Your ability to solve problems and make decisions will make or break you as a manager or employee. In problem-solving, it is important to use the approach appropriate to the problem. Here are four basic approaches.
1. Instinct: This approach involves acting without consciously thinking things through.
2. Traditional: With this approach, you rely solely on your past decisions to guide your future actions.
3. Common Sense and Logic: When you use this approach you find reasons to support your decision.
4. Standard: With this approach you follow planned routines to arrive at decisions.
The key to solving problems
Each of these four approaches has its advantages and disadvantages. The key to solving problems effectively is learning how and when to use each approach. For instance, if a customer is choking in a restaurant, the "instinct" approach would be appropriate. On the other hand, if you are facing a million-dollar company decision, instinct would hardly appear to be your best choice.
Remember that no one approach is appropriate to all problems and/or situations. For example, using logic without common sense can lead to poor, though seemingly "reasonable," decisions. You also need to be aware of personal and unconscious factors that can insidiously influence your decisions.
Choosing the right approach
Here are some tips to help determine which approach would be best for a given situation.
Start by writing the problem down. This can clarify your approach choice.
Try to generate a number of alternative solutions, whether practical or not. This process may trigger some powerful insights, which will make you look at things in a different light.
Be willing to question your original assumptions about problems. This can dramatically improve your effectiveness in solving them.
As you consider the consequences of each approach, eliminate the impractical or less useful approaches.
Techniques if you've got time
If the decision-making situation allows you the luxury of time, the following techniques may prove useful.
Brainstorming: Bounce ideas back and forth freely with others. Two or more heads are indeed better than one, and allow for many more potential solutions than independent thinking.
Sleep on it: You may be pleasantly surprised how things look the next day. Besides, you may engage your subconscious in helping you with your problem-solving.
Wait: Thomas Edison was known to have done some of his best problem-solving by simply waiting for the solution "to come to him."
If you don't have time…
When a decision must be made right away, as many are, "sleeping on it" just doesn't work. You must analyze your alternatives and then decide without agonizing. You will need to trust your "gut" instincts. Remember, your intuition is not just some mystic sixth sense. It also draws on your work experience and education, so don't be afraid to use it. Many times intuition or instinct yields an effective and otherwise inaccessible solution.
Adapt and learn
You must remember to be adaptable. Be willing to adopt unanticipated solutions if they fit the situation. If your zipper broke, wouldn't you be willing to use a paper clip on your pants if it meant keeping them up? Don't be rigid.And don't be afraid to make decisions. If you end up making a poor decision, you can analyze the failure. Mistakes can be a powerful learning experience. Perfecting your ability to react with the right approach to problem-solving will make you stand out as an effective, successful employee or manager.
Jan Kantor is a Southwest Florida business consultant and executive coach. For more information, or to contact him regarding workplace solutions, his website is www.jankantor.com.