you want to learn, you’re in the right place.
Why You Want Better Problem Solving Tools (Even if You Don’t Realize it Yet)
“Problem solving” sounds like a boring term, doesn’t it? It’s certainly not the thing most of us will stay up half the night researching like I did with the Dyatlov’s Pass Mystery. But while the term itself is boring, the opportunities and value that opens up to you if you are good at this skill makes it infinitely more exciting.
Being a creative problem solver can help you get out of difficult situations. It can help you avoid negative consequences, make you better at your job, and create better opportunities for you.
As a kid with ADHD, I lost my homework most days. Yet, I rarely ever got a consequence for it. Why? Creative problem solving. I found “work arounds” that let me get access to the lost work, get it done and turned in on time. Being able to get myself out of tight spots and avoid consequences for my lack of organization and forgetfulness is probably one of the reasons that I didn’t get diagnosed with ADHD until I was 28. (I guess that shows how well these problem solving tools work!)
Your Life as a Problem Solver…
If you could identify creative solutions to those problems that you think are hopeless, how would your life be different? If you could take your biggest struggles–whatever they may be–and find an option that gets your through them, what would that be worth to you?
THAT is why you want to learn to be GREAT at problem solving (and why I’m the one to teach you 😉).
What Gets in the Way of Finding Creative Solutions that Work?
There are many reasons why people aren’t very good at problem solving. Most of us can identify with at least a few of these obstacles. See which ones apply to you:
The first three points mentioned involve difficulties with our emotions and self esteem; they point to a low frustration tolerance. When it starts to get hard, these problems kick in and attempt to get you to avoid the rest of the process for fear of failure.
Related: Have You heard this hack for overcoming your fear of failure?
The rest of them point to a combination of rushing to the solution and limiting your consideration for the details. Most people don’t spend enough time understanding the problem before jumping to finding solutions and it will screw you over.
Most of these point to a fixed mindset. One that sees obstacles as immovable facts that automatically spell dead end. The fixed mindset is one that often experiences low tolerance for frustration and fear of taking on challenges. It often leads to stagnation. This fixed mindset really gets in the way of problem solving.
Being a great problem solver is connected to having a growth mindset. A growth mindset is characterized by flexible thinking, willingness to put yourself out there, greater success, and contentment. I might even argue that a person with a growth mindset is one most likely to be a good problem solver. The two are highly connected.
Here are some of the Do’s and Don’ts in the world of problem solving tools:
Why You Need to Spend More Time Understanding the Problem In Order to Solve It
Outlining the problem is the most time intensive step for expert problem solvers. The more details you have about the problem the more pieces of the puzzle you have to move around. That leads to better solutions and opportunities for you.
To be good at problem solving and to find an effective way to overcome the particular struggle that you’re having, you need to spend quality time understanding the details of the problem. As Einstein said,
“If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.”
Step by Step: Creative Problem Solving Tools that Bring Results
I recommend that you do this on paper or with some other visual means, especially if you have ADHD like me, are prone to struggling with low frustration tolerance, or feeling particularly stressed out. But even if you don’t have any of those challenges, it’s helpful for most people to do this visually.
Mind Mapping can be a fun, and helpful, way to get it done, but do it any way that works for you!
Identifying the Right Problem
This starts with identifying the right problem to solve. If you lose your job, identifying the problem as “I lost my job” doesn’t really give you anything to solve. It’s a fact (one that sucks, don’t get me wrong) and fighting it might not lead to anything productive.
But if you ask, what’s the problem with losing my job? (I know, it sounds obvious, but bear with me). Most people will answer, “If I don’t have money, I can’t pay my bills.” And now we have the real problem.
Short Term Fix vs. Long Term Problem Solve
In our every day lives, problem solving is often motivated by avoiding a consequence. The year I lost nearly every tax document I needed to file my taxes, this was definitely the case for me. It’s natural for us to look for ways to avoid consequences. The problem is that we often stop once we’ve figured that part out.
The long term fix involves a greater degree of outlining the problem because in order to truly solve the issue in a sustainable way, you have to make sure you really, fully understand every side of the issue–otherwise your “fix” will be only partially effective. After I found a way to avoid the consequences for losing the tax documents, I had to consider the long term fix so that it didn’t happen the next year (because otherwise it definitely would have).
