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Solving Problems

Creating something is all about problem-solving.

Philip Seymour Hoffman

Problem Solving

Problem solving in business is defined as implementing processes that reduce or remove obstacles that are preventing you or others from accomplishing operational and strategic goals.

In business, a problem is a situation that creates a gap between the desired and actual outcomes.  A true problem typically does not have an immediately apparent resolution.  If it did, it would be solved before it became a problem.

Two Sides of the Same Coin

The key to solving problems is found in the two distinct sides of the same coin

Side one: Identifies the problem to be solved.

In the business world, team members collectively identify issues and voice potential obstacles.  Then, they appraise the problem, ask tough questions, and point out possible risks.

An extreme (and unfortunate) version of this side of problem solving is where team members are constantly pointing out why things cannot be done.

Side two: Identify a solution to the problem.  These employees can work past individual biases and egos while looking for a solution to the obstacles presented by those who are skilled at identifying problems.

While it is essential to see the problem for what it is (side one), it is equally important to see solutions (side two).

Unfortunately, skills in seeing problems and seeing solutions are not equally distributed among employees.

As such, business leaders and entrepreneurs need to manage people based on their strengths of seeing problems and solving problems.   As the manager, your job is to create an environment that allows for both creativity and analytical thinking to come up with solutions informed by reality.

How to Solve Business Problems Effectively

Many problem-solving skillsets exist, but most can be broken into general steps.  Here is one four-step method for business problem solving:

1) Identify the Details of the Problem: Gather enough information to define the problem accurately.  This can include data on procedures being used, employee actions, relevant workplace rules, and so on.  Write down the specific outcome that is needed, but don’t assume what the solution should be.

2) Creatively Brainstorm Solutions: Alone or with a team, state every solution you can think of.  Then, brainstorm with the employees who have the greatest knowledge of the issue to get more feedback.

3) Evaluate Solutions and Make a Decision: Compare and contrast alternative solutions based on the feasibility of each one, including the resources needed to implement it and the return on investment of each one.  Finally, make a firm decision on one solution that clearly addresses the root cause of the problem.

4) Take Action: Write a detailed plan for implementing the solution, get the necessary approvals, and put it into action.

The Bible

The greatest example of problem-solving in action is found in the pages of the Bible.

God took the ultimate problem – the chaos and destruction wrought by human sin – and transformed it into the beauty of holiness through his creative power to solve even the worst of situations.

A more specific approach to problem-solving is found in the Book of Nehemiah.  Nehemiah was tasked to go to the ruined City of Jerusalem and rebuild the walls of the great Temple.  Those skilled as seeing problems (side one) had a hay-day with Nehemiah and continually pointed out why Nehemiah could not do what he was tasked to do.

Using his problem-solving skills (side two), Nehemiah heard what these naysayers pointed out and then devised strategies to overcome each problem.

Many others in the Bible were tasked to see a problem and solve a problem.  Esther, David, Paul, Moses, and Daniel are a few of these.

Problem-solving is not a new issue.  And managing different abilities when solving problems is also not new.  James 1:5 says:

But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.

God has given all of us the ability to solve problems.  Some are more adept at seeing the issues, and some at solving the problems.  Regardless, the problems are ours to solve.