As a business owner, much of my day is spent solving problems and organizing chaos. I could even call myself a firefighter for the amount of time I spend “putting out fires.” None of this should be shocking to other business owners – running a business is challenging and each day seems to bring new issues to light.
But even for those who aren’t running their own businesses, learning how to efficiently and effectively solve problems can make you a more valuable employee and a healthier and happier person. Whenever I am faced with a problem, I rely on these five tricks to navigate my way to peaceful resolution:
Tip #1: Be clear about what the problem is.
When something “bad” happens, it is easy to lose sight of what the problem is. Amid anger, frustration and anxiety often comes blurred vision which makes it hard to hold a firm grasp on the situation. Any time I am faced with a problem, the first question I ask myself is “what is the actual problem?”
For example, my company One For Women recently rolled out a new gift set, which was supposed to launch on a certain date in time for an upcoming holiday. When we approached that date and the products hadn’t arrived from the maker for the gift sets yet, we had a problem. But instead of losing myself in panic, I calmly assessed the situation to determine what the actual issue is. I concluded that if we did not receive the products by a certain date, we would not have time to have them photographed and put up on our website to sell them (and ship them) before the holiday.
Notice how no part of that problem focused on the ultimate consequences – that we would miss out on revenues and possibly lose money if we couldn’t sell the gift sets. Is that a result of the problem? Yes, absolutely, but it’s not the problem itself. The problem itself is that the delay of the products means we can’t take the necessary steps needed to sell and deliver the products on time.
So when you’re faced with an issue, focus on the problem itself and not the potential consequences. Focusing on the consequences can make the problem feel overwhelming and cloud your ability to see a reasonable solution.
Tip #2: Be clear about what the solution looks like.
Sometimes when faced with a problem it can be confusing finding a solution because you start trying to fix other problems. For example, if you want to get in shape but don’t have a lot of time, the problem is that you don’t have a lot of time to work out. The problem isn’t that you don’t feel pretty, don’t have nice workout clothes, don’t have the right equipment, will never be determined enough, strong enough, or fit enough to workout consistently. But it’s easy to let our minds race away on us when we’re faced with a problem that feels tough to solve.
So instead, focus on what the solution to the problem looks like. In the example above, it’s finding a schedule that works to ensure you can work out with the time you have. In my situation with our gift sets, it was figuring out a way to sell and ship the gift sets in time OR repurposing them so we didn’t lose sales.
Tip #3: Break the problem down into smaller problems.
Once you’ve identified the problem and what the solution looks like, break the problem down into smaller pieces so they are easier to work with. For example, if you’ve been laid off from your job (problem: got laid off, solution: get new job), instead of trying to go from got laid off to get new job (which can feel overwhelming), break it down:
Evaluate career path
Determine current skillsets + gaps
Apply to jobs
Evaluate job options
Once you’ve broken down the problem into concrete, manageable steps, each one becomes a lot easier to swallow. Now, instead of feeling overwhelmed, you can tackle each one on its own and by focusing on just one at a time, it’s a lot easier to say – what specific and tangible steps do I need to take to solve this problem?
Tip #4: Crowdsource your support.
It’s not a bad thing to seek outside support when trying to solve a problem. One of my strongest skills is my ability to know who to go to when I’m trying to solve a problem. I don’t claim to know all the answers – and most of the time, I definitely don’t! – but I do know how to evaluate what information is needed and how to find the right person to provide that information.
Don’t be afraid to seek outside help, but be mindful of who you are approaching and what value they can provide. As I’ve gotten older I’ve learned who is good for what – I have certain friends who are very strategic, others that are very creative, others that are good for humor and entertainment. They vary in industries, career paths, job titles, and their personal lives are equally as diverse. Whenever I have a problem, I think strategically about who is the best person to approach so that I’m not wasting my time asking someone who may be supportive but may not necessarily have anything to add to the problem at hand.
Tip #5: Think outside the box.
The key trait of a good problem solver is the ability to think outside the box. Even if you don’t think of yourself as a creative thinker, you can learn how to approach problems in a new, innovative way. I can’t explain to you how to think outside the box – it’s a mindset that you have to acquire. The good news? Acquiring this mindset isn’t that hard and you can do it in some really fun ways:
Read about something different. If you were a math major, read an art book. If you are a photographer, read a book on marketing. Going outside of your own background gives you insight into the way other industries work.
Take a class. Constantly expand your mind; learning a new topic gives you a new skillset and encourages you to look at things in a different way.
Observe. Spend some time watching something – a person, a car, a landscape, and think about what you see. By being able to see the intricate details of something, you will be able to see problems less as a whole and instead as many individual pieces that can be taken apart and put back together in new ways.
Whether you’re considering starting a company, already running your own, or just want to be better at handling issues that come your way, improving your problem solving skills is a must. I’ve found that through becoming a better problem solver I am more equipped to handle what life throws at me, I’m less stressed each day, and I feel more accomplished because I can tackle big and complex problems.