Whenever you’re confronted with a problem (which should be everyday), what’s the first step you take in trying to solve it?
My guess is that your first thought was, “I’m not sure I have a process.” And if that’s what you were thinking, you’re pretty normal. The vast majority of people, including business owners, entrepreneurs and other kinds of leaders, don’t.
And that’s a very real problem on a number of levels. Why? Because solving problems is what leaders do.
As a leader, you’re trying to take a group of people from where they are now to where you want them to be at some point in the future. Between where you are now and where you want them to be in the future is a whole series of obstacles, which we all affectionately call problems.
Because you’re the leader and your job is to get your people from where they are now to where you want them to be, you have to become an expert in solving problems—period.
In addition, as a leader, you don’t want to have to be the only problem solver on your team (that would be a low leverage option—and a lot of work for you). You want your people to be great at solving problems as well. However, if you don’t have a process, how can you do that?
Well, space and time won’t allow me to lay out a whole problem solving process for you today (though I’m sure you can come up with one on your own if you think about it long enough). Instead I want to give you what I think most people forget about in their process and what I believe ought to be the first step in a strong problem solving process. And, interestingly, it has nothing to do with praxis (meaning, practice). It has everything to do with psychology.
In other words, the first step to developing a solid problem solving process is making sure you (or you and your people) are in the right mental and emotional state to be able to solve that problem.
So, if you want to be in the right state of mind, here are a few thoughts on how you can do that
I. Get Into a Peaceful State of Mind
Have you ever tried to solve a problem when you were angry? As Dr. Phil would say, “How’s that working for you?” Probably not that great.
Or have you ever tried to solve a problem when you were stressed out? Again, probably not your best option.
Stress, anxiety, fear, anger, disappointment, discouragement, disillusionment, frustration, etc. are all negative emotions that have a negative impact on anyone’s ability to think clearly and solve a problem.
So, if you’re experiencing one of them, make sure you eliminate that negative emotion before you start attempting to solve your problem.
- If you need to have a crucial conversation with someone, do it
- If you’re letting others control your emotional state, take back control
- If you’re disappointed, work through your expectations and change them
- If you need to forgive someone, forgive them
Whatever it takes to get your emotional state into a peaceful state, do it.
You don’t have to be a Buddhist monk or Spock to solve problems effectively, but you will be infinitely more effective at problem solving if you’re in a peaceful state of mind as opposed to an angry or stressed out or discouraged state of mind.
II. Get Into a Positive State of Mind
The difference between peaceful and positive is that peacefulness is about eliminating negative emotions, positivity is about being hopeful.
Have you ever tried to solve a problem when you thought that problem was impossible to solve? It’s rather debilitating, isn’t it?
For example, let’s say you have a cash flow problem. And let’s say you’ve tried ten different things to solve your cash flow problem and yet not one of them has worked. What makes you think the eleventh is going to work? If you’re thinking like that, it’s going to be extremely difficult to solve your problem. It’s understandable that you’re defeated. But that sense of hopelessness will make it difficult for you to see any new options/solutions that might actually solve the problem in a positive light.
Positivity isn’t about being a Polly Anna. It’s about being hopeful. It’s about believing that there is a solution out there and that you and your team can find it. It’s not about putting your head in the sand and saying, “Everything is all right.” It’s about honestly evaluating the situation and trusting that you can find a way no matter how hopeless it might seem or how many failures you’ve experienced.
So, surround yourself with positive people. Read positive books. Listen to uplifting music. Find encouragers. Talk with other people who’ve overcome similar situations. Remember your previous successes. In fact, you might want to create a success journal so you can read it from time to time when you’re discouraged.
Again, you want to do whatever you can to make sure you have a positive state of mind because when you do, you have hope. And when you have hope, you have the power to solve any problem.
III. Get Into a Process State of Mind
What I mean by this is that problem solving is simply a process—nothing more, nothing less. When you think that you have to be an Einstein to be good at solving problems, that’s a problem. Likewise, if you think that you have to have some blinding shot of brilliance to solve a problem, that’s a problem. If you think you have to be a Sherlock Holmes or an Elon Musk or a Leonardo Da Vinci to be effective at solving problems, that’s a problem
Whenever I’m working with clients and they tend to get worked up about something I’ll remind them. “Listen, this is just a problem. Nothing more. All you have to do is work the problem.” Why? Because problem solving is just a process.
Problems aren’t meant to be personal. They’re just problems—nothing more. Once you have a process in place, all you have to do is just work the process.
If you can remove the emotion from the process and just work the process, you’ll discover that finding a solution is infinitely easier than you thought.
IV. Get Into A Systems State of Mind
I know, I broke the rhythm of the P’s (peaceful, positive, process) but this is the fourth leg of a strong problem solving mindset.
One of the mistakes I see a lot of business owners and entrepreneurs make is that they tend to look at the surface or presenting problem and forget to realize that there’s always a system problem behind that.
For example, it’s easy to think that the problem is Mary in accounting. After all, she’s a Negative Nancy, she’s a slow worker and she she doesn’t always process invoices fast enough so AR is even worse than it should be.
The presenting problem seems to be Mary but is she the real problem? A systems mindset would suggest she’s only part of the problem. The problem probably started with the hiring process. Was the job description correct? How about the selection process? Did Mary get tested beforehand? Did you check her references? Did you ask the right questions? How about Mary’s on boarding? What about her oversight? Could the problem be with training? Could the problem be lack of clear expectations? Etc.
In other words, just assuming that there’s one problem and it’s the presenting problem is rarely a great mindset to start from. Instead, you want to start by assuming that this problem exists because there’s a flaw in the system (not the person). Note: this doesn’t mean that Mary shouldn’t be fired. It simply means that a systems mindset doesn’t let you start and end there. It forces you to think bigger and broader before you settle in on a solution.
So, there you go. Four ideas for how you can help prepare yourself to have the right mental and emotional state BEFORE you start to actually solve a problem.
- Get into a peaceful state of mind
- Get into a positive state of mind
- Get into a process state of mind
- Get into a systems state of mind
If you do those four things before you actually start to solve any problem that your business faces, you’ll be giving yourself (or you and your team) the best chance you can to discover an optimal solution for whatever problem your business is currently facing.
To your accelerated success!