roblems remain problems until someone insists on a solution. So yes, every solution does begin its life as something that appears insignificant and most of us could be tempted to discard pursuing it as useless, intimidatory, and a drain on time and resources. But there will invariably be one individual, quite probably a visionary in some way, who believes in it and pursues it. This individual persists. And this persistence pays off well in the end. However, many may call this persistence a pestilence and an impediment and expectedly call this individual stubborn and uncooperative, without understanding that lasting solutions are always hidden deep within layers. What is seen on the surface is an ephemeral distraction at best that cannot survive the onslaught of the future. Surprisingly, in most cases, it is the seemingly speedier solution floating on the surface in the shallow end of the sea of decisions that is adopted and expectedly drowns when the depth and the power of waves increases… and this is when even solved problems turn into failures. The decision-makers get back to the drawing board and this ridiculous cycle goes on until they realize that good management isn’t about any solution but a stable and simple solution. Derek Landy correctly stated that ‘every solution to every problem is simple. It’s the distance between the two where the mystery lies.’It is while travelling through this distance that one decides on the form of solution. Stable solutions are generally the simplest.
Who are these people seeking solutions?
The one-word answer to this question is Everyone. Solution seeking isn’t necessarily a complex set of mathematical and statistical formulae that are relevant only for those in decision-making positions in an organization. This facility with seeking solutions is as much needed by even the ordinary folk we see all over. Writers, painters, photographers, husbands, wives, and friends need it as much those managing small shops, working from home, in junior positions in offices, or those making a living in any of the myriad ways that exist and change with time. Even students in junior school have problems that can be stressful if the right solution isn’t discovered by them. Quite obviously then, the best solutions cannot go around dressed only as derivations that necessarily need an understanding of economics, psychology, and calculus or any of the laws of physics and chemistry. Yes, there is a whole bunch of scientific knowledge backing them at every stage but solutions, when isolated, lead a simple life.
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Problem-solving isn’t vital only for big companies selling everything from soaps to loans to individuals or other big companies. The need for effective problem-solving is everywhere. What matters is the kind of approach one adopts for a problem. bY the way, the different types of approaches to problem-solving have a knack to be flexible enough to be valid for different situations and thus if there is a solution valid in advertising, it may very well be admissible even for a general taking decision for a country’s armed forces.
The traveler’s method to solving problems
Assume you are a traveler and are standing undecided under a direction signboard and wondering which way to take or where to go or what to do on reaching wherever it is that you decide to go, you will have known how disorienting problems can be. But the right way is to assess if you have been following some plan and may want to follow it through or if there is an urgent action that needs a different way to be taken or if retreating and then advancing to some other place is what your task needs are all decisions that will lead some kind of a resolution that you may be looking forward to. At this stage, the traveler benefits if he has done thorough research on the area and it is this factor that can very well allow creative approaches to route planning or safely impregnate a plan with diversions and digressions that add value to the journey. The other vital elements of problem-solving are also clear if we take the example of this traveler. For instance, when someone mentions ‘thorough research’, one obviously implies insightful and detailed discussions with not just other team members but also the experts. It is these discussions and complete assimilation of diverse thoughts that may have floated in that creates the right environment for a reasonable SWOT analysis to give a lead to the sort of decisions that will make problem-solving possible if and when needed. While we are talking about teams and discussions, it is imperative to understand that teamwork is all about harmonious relationships. Communication, as we all know, is the death of distance… and it dissolves barriers.
Travel, travelers, and travelling are perfect examples to understand the varied and sometimes complex nuances of problem-solving as it includes working with an affirmative mix of diverse stimulations, provocations, and thoughts. The features essential to problem-solving also include opinions and ideas that may be different and sometimes unconventional or even radical. This means effective teamwork is also about tolerance or shall we say, intolerance of other’s views to be cut-off or not considered at all. Bigots and problem-solvers are hardly ever in the same boat… however, the latter must tolerate even the former because they too may something critical to the process of problem-solving. A thorough mix of IQ, EQ, TQ, and any other Q that management pundits come up with is what any problem-solver needs to be adept at.
Most of us have, at one point or another, felt envious of travel enthusiasts because we feel these are the kind of people who get to deal with more challenges than even someone high up in the hierarchy of an organization. Well, it is for this reason that understanding the way travelers behave tells us a lot about problem-solving. I remember a trekker who had to choose between going up a riskier steep incline on a mountain and the easier but way longer path. This fellow opted for the riskier way and ended up clicking stunning pictures that none of the others in the team was able to. He was even able to get close-ups of flowers that bloomed only on impossible-looking slopes and never on or near the well-trodden paths. This example is an apt reminder to the sort of environment that problem-solvers have to face and thus they invariably need to display a willingness to allow elements of risk-taking in a solution. They must, however, be aware that problem-solving is not about autocratic decision-making and nor is it about agreeing to every wayward ideation. Decisions need to be those that everyone agrees with – this happens when a problem is perceived in totality and all existing and anticipated opportunities discussed. It must be well understood that barriers aren’t the real problems but facets that help one understand a problem from those angles or perspectives that may have been overlooked and this is the reason why participative team-work is vital.
