Problem Solving Made Easy

As promised, this week and next week, we’re going to glean wisdom from Tim Hansel’s book Eating Problems for Breakfast.

Hansel says, “Too often our schools have focused their teachings on what to think rather than on how to think…Few people have a strategy for solving problems…When problems arise at inconvenient times, most of us react rather than respond.” Hansel believes “our ability to solve problems depends on our attitude, our approach, our skill, and our experience. As Chuck Swindoll said so eloquently, ‘We are all faced with a series of great opportunities brilliantly disguised as impossible situations.'”

The Purpose of Problems

Hansel goes on to say, “Ingrained in our thinking are three false ideas about problems. It is these which I believe cause us to miss the creative purpose of problems.

  • False Idea Number 1: We believe that there is something inherently bad about problems because  they often involve us in unpleasant pressures, distressing conflict, or an inconvenient interruption of our plans for a smooth and easy life.
  • False Idea Number 2: We think that lack of problems should be a reward for hard work, careful planning, and clear thinking. Present in each of us is the hope that eventually—out ahead somewhere, sometime—our life will be free of problems of any kind.
  • False Idea Number 3: We think that if we love God, commit our lives to Him and diligently serve Him, He will work things out for us so that everything will run smoothly for us and we will be free from problems. When it doesn’t work that way we ask why is this or that happening to us. Problems are the very means by which God changes us, transforms us, and drives us forward. Without problems, there would be no growth.”

The Qualities of a Good Problem Solver

The qualities of good problem solvers include:

  •  Having “confidence in their ability to learn and their ability to solve problems.”
  • A tendency “to enjoy solving problems.”
  • Relying “on their own judgement. Though they know there is wisdom in much counsel, they respect their own decision-making abilities.”
  • Not being “fast answerers. Although they don’t procrastinate on decisions, they don’t make hasty decisions either. Before making any decision, they gather as much data as they can.”
  • Being “flexible and are often capable of seeing more than one answer to a question or problem.”
  • Knowing “the difference between fact and opinion, and have a high degree of respect for fact.”
  • Not needing “to have an absolute, final, irrevocable solution to every problem. They know that the only thing that is constant is change.”

The Ten Commandments of Problem Solving

  1. Challenge Assumptions: “To assume is to think that you already know. What some people call ‘thinking’ is simply a rearranging of their prejudices…Assumptions result from limited information or from looking at a problem from the wrong angle. Oftentimes, assumptions are faulty interpretations of the given facts, frequently occurring when we look only on the surface of things.”
  2. Keep a Large Perspective: “Learn to look at problems from different angles. Ask tough questions. See all that is there—see the problem as it really is in all its fullness.”
  3. Don’t Get Hooked: “Emotions are good. But emotions also have the power to disrupt our lives seriously when we allow them to control us. Your probably emotionally hooked when your emotions are in control, when you can no longer think logically. Another good sign that you’re hooked is when you use words like ‘always’ and ‘never’; you state your point in exaggerations and generalizations; you magnify the problem way out of proportion; you want emotional satisfaction more than a solution to the problem.”
  4. Simple Is Better: “Simple answers are not necessarily simplistic answers…simplistic answers don’t address the real issues of a problem. If you use them, you will probably cover up what you don’t understand rather than take the time to see the problem clearly. To simplify a problem means simply to remove that which clutters up your thinking.”
  5. Look for the Second Right Answer: “People try to avoid problems by acting on their first impulse rather than by trying to discover alternate solutions. There are several dangers to this impulsive method of problem solving. First, acting on the first right answer limits us to one course of action while discovering other possible solutions creates multiple possibilities and increases flexibility. Second, an idea or a solution is best understood in the context of other ideas. If we have only one idea, we can’t compare it to anything else, so we don’t know its strengths and weaknesses.”
  6. Ask Dumb Questions: “Problem solving is basically a process of asking questions. The tougher the problem, the better the questions must be. In reality there is no such thing as a dumb question. In fact, sometimes the simplest and most obvious questions (those that seem dumb) are often the most profound.”
  7. Unlock Your Creativity: “Being creative means taking everyday material and turning it into something extraordinary. Creativity isn’t just for the selected few. Since there is nothing new under the sun, it means simply putting old things together in a new and fresh way. Creativity is especially expressed in the ability to make connections, to make associations, to turn things around and express them in an new way.”
  8. Scratch Where It Itches: “Before you can solve a problem, it is critical that you understand what the problem really is. Don’t waste time scratching where it doesn’t itch. What is the priority in this problem? What are the core issues? What is the central focus? We need to concentrate on the essentials, eliminating everything that is unnecessary. Look at the problem rather than the symptoms.”
  9. Make It Fun: “Having fun releases our problem-solving abilities and gives us a much more objective and flexible frame of reference. It allows us to play with ideas, to use principles (such as reversal), and to expect the unexpected. Making life fun and making problem solving fun allows you to embrace change, even to love change, to enjoy it, and to get excited about the challenges that face you.”
  10. Hang in There: “It’s been said a thousand different ways. Never give up. Stick to it. Be stubborn. Persevere. Don’t quit. Go the second mile. Hang in there. Invest time in your problem. In fact, ninety percent of all failures result from people quitting too soon.”

In his book Eating Problems for Breakfast Tim Hansel provides a ton of brainteasers and examples to compliment his Ten Commandments of Problem Solving. I’ve used many of the brainteasers as ice breakers in department meetings and Board meetings. They are fun and set a positive tone in any setting!

You can download a free copy of the above overview at my website Wisdom-Matters by clicking on the “Free Resources” tab.

NOTE: Please see my full disclosure policy on my usage of Hyper-Links for additional information.

See you next week for more problem solving wisdom.

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