Whether at work or at home, life has a habit of throwing up problems for us to deal with. There’s no avoiding them, because that’s outside of our control, but what we can control is our ability to deal with them. We all develop some kind of systematic problem solver ability as we grow up and learn to do things on our own, whether it’s finding a way to reach that toy on that shelf or how to get out of doing homework when you want to play outside. But unfortunately, adults have to try and solve much more difficult problems than those.
When it comes to problem solving there’s three main types, and it’s important to know what type you are so that you can work on improving your skills. These are the types of problem solver:
This means that you take your time to evaluate a problem and its causes and work your way through the potential solutions. Not only that, but you’re also keen to think about ways of preventing the problem from happening again.
The exact opposite to a systematic problem solver, you prefer to go with your gut instinct, which can work really well if your instincts are good. However, once you’ve dealt with a problem, you’d rather move on to something else instead of putting processes in place to stop it recurring.
Somewhere in between the first two, you have the best intentions of being systematic, but maybe not the patience to actually make it happen, so you find yourself falling into bad habits, with inevitable consequences.
Those are the three main types, but if you don’t already recognise yourself as one of them, how do you know which you are?
One way is to look at what your first reaction is when coming across a new problem. Do you launch into trying to solve it or take the time to properly define it and start evaluating potential solutions? If it’s the latter, you’re more likely to be systematic.
Once you’ve decided on a solution, do you come up with a detailed plan or just get started and hope for the best? Do you have any contingency plans for unintended consequences of what you’re doing to solve the original problem, or will you just deal with any new problems you’ve caused further down the road?
And finally, once you’ve solved the problem, by whatever means got you there, what do you do next? Do you just move on and get back to business as usual, or do you take a moment to debrief and analyze what caused the problem and how it can be stopped from happening again in the future? Again, if it’s the latter, you’re a systematic problem solver. If not, you probably need to work on your skills.
How to get better at being systematic problem solver
If this exercise has shown you that you maybe need to rethink how you solve problems, the good news is that we’ve got some tips for you. If you’re an intuitive problem solver, all is not lost, you just need some refining in your technique and some better structure in your processes. Additionally, if you’re already a systematic problem solver, there’s still room for improvement, so why not see what else you can learn.
- Set yourself a deadline
One of the best ways to introduce some structure to your problem solving technique is by setting yourself a time limit as this will bring some urgency to your decision-making and force you to quickly assess your options. This means you’re not taking a long time but are still doing more than going off your gut.
- Use a decision matrix
If you need more help to make a decision, it can be a good idea to use a decision matrix to help you work out the best option quickly and efficiently. It’s easy to create a decision matrix, you just need to add rows for each potential solution and columns for the criteria they need to meet. Score them out of 5 and you’ll find the best solution.
- Try using CATWOE
CATWOE might sound like a specific genre of sad cat photos on social media, but it’s actually another clever technique for problem solving and can be a great tool for systematic solvers who are looking to keep on improving. It’s an acronym to help you remember important questions to ask. CATWOE stands for Clients (who is affected by the problem?) Actors (who will be making the changes?) Transformation (what change is needed?) Worldview (what’s the bigger picture?) Owner (who owns the issue and solution?) Environmental Constraints (what external factors might impact on it?). Ask all of these and you’ll be well on your way to covering every aspect of the problem and its solution.
- Brainstorm on your own
Brainstorming might seem like something that needs lots of people involved to get the best results, but studies actually show that individual brainstorming can be more effective. So why not take yourself off somewhere quiet and use tactics like word association or visual prompts to spark off creative thinking that might come up with a new and innovative solution?
So, now you not only have a better idea of what kind of problem solver you are, but you also have some tips and tricks to help you improve your skills in this area. There’s still more tips you can pick up, but why not start implementing them the next time you come across a problem and want to make sure you solve it in the best way possible?