“The Greatest Problem Solving Tool”
“9 Steps for Solving Any Problem”
2 Amazing Ways to Solve Your Problems
By Robert C. Worstell – edited from notes on the talks of
I – Nine Steps for Solving Any Problem
For any problem, no matter how big or complex it may be, there is a solution. Use these nine steps to find it!
What are the similarities in problem solving, decision making, and goal achievement?
Actually, they’re alike in many ways. A decision that must be made is little more than a problem awaiting a solution. We might even call it a simple problem. When we’re faced with a decision, we rarely have to choose between more than two or three alternatives, whereas, in solving a problem, we sometimes face what seems to be an endless list of possibilities.
And, what about goal achievement? Isn’t a goal a point we wish to reach? The problem is to move from where we are now, to where we want to be. So, problem solving, decision making, and goal achievement are all closely related functions of creative thinking. It’s important that we keep this in mind.
The first step in solving any problem is to define it. You should always be sure you understand a problem before you go to work on its solution.
Next, you should write down everything you know about the problem. This information might come from your own experience, from books that contain background and statistical data, the Internet, or from friends and business associates who know something about the area in which the problem lies.
Third, decide whom to see. List the names of people and organizations that are recognized authorities on the problem. This is your opportunity to go “all out” for the facts. After determining who can help you, contact them, talk with them, and pick their brains for all the information they possess that can help you solve the problem.
After doing this, be sure to make a note of each thing that’s germane to the problem. Don’t risk forgetting anything that could help you find the solution.
The fifth step in solving a problem creatively is called “Individual Ideation.” This is personal “brainstorming,” or thinking with the brakes of judgment off! Don’t try to decide whether an idea is good or bad -just write it down the moment it comes to you. You can pick and choose – what you’re after is a lot of ideas.
Remember the four rules for brainstorming: (1) No negative thinking; (2) The wilder the ideas, the better; (3) A large number of ideas is essential; and (4) Combination and improvement of ideas is what you’re after.
One idea often leads to another, better idea. Don’t worry if some of your ideas seem far-fetched or impractical. You’re looking for all the ideas you can possibly find.
Don’t reject any – write them all down!
Then Group Brainstorm. This is your opportunity to put the minds of others to work on the problem. Handle this session the same way you did your “Individual Ideation.” No negative thinking, no criticism at this stage; the wilder the ideas the better; get as many ideas as possible; and, try for idea combination and improvement. Write down all the ideas the group comes up with.
When you have all your ideas written down, rate them for effectiveness and facility. The effectiveness scale ranges from “very effective” to “probably effective” to “doubtful.” And the facility scale ranges from “easy” to “not so easy” to “difficult.” The rating of ideas will clearly indicate the likely success of any possible solution. Of course, it’s best to consider first the idea or ideas that are rated both “very effective” and “easy.”
Suppose you’re a manufacturer. And suppose your sales and marketing team brainstorming comes up with some ideas to increase sales. Let’s say one of the ideas is to revamp completely one of the products that your company is offering to the public. Let’s rate this idea in terms of effectiveness. You know the present product meets a need and is acceptable to the buying public. What about an entirely changed product? Without a lot of marketing tests and then a period of actual manufacturing for sale, it would be hard to say just how effective this idea would be in increasing sales. Better rate it “doubtful”
And how does this idea of completely revamping one of the products check out in the facility area -“easy,” “not so easy,” or “difficult”? It would be “difficult,” wouldn’t it? It would require new engineering, new tools, new manufacturing plans, new packaging, and new marketing methods.
Suppose, however, that one of the salesperson’s ideas is to run TV advertisements for the company’s product on one of the major television networks. This would be “probably effective” and would be “not so easy,” but it could be done.
Let’s say another idea is to set up a new sales incentive program, a program directed to those people who are at the front of the problem, the salespeople. If it were a well-designed and – implemented incentive program with predictable compensation for increased performance, it would stand a good chance of being “very effective.” It would be relatively “easy” to do. It should increase the company’s sales.
There are many other evaluation yardsticks you might use. Two more are time and money. Try rating your ideas against these measurements. For example, in the case of a manufacturer who wants to increase its sales, certainly to change the product would take a great deal of time and money. And to advertise it on a popular network television program would cost a great deal. On the other hand, to introduce a new sales incentive program might be neither too costly nor too time consuming.
Remember, when you evaluate your ideas, measure them against these four yardsticks: effectiveness, facility, time, and cost. Every idea you have may not be worth creative action, and that’s why you must skillfully evaluate each of them.
But once you’ve carefully judged your ideas, take action.
Enter your ideas into an “Action Plan”: decide who should do it, when it should be done, when to start, and how to do it. These are all important considerations because the execution of the solution is just as important as the solution itself.
Be certain to give yourself a deadline for putting your plan into action. We work hardest and most efficiently when we know there is a definite time element involved. So, make a note of the date when you must put your solution to work. It’s good to remember that timing is often critical when a new idea is introduced. Carefully calculate the deadline in the light of the general situation. You might write down a second date -the one by which you intend to have the action completed and the problem solved.
Remember what was said earlier about problem solving, decision making, and goal achievement? They have a great deal in common. They can all be attacked in much the same way.
For any problem … no matter how big or complex it may be … there is a solution. All you have to do is find it! History is filled with people who believed a problem did not have a solution and they did not find it, and people who believed there was a solution and they did find it – same problem, different perspective, one successful and one not. Which type of person will you be?