Other approaches to problem-solving
A possibility is born when the attitude is receptive enough… and thus anyone interested in problem-solving must be aware of other techniques that have been followed successfully.
The understand-assimilate-solve method is the analytical mode of problem-solving. This method does not believe in assumptions and never recommends short-cuts or ways that simply fill-in the blanks. This method is completely about a primed focus on a viable solution. The pros about this method include a speedier resolution, less possibility of getting entangled in long-drawn debates and indecision loops, and works well if the number of decision-makers are less and manageable. The cons include a host of other solutions that appear only after lengthy discussions and when enough time is given to review each option properly.
The inspired logic approach, on the other hand, is more about objective and data-oriented thinking than anything else. As a thorough analysis of data leads to a solution, this method has a lot of precedence and a deeper search can lead to examples that are similar to the problem being faced and the way the solution interacted with results. This method is more about finding cases where such an approach has been adopted and thus those who have been reading a lot of case-studies have the necessary reading experience about the experiences of other problem-solvers in similar situations.
The creative angle approach to problem-solving is about going beyond mere logic and can be risky at times. This is the sort of approach that ad-agencies are known to take. The thought process is positive and not dependent on established cases, approaches, or processes because past successes cannot really be valid all the time as the milieu, the demographic and the psychographic profiles may be different. After all, an advert successful in America may or may not get a similar reception by the audiences in another country. Thus past solutions may inspire but never dictate. Quite obviously, this method needs the team to be populated by decision-makers with a daring and innovative thought process as fear is a lack of faith in what intuition suggests.
Whatever be the approach adopted, the vital need for problem-solvers is their ability to rationalize a creative burst without allowing a personal bias to come in and be a spoil-sport. Teams must thus remain aware of distortions in rationalization before it metamorphosizes into a formidable obstacle. Problem-solving is also about the current needs of the organization or the individual. For instance, even while deciding to buy woolen clothing, we do consider the place of current residence and if there are any plans for short or long breaks in a different locale where the climate may be colder. I remember investing in boots that were water-resistant and jackets that were double-lined before we went on our trip to Reykjavik in Iceland… and this helped us remain warm and secure and we were able to enjoy our holiday. Our decisions were a purely emotive approach and the charm of owning those boots and jackets was way beyond the glamour of material possessions. The decisions were based on weather conditions and this, when translated for organizations, means considering facts and figures.
Decide and don’t dilly-dally
Problem-solving is definitely not about unlimited time and never-ending debates because even a well-considered decision needs to be taken while the right opportunities exist. What is clear is that every kind of problem-solving is in a way about investment opportunities and RoI on investments and these are factors that must go hand-in-hand with existing or innovative and new strategic drivers. Wherever such strategic drivers are missing, the problem solver needs to think about the turnaround time involved. A classic case is that of Kingfisher Airlines. Why did the airline fail? Was it because of the acquisition of Air Deccan? Was the real reason for its expansion into the international arena? Was it about a lack of stability at the apex level of management? Was it about the decision that made the management switch from premium class to the low budget segment? The Kingfisher Airlines case, for those who do not recollect, was about the role of banks in extending loans (6600 crores from 17 public sector banks) and failing to recover the money. What is amply clear is that a problem existed… and that the management then took all the wrong decisions. This is a case where the chief decision-maker decided to move out of the country instead of being here and trying out a valid problem-solving approach.
This clumsy handling of the Kingfisher Airlines case gave the media all the opportunity to poke fun at valid problem-solving approaches. And thus the comic approach to problem-solving was born. A 2011 problem-solving spoof published in HT Brunch mentioned outrageously funny solutions as suggested by Fake JhunJunwala. Quite obviously, the solutions that included offering ticket holders a chance to punch Siddharth Mallya in the face, reduction of skirt length of the hostesses by 2 inches on loss-making routes, free beers, and free haircuts may sound simple enough but are NOT what problem-solving is all about. This is definitely funny in all respects but blunts the edges of real problem-solving.
Solutions, let me emphasize here, are generally simple enough to be broken in do-able steps, that is, there is a certain degree of structure that gets clear if the solution is correct. And correct solutions do exist. Richard Bach famously wrote about every problem coming with its own unique solution… but we are sometimes not able to see it. Or decipher it. Or reach a conclusion. Or an agreement.
The right solutions can be expressed in simple words. The most hard-hitting solutions can be understood by even those who have not had the advantage of higher education. These are solutions that can answer every question, lay every doubt to rest, and help the world move onwards without hiccups.