You will face big and small problems everyday at every stage of your career. However, problems are simply opportunities to make a choice. How successful your choice will be is highly dependent on your problem solving skills.
The Four Stages of Problem Solving
You do not need to be highly intelligent to be a good problem solver. Developing these capabilities requires practice and discipline. A starting point would be to understand the four main stages of solving a problem.
The first stage is to accurately define the issue you are facing. Use logic rather than emotion to analyse each aspect to form a detailed image of what is wrong. Do not define the problem in terms of general statements. Be as specific as possible. For example, do not say 'my team mate is too lazy'; instead, say "my team mate has not submitted his research on time for our group project". This will help you come up with a very specific problem statement.
The second stage involves brainstorming alternatives. You need to be persistent to discover all possible solutions to the problem using your creativity and logical analysis. Analyse the time & other resources needed to implement each possible strategy along with its potential return. As you explore potential solutions to the issue, you must demonstrate persistence. Finding the right approach to the issue won't come easily. Innovative thinking will serve you well.
The third stage is where you choose the best strategy to solve your problem. Each of the alternatives will have its own pros and cons. It is important not to get stuck by constantly evaluating these choices. It may be difficult to identify a choice which has absolutely no disadvantages. You need to pick the one which has the strongest pros and weakest cons among the list for you. It is essential to make a strong decision to select this choice and not keep going back to second guess yourself.
The final stage is where you implement the solution. This may require strong leadership from you to get your colleagues to agree to your solution and to get their help in implementing this, if needed. Both communication and negotiation are important at this point to minimize push back from them. Once you've implemented your solution, you'll need to utilize critical thinking and attention to detail as you assess the results and tweak your strategy as needed to make sure the problem is successfully resolved.
"Developing strong problem solving skills will be critical to your long term career success"
How to develop your problem solving skills?
There are a range of activities you can do to hone this skill. Some are listed below:
1. Learn brainstorming techniques like mind mapping, six thinking hats, and SWOT analysis.
2. Look at everyday issues with a 'what if' mentality, where you question the existing solution and speculate on what would happen if a different solution was implemented
3. Keep a diary where you write down all your ideas, no matter how small or out-of-the-box
4. Play games like chess, Sudoku or other logic puzzles
5. Keep reading non-fiction books to discover new ideas
6. Spend time with people you can learn from and understand their perspectives on how they see the world.
Why Employers Look For Problem Solving Skills?
When interviewing potential candidates for a job, employers prefer to hire those with good problem solving skills as these indicate the candidate has a range of other desirable competencies like logic, creativity, resilience, imagination, lateral thinking and determination. Those with good problem-solving skills are a valuable and trusted asset in any team. These are the people who think of new ideas, better ways of doing things, make it easier for people to understand things or help save customers - time and money.
Hence, if you want to get a good job it is important to show that you have the required problem solving skills. One way to do this is by putting PAR (Problem-Action-Result) statements in the experience section of your resume. These statements outline a specific issue you faced in a previous role, the action you took and the result you achieved in a single sentence. An example could be "Raised Rs.10,00,000 for college festival by showing sponsors the exposure that previous year's sponsors had received through real data". The more of these PAR statements you can put in your resume, the better you'll be able to show your capabilities as a consummate problem solver.
Developing strong problem solving skills will be critical to your long term career success. The best way to start is by honing these skills every day through the points mentioned above and by documenting your success in solving regular issues in your diary, so that you have strong evidence to show potential employers.
By Akhil Shahani, MD, The Shahani Group
A passionate edupreneur, Akhil boasts of having two decades of Education industry experience during which he has worked with companies such as SAGE Foundation, Kaizen Management Advisors, Global Discovery Schools, and ask. Careers, to name a few.