Posted by: Brad Stanford | October 11, 2013

How To Determine If Someone Wants To Solve A Problem

If there is a problem that needs to be solved, and it must be solved by a group of people, then it would be helpful to know if the people you’re working with really want the problem solved. It’s not that difficult, really. Try applying these questions and ideas:

1. Does the person have a thoughtful solution to the problem?
If not, then you have a judge, not a problem solver. Not having a solution means that the person has given no thought to the details that make up the problem, or they are completely in over their head with the problem. Either way, they will not be useful in solving it.

2. If the person has a solution to share, have they anointed it as The Only Solution™?
If a person refuses to entertain other solutions, it means they believe they have a firm grasp on all the perspectives, ramifications, and odd scenarios. This is possible, but unlikely. A problem solver will have a willingness to constantly challenge his or her own perspective, to make sure the problem is solved correctly the first time. Otherwise what you have is a tyrant or dictator – not good for solving problems.

3. Does the person have a “teaching mode” when faced with ignorance?
If someone in the group says something obviously ignorant, does the person respond with arrogance or frustration? Do they belittle the ignorant person? Or do they patiently try to educate them? If their first reaction to ignorance is to teach, you have a problem solver.

Note: this says nothing about the response of the ignorant, or whether or not they’ll listen. I’m talking about the first reaction of the problem solver.

4. Is the person’s natural reaction to a different perspective belittling, eye-rolling, or some other negative response?
Then you have someone that’s going to miss the golden nugget because it’s buried in a pile of poo. A problem solver knows that if 99% of a pile is poo, that means 1% isn’t, and – as annoying as it is – the 1% needs to be found and analyzed. That means creating an atmosphere that encourages people to participate, and knowing in advance that there will be a lot of wrong answers on the way to the right one.The fastest path to the best answer is encouragement with focus, not dismissal of those who might annoy.

5. A problem solver asks a lot of questions trying to understand all facets and perspectives.
If the majority of a person’s attitude is , “This is the way I see it:…,” then the person is not a problem solver. The regular attitude of the problem solver is, “Do I know all the variables?”

If you find yourself in a group of non-problem solvers faced with the prospect of solving a problem, understand that you will have to back up and start with some strict ground rules about when to speak, how to speak, what the goal is, and how we’re going to get there. And if a problem solver is not the leader of the group, you probably need to bail out and pull your chute – that plane is going down.

The only caveat to that is: it might be super critical for all involved for you – the lone problem solver – to stay in the game. If so, I’m so very sorry, but sacrifices must be made sometimes, and I thank you for your perseverance.

If you put me on the spot right now to lead a group to solve a problem, here’s what I would attempt to do:
1. Ask for all insights and observations about the problem. Proof will be weighed more heavily than anecdotes, but all will be considered.
2. Ask for a list of constraints, and determine which are actual and which are imaginary.
3. Ask for preconceived solutions.
4. Ask for elimination of any preconceived solutions based on the insights, observations, and constraints.
5. Ask for new solutions based on all evidence presented so far.

The most important part of solving a problem is make sure you’re solving the problem that called everyone out. It’s super easy to get sidetracked into egos, power, and control.

And much better to call out conflict than to hide it. “Your determination to control this group is distracting us from solving the problem,” is a great sentence to have in your toolbox, whether used privately or publicly. You have to be ready to deal with the fallout of using it, but don’t be afraid, either. There’s a time for everything.

All of societies ills could have been solved a decade ago. But I have yet to see a summit event that calls together our best problem solvers to solve them.

Perhaps I need to host the first one to get it going…

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