Outline the Problem
For a long term fix, be prepared for this step to be the one that takes up the most time. That’s how it should be. Gathering the details is where you are most likely to find the wiggle room you need in order to identify a solution.
Outlining the problem has a lot to do with asking yourself the right questions. Here are a few questions that you may need to ask yourself, depending on the problem:
Ask as many why questions as you can. They help you get to the finer details of how things work together. That is the basis of “causal knowledge” and it is crucial for problem solving.
Short Term Problem Solve: The Missing Tax Documents
When I realized I’d lost my 1099s (a week before taxes were due because I’m a procrastinator), my first thought was to turn the house upside down looking for them. That only led to finding one of the 5 I was missing and I spent HOURS doing it.
At some point I realized that time was of the essence and I revamped my strategy, asking myself these questions:
- Is there a way to quickly replace them? How would I find out if there definitely is or isn’t?
- Do I have time for the traditional routes to request replacements?
- What would it cost me if I filed an extension while I waited for the replacements?
- Is that the only way? What other ways do agencies send important documents like that?
- Who would I talk to? How would I find access to that person?
- I had “falling out” with one of the people I’d need to talk to. Is there a way I can get that document without having to talk to them?
- Who else involved would be able to get me the documents I’m missing?
Using these questions as tools, I was able to have the problem solved (and consequences avoided) within 24 hours. Any questions I didn’t know the answer to, I researched. If I still couldn’t find the answer, I reached out to any contact I had within that agency to find out how I could get access to my 1099. Asking good questions (and giving thoughtful answers) is one of the best problem solving tools available to you.
The Long Term Problem Solve: The Missing 1099s
If i’d just left it at the short term fix, I’d have had the same problem the following year and had the same panic induced freak out a week before taxes were due. Thankfully, I didn’t leave it at that.
To find the long term fix, I spent more time understanding why the problem happens and where the break down occurs:
- What do I usually do with my tax documents when I get them in the mail? Why do I do that? (keep asking why until you get to the deepest possible explanation)
- At what point are they likely lost? What are the reasons that they most likely get lost with this method?
- Why do I keep using this method? What’s stopped me from trying something else?
- What would I really need in order to ensure that I don’t accidentally throw them away (because that’s probably what happened)?
- How could I make sure that I didn’t also forget the “safe place” where I put them? (because that’s another of my ADHD problems)
I’m happy to say, I discovered a longer term solution that has kept me from losing my tax documents in subsequent years. These questions led me to create a mail station in my house with a cork board just above it where I put the most important documents that come in (the ones I absolutely cannot lose). Now, when I’m ready for them, I know exactly where those 1099s are. Perhaps next year I’ll solve the problem of putting off filing my taxes until the last possible second 😉
Eh, Maybe. One thing at a time!
Look for the Places You Can Do More Research
The most important thing that I can really stress to you is to question everything. Even things you think are obvious. Even things that seem to “only have one answer.”
One of the biggest problems people have when it comes to problem solving is not getting detailed enough about the problem–not going deep enough into the whys and hows. The more you know, the more you can do.
We often taken certain answers for granted and we shouldn’t. If I had been asking myself the questions above and jumped to the assumption that there was no other way to get replacement tax documents, I’d have missed an opportunity and wouldn’t have been able to avoid the consequences.
This is one of the things that has helped me solve some really complex problems that have tripped other people up (yes, more complex than the losing my taxes thing). Don’t assume anything. Instead, look for the “I don’t knows” and find the answer.
In this context, “I don’t know” is almost an exciting answer because it means you may be on the brink of an opportunity. (Yes, I realize that sounds nerdy. I’m a nerd. What’s it to you?)
Use Your Resources
When you find those “I don’t know” places and need to do your research, it’s important to know what resources you have at your disposal. I rely most heavily on people and a good google search. Most people have no qualms about using the internet to look for an answer but may be unwilling to ask another human for help.
Not being willing to use your human resources is a major limitation that will set you back. If you have access to someone who knows the answer to an important question, you’re shooting yourself in the foot by not asking.
This is another problem solving tool that I’ve found to vital. I don’t hesitate to ask questions. Not to the extent of getting someone else to do the work for me–you know, social skills and stuff! But sending an email to ask if there’s anyone in the organization who knows if there’s a way I can get a replacement 1099 emailed to me was the most effective solution and it led to a quick fix.