Remember these steps for brainstorming your ideas:
1. Define the problem.
2. Write down everything you know about the problem.
3. Decide what people and resources to bring into the solution.
4. Make a note of everything that is germane to the problem.
5. Conduct a personal brainstorming Individual Ideation.
6. Utilize Group Brainstorming and rate your ideas for effectiveness, facility, time, and cost.
7. Evaluate your ideas for the best options.
8. Create an “Action Plan.”
9. Give yourself a deadline for putting your plan into action.
II – The Great Problem-Solving Tool
Successful people are not without problems. They’re simply people who’ve learned to solve their problems.
All creatures on earth are supplied at birth with everything they need for successful survival. All creatures except one are supplied with a set of instincts that will do the job for them. And because of that, most creatures don’t need much of a brain. In the Pulitzer Prize – winning playwright Archibald MacLeish’s play The Secret of Freedom, a character says, “The only thing about a man that is man is his mind. Everything else you can find in a pig or a horse.” That’s uncomfortably true.
Take the magnificent bald eagle for example. To see one of them swooping down and pluck a live and sizable fish from the water on a single pass is astonishing. More astonishing still is the eagle’s eyesight. And because of its need to see small rodents moving in the grass from high altitudes or a fish just inches under the surface of the water, its incredible eyes take up just about all the space in its head. For the eagle, its eyes are the most important thing, and everything else works in unison with them. Its brain is tiny and rudimentary. It doesn’t think or plan or remember; it simply acts in accordance with stimuli.
And it’s the same with most other living creatures. Even the beautiful porpoise, with a much larger brain, and the chimpanzee are easily tamed and taught. Only one takes 20 years to mature and has dominion over all the rest on the earth itself, and has today the power to destroy all life on earth in a couple of hours. Only one is given the godlike power to fashion its own life according to the images it holds in its remarkable mind.
The human mind is the one thing that separates us from the rest of the creatures on earth. Everything that means anything to us comes to us through our minds, our love of our families, our beliefs, all of our talents, knowledge, abilities. Everything is reflected through our minds. Anything that comes to us in the future will almost certainly come to us as a result of the extent to which we use our minds.
And yet, it’s the last place on earth the average person will turn to for help. You know why? You know why people don’t automatically turn their own vast mental resources on when faced with a problem? It’s because they never learned how to think. Most people will go to any length to avoid thinking when they’re faced with a problem. They will ask advice from the most illogical people, usually people who don’t know any more than they do: next-door neighbors, members of their families, and friends stuck in the same mental traps that they are. Very few of them use the muscles of their mind to solve their problems.
Yet living successfully, getting the things we want from life, is a matter of solving the problems that stand between where we are now and the point we wish to reach. No one is without problems. They’re part of living. But let me show you how much time we waste in worrying about the wrong problems. Here’s a reliable estimate of the things people worry about: Things that never happen: 40%. Things over and past that can never be changed by all the worry in the world: 30%. Needless worries about our health: 12%. Petty miscellaneous worries: 10%. Real legitimate worries: 8%.
In short, 92% of the average person’s worries take up valuable time, cause painful stress, even mental anguish, and are absolutely unnecessary. And of the real legitimate worries, there are two kinds. There are the problems we can solve, and there are the problems beyond our ability to personally solve. But most of our real problems usually fall into the first group, the ones we can solve, if we’ll learn how.
The average working person has at his or her disposal an enormous amount of free time. In fact, you’ll see if you’ll total the hours in a year and subtract the sleeping hours: If we sleep 8 hours every night, we have about 6,000 waking hours, of which less than 2,000 are spent on the job. Now this leaves 4,000 hours a year when a person is neither working nor sleeping. These can be called discretionary hours with which that person can do pretty much as he or she pleases.
So that you can see the amazing results in your own life, I want to recommend that you take just one hour a day, five days a week, and devote this hour to exercising your mind. You don’t even have to do it on weekends. Pick one hour a day on which you can fairly regularly count. The best time for me is an hour before the others are up in the morning. The mind’s clear, the house is quiet, and, if you like, with a fresh cup of coffee, this is the time to start the mind going.
During this hour every day take a completely blank sheet of paper. At the top of the page write your present primary goal clearly, simply. Then, since our future depends on the way in which we handle our work, write down as many ideas as you can for improving that which you now do. Try to think of 20 possible ways in which the activity that fills your day can be improved. You won’t always get 20, but even one idea is good.
Now remember two important points with regard to this. One, this is not particularly easy, and, two, most of your ideas won’t be any good. When I say it’s not easy, I mean it’s like starting any new habit. At first you’ll find your mind a little reluctant to be hauled up out of that old familiar bed. But as you think about your work and ways in which it might be improved, write down every idea that pops into your head, no matter how absurd it might seem.
The most important thing that this extra hour accomplishes is that it deeply embeds your goal into your subconscious mind, starts the whole vital machine reworking the first thing every morning. And 20 ideas a day, if you can come up with that many, total 100 a week, even skipping weekends.
An hour a day, five days a week, totals 260 hours a year and still leaves you 3,740 hours of free leisure time. Now this means you’ll be thinking about your goal and ways of improving your performance, increasing your service six full extra working weeks a year, 61/2 40-hour weeks devoted to thinking and planning. Can you see how easy it is to rise above that so-called competition? And it’ll still leave you with seven hours a day to spend as you please.
Starting each day thinking, you’ll find that your mind will continue to work all day long. And you’ll find that at odd moments, when you least expect it, really great ideas will begin to bubble up from your subconscious. When they do, write them down as soon as you can. Just one great idea can completely revolutionize your work and, as a result, your life.
Each time you write your goal at the top of the sheet of paper, don’t worry or become concerned about it. Think of it as only waiting to be reached, a problem only waiting to be solved. Face it with faith and bend all the great powers of your mind toward solving it. And believe me, solve it you will.
This puts each of us in the driver’s seat.