• Practice makes perfect. Get into the habit of always bringing at least one solution idea for every problem you identify. Experts say a problem solver practices this skill on and off the clock. It often starts with deconstructing the challenge, creating a road map of the steps needed to get the desired result and brainstorming for ways to remove each roadblock. Lisa Palley, publicist for the Miami Book Fair International, says she was taught problem solving at a young age and practices it regularly as she tries to arrange media interviews for overscheduled book authors: “I was taught not to get hysterical or respond immediately, but to step back, deconstruct the problem, spend time with it and the answer will come to me.”
Use your subconscious. C. James Jenson, author of Beyond The Power of Your Subconscious Mind, says people become problem solvers when they learn to walk away from a difficult situation rather than “worry a problem to death.” Rather than getting frustrated and giving up, “tell yourself, I can solve the problem, I just need time away from it,” Jenson says. Then, get your conscious mind busy elsewhere with leisure and relaxation. Almost always, he says, a solution will come to you.
• Resist starting from scratch. Sadjady of PwC says technology and the Web make it easier to research, connect with others, and learn what solutions others are using to tackle similar problems. Then, creatively apply it to your situation or build on it. “It’s going to become more important to find interesting solutions without reinventing the wheel,” Sadjady says. “There’s a lot of knowledge out there beyond your organization’s borders.”
• Consider a team approach. In big, global companies, expect to see more reliance on team-based problem solving to stay innovative. “A lot of issues in business need to be addressed and managed by groups,” Sadjady says. In those scenarios, a problem solver also has to be a good collaborator and willing to share the risks and rewards, he says.
Going forward, Spradlin suggests we will see even more job descriptions entirely focused on problem solving with titles such as strategists, innovators and special project team leaders. However, he asserts anyone can learn to adopt a problem-solving mind-set: “It takes an individual that says here is the problem, we have options, let me run with them and create a path forward. All that takes is courage, clear thinking and relationship-management skills.”
Workplace columnist Cindy Krischer Goodman is CEO of BalanceGal, a national provider of news and advice on how to balance work and life. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit worklifebalancingact.com.