Don’t ask people “what should I do” ask them “do you know if…” questions.
Look at Your Options
When coming up with options, be asking yourself if you can foresee any new challenges with using each of the solutions you’re considering. Will any of them create another problem or a bigger problem? Or lead to the same problem?
Then ask yourself those ‘why questions’ we’ve talked about. Why would that be a problem? Why, why, why…If you haven’t noticed, problem solving is embracing your inner 5 year old with all of the why questions.
Look for the option with the fewest foreseeable problems and try to solve for those problems, too.
Example: The Options for the Missing 1099s Problem
When it came to a long term solution for my tax document predicament, I considered several ideas. I have an accordion file that I thought about using. I thought about putting them in the mail box that I created for myself in my house and I thought about creating a place on my desk for them.
But then I realized that I’d forget to use the file, so it was out. My desk and mail box both end up overrun with paper and I get frustrated and start throwing things away. Being inattentive means that during one of my “great purges” I accidentally throw things away that I had in the “keep” pile. So that was no good.
So when I was asking myself how I could use this information to create a solution that had a lower risk for the “great purge problem” and would be easy to use and unlikely to be forgotten, the cork board idea hit me. I put it in a place where I see it daily so forgetting about it isn’t a problem.
Evaluate Your Choice
Sometimes, the first solution you try doesn’t work out the way you’d hoped. Don’t take that as a failure–it’s just more information for you. I like to look at my efforts here as an experiment rather than a performance,because it helps it not feel so shaming and personal when it doesn’t “go right the first time.”
With that spirit of curiosity, evaluate the solution you’re using to determine if it’s working the way you need it to. If not, what areas need improvement? Where is it causing further problems? You get the drift…
Developing Your Creative Problem Solving Tools Further
Learning better problem solving tools is a major asset to you, personally and professionally. If I could recommend any one skill that could get you where you want to go in life, it would be this one. It helps combat feeling powerless when struggles arise.
This skill can help get you out of some tight spots–I used it to start my own business after I lost my job. Problem Solving can help you get your needs met when it feels like you’re up against a wall.
It’s one of the top skills that businesses want in anyone they hire because a great problem solver can navigate setbacks and turn them into assets. It’s a skill worth investing in.
The best way to learn to problem solve is to be mentored by a great problem solver. It’s that combination of learning by seeing and learning by doing.
I recommend this course from Sorin Dumitrascu on Problem Solving and Decision Making. Sorin is an experienced project manager and business consultant with a number of certifications that make him an expert in his field. Not only does he know his way around prblem solving tools, he also knows how to teach them. He’s worked with thousands of students, and he’s got a great track record for teaching these skills.
About the Course
Sorin shows you a frame work to learn effective problem solve tools that work under pressure. He even gives you tips for managing the stress and emotional aspects that often come with the territory. His course covers
- The Right Attitude You Need for Problem Solving
- Specific Tools and Techniques for Problem Solving
- How to Navigate Human Interactions in the Most Effective Ways to Get Your Needs Met
- Managing Stress in the Process
- The Tools and Techniques You Need to Make the Best Decisions
- …and so much more.
The Reviews are in…
“Sorin, is amazing. He is a real genius!” -V. Macaitis
“Incredible course. I love this course, it’s full of valuable and practical information.” -Joasia S.
“Outstanding Course!” -Kerstin E.
It’s well worth your time to learn these skills. Consider the struggles you’ve faced–what would it be worth to you to be able to navigate your way to a better outcome?
I can’t stress enough the benefit that being a great problem solver has had in my life. The good news is that even if it doesn’t come naturally to you, it’s a skill that you can learn and there are some great people out there who can teach out. It’s a worthy investment in yourself!
Connect with Me!
I hope this introduction into problem solving has been enlightening and inspired you to know more. People worry sometimes that they just aren’t built to be good at such a difficult skill but truthfully, anyone willing to put the time into it and let go of the frustration that comes with being bad at it at first, can become great at problem solving. So take heart: If you really suck at it that’s part of the journey for developing the skill! You’re next step is to push through the frustration of sucking to keep growing your skill.
What struggles have you had in the problem solving process? I’d love to hear from you! Got any questions? Leave them in a comment!
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