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Problems: How do you solve yours?

Problem Solving

When a problem strikes, even the most creative mind can struggle to find the right way around it. The sense of urgency and the fluster of finding the appropriate route to solving a problem can be debilitating barriers. Techniques, strategies and tricks for getting beyond an obstacle are numerous, but they can be a bit daunting. How do you know which to choose? Here are some easy suggestions:

Be inspired
Suggestion can be a clever secret pathway for your thoughts. Reinforcing the most obvious stereotype of creative thinking, scientists at Tufts University found that working next to a light bulb improved problem solving. In the same vein, the clothes you wear can affect your thinking – for instance researchers from the Kellogg School of Management found that wearing a white lab coat can make you focus more.

Get real
More pragmatic minds can respond well to logic. In his 1945 publication ‘How to Solve it’ mathematician George Polya said problem solving was a four part process: Understand the problem, Make a plan, Execute the plan, Review the results. If this technique fails, Pólya advises: “If you can’t solve a problem, then there is an easier problem you can solve: find it.”

Throw ideas around
Brainstorms have been used – and misused – for decades. When delivered right, with open minds and without fear of judgement, they can give a group the chance to bat ideas around with confidence and discover new ways forward, whether it’s for a campaign, a new product or invention or writing a song. Feeding off other people’s sparks can lead to an entirely different solution to one that is reached in isolation and while brainstorms have earned some stick in the past, they are an effective way of gathering and building on ideas from people with a keen interest in the problem. Our Facilitate workshops will help you run better brainstorms.

Divide and conquer
It can be hard to solve big problems. Like Polya said, breaking down a big problem into smaller problems can make them more manageable. Delegating and sharing can also make the overall issue easier to tackle.

Root cause analysis
Alone or in groups, getting to the bottom of a problem can not only help solve it but can prevent it happening again. Root cause analysis is used by the NHS Institute for Innovation and Improvement, which recommends the additional method of asking the ‘Five Whys’ to get to the root cause.

Borrow a brain
Collaboration brings new insights and different viewpoints to the same problem. No two people will ever interpret a problem in exactly the same way, so asking a fresh pair of eyes to look over your problem can halve the time it takes to solve it and give and answer you wouldn’t find on your own.

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