problem solvingTravis Kalanick, the founder of Uber, the $68 billion transportation megacorp, likes to call himself the “problem-solver-in-chief.” And that is exactly what a CEO’s job is whether you are a freelancer, manage a five person nonprofit or the CEO of MegaCorp.

Now before we get started with the actual problem-solving tool, you need to ask yourself am I a “Maximiser” or a “Satisfiser.” According to Dr. Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice, a maximiser must always have the best. And in the case of problem-solving, they must have the perfect solution. They will often research themselves into “analysis paralysis” and either feel overwhelmed and never make a choice or simply give up and just choose the solution currently in front of them regardless of its appropriateness. I am a maximiser and I must constantly keep in mind that “very good” is good enough so I don’t fall into the analysis paralysis trap. The satisficer, on the other hand, is someone who looks for good enough. They often have high standards but they don’t need the best.

This also lines up with the decision making protocols of the U. S. Marine Corp. Marines, the kings of rapid decision-making, consider indecisiveness a fatal flaw, according to David H. Freedman in his book Corp Business. The key is what the Marines call the “70 percent solution.” In other words, an imperfect plan, executed “fast and bold” has a much better shot at succeeding than a perfect plan that never gets past the planning stage or is executed too late to be effective.

But what process can you use to solve problems if you don’t have a “fast and furious” team or a big dollar consultant? Here’s a tool that works for me. It’s not an app, there’s no A.I., and you’ll be required to do some deep thinking. But by the time you work through it, you will have a realistic, executable solution:

Step 1 – Imagine a quiet place to work on your problem. Then think of the tools you’ll need to work on it. Write them down or type them into a document.
Step 2 – Describe your problem. This can be tougher than it sounds. You should be able to describe it in a single sentence and in language a twelve year old can understand. If not, you haven’t gotten to the core of the problem yet; you’re probably still looking at the symptoms.
Step 3 – List the sources where you might get information related to this problem (don’t limit or edit the list).
Step 4 – What are your beliefs/opinions about the problem that might ‘color,’ limit or prejudice your willingness to look at out-of-the-box solutions?
Step 5 – What are the opinions, thoughts and feelings of other people associated with this problem? (If you can’t interview everyone involved, you may have to do a little guessing.)
Step 6 – After you review all this information, what do you see as your goal? (This may change drastically from what you originally thought was your goal.)
Step 7 – Brainstorm time – List at least ten ways to solve the problem. Then describe the consequences, as you perceive them, of each solution for you and others. Don’t edit yourself. Be open to whatever solutions come to mind. If you allow your internal editor to shut down ideas before you even write them down, you may miss out on a solution that goes beyond your initial question and opens a whole new vista of opportunities.
Step 8 – Choose the best solution that will achieve your goal and enter it on a separate document.
Step 9 – List beneath the solution the first five steps necessary to carry out your solution.
Step 10 – Evaluation – Every military organization and successful business evaluates the results of a solution. What worked, what went wrong, what you would do differently. This is where growth and learning come from.

Every problem is an opportunity to grow your business. And as we all know, a successful businessperson is not the person who never makes mistakes. They are the people who never make the same mistake twice.

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