By Zainub Jada
Problems are only opportunities in work clothes
– Henry Kaiser (American industrialist)
We are constantly exposed to opportunities in life, at work, at school and at home. However many opportunities are missed or not taken full advantage of. Often we are unsure how to take advantage of an opportunity and create barriers – reasons why we can’t take advantage. These barriers can turn a potentially positive situation into a negative one, a problem.
A problem is any unpleasant situation which prevents people from achieving what they want to achieve.
Any activity to eliminate a problem is termed problem-solving.
Problem-solving skills refers to our ability to solve problems in an effective and timely manner without any stumbling blocks.
It involves being able to identify and define the problem, generating alternative solutions, evaluating and selecting the best alternative, and implementing the selected solution. Obtaining feedback and responding to it appropriately is an essential aspect of problem-solving skills too.
All problems have two features in common
Problems involve setting out to achieve some objective or desired state of affairs and can include avoiding a situation or event.
Goals can be anything that you wish to achieve, or where you want to be. If you are hungry then your goal is probably to eat something. If you are the head of an organization (CEO), then your main goal may be to maximize profits and this main goal may need to be split into numerous sub-goals in order to fulfill the ultimate aim of increasing profits.
If there were no barriers in the way of achieving a goal, then there would be no problem. Problem-solving involves overcoming the barriers or obstacles that prevent the immediate achievement of goals.
Following the examples above, if you feel hungry then your goal is to eat. A barrier to this may be that you have no food available – so you take a trip to the supermarket and buy some food, removing the barrier and thus solving the problem. Of course for the CEO wanting to increase profits, there may be many more barriers preventing the goal from being reached. The CEO needs to attempt to recognize these barriers and remove them or find other ways to achieve the goals of the organization.
WHAT ARE PROBLEM-SOLVING SKILLS?
Problem-solving skills are a set of soft skills to use in difficult, unexpected, or complicated matters that arise in the workplace. Whether you’re an entry-level employee or a C-level executive, problem-solving skills will serve as an attractive asset to any employer.
Equipping yourself with the skills to actually solve problems has another amazing side effect. Problem-solving soft skills usually allow an employee to prepare for problems before they happen. There are preparative techniques to solve common problems, uncommon problems, and worst-case scenarios. By being prepared, you are far less likely to become flustered or stop work to do damage control.
Problem-solving skills may include:
Stages of Problem Solving
Problems are at the centre of what many people do at work every day. Whether you’re solving a problem for a client (internal or external), supporting those who are solving problems or discovering new problems to solve, the problems you face can be large or small, simple or complex, and easy or difficult.
A fundamental part of every manager’s role is finding ways to solve them. So, being a confident problem solver is really important to your success. Much of that confidence comes from having a good process to use when approaching a problem. With one, you can solve problems quickly and effectively. Without one, your solutions may be ineffective, or you’ll get stuck and do nothing, with sometimes painful consequences.
Effective problem solving usually involves working through a number of steps or stages, such as those outlined below
1. Problem Identification:
This stage involves: detecting and recognizing that there is a problem; identifying the nature of the problem; defining the problem.
The first phase of problem-solving may sound obvious but often requires more thought and analysis. Identifying a problem can be a difficult task in itself. Is there a problem at all? What is the nature of the problem, are there, in fact, numerous problems? How can the problem be best defined? By spending some time defining the problem you will not only understand it more clearly yourself but be able to communicate its nature to others, which leads to the second phase.
2. Structuring the Problem:
This stage involves: a period of observation, careful inspection, fact-finding and developing a clear picture of the problem.
Following on from problem identification, structuring the problem is all about gaining more information about the problem and increasing understanding. This phase is all about fact-finding and analysis, building a more comprehensive picture of both the goal(s) and the barrier(s). This stage may not be necessary for very simple problems but is essential for problems of a more complex nature.
3. Looking for Possible Solutions:
During this stage, you will generate a range of possible courses of action, but with little attempt to evaluate them at this stage.
From the information gathered in the first two phases of the problem-solving framework, it is now time to start thinking about possible solutions to the identified problem. In a group situation, this stage is often carried out as a brain-storming session, letting each person in the group express their views on possible solutions (or part solutions). In organisations, different people will have different expertise in different areas and it is useful, therefore, to hear the views of each concerned party.
4. Making a Decision:
This stage involves careful analysis of the different possible courses of action and then selecting the best solution for implementation.
This is perhaps the most complex part of the problem-solving process. Following on from the previous step it is now time to look at each potential solution and carefully analyze it. Some solutions may not be possible, due to other problems like time constraints or budgets. It is important at this stage to also consider what might happen if nothing was done to solve the problem – sometimes trying to solve a problem that leads to many more problems requires some very creative thinking and innovative ideas.
Finally, make a decision on which course of action to take.
This stage involves accepting and carrying out the chosen course of action.
Implementation means acting on the chosen solution. During implementation, more problems may arise especially if identification or structuring of the original problem was not carried out carefully.
6. Monitoring and seeking feedback
The final stage of problem-solving is concerned with checking that the process was successful.
This can be achieved by monitoring and gaining feedback from people affected by any changes that occurred. It is a good practice to keep a record of outcomes and any additional problems that occurred.
Importance of problem-solving skills
Obviously, every organization has problems and every individual has problems too. For this reason, the ability to solve problems is of great importance to individuals and organizations. Some of the benefits include:
1. Make the impossible possible
Knowledge alone is not the key to solving problems but rather, complementing it with systematic problem-solving approaches makes the difference. This helps individuals and organizations overcome perilous challenges.
2. Makes you stand out
People are trained to do the usual. They have acquired skills and knowledge in what they do. However, people can hardly solve problems when there are unexpected or unprecedented ones. If you become a regular problem solver at your workplace, you are easily noticed, recognized, and appreciated.
3. Increased confidence
No matter where you work or what your profession is, having the ability to solve problems will boost your confidence level. Because you are sure of your ability to solve problems, you don’t spend time worrying about what you will do if a problem should arise.
Having good, strong problem-solving skills can make a huge difference to your career.
How to improve problem-solving skills
Just like any of the other skills, the art of problem-solving can be learnt and improved upon. Below are few tips to help you improve this skill.
1. Detach yourself from the problem
Don’t regard yourself as the problem itself and don’t presume you are incapacitated to solve the problem. See the problem as the enemy that has to be defeated by you.
2. Analyse in parts and not as a whole
Don’t see the problem as a whole big unit that needs to be fixed – That may deter you from attempting to solve it. Rather, break it into parts and tackle them step by step, and portion by portion. The little pieces you solve will add up to become the solution for the whole unit. For instance; if there’s turmoil in your organization, analyze the various aspects or departments of the organization. Choose one problematic area, such as communication, to start from. When that is fixed, you may move on to the other problematic areas.
3. Be inquisitive and investigative
Being inquisitive and conducting thorough investigation and research helps you identify what the core of the problem is. In other words, it grants you access to the cause of the problem. Once the real cause of the problem is known, it becomes easier to solve it.
4. Be open to suggestions
Other people’s contributions can be very helpful. It saves you the time of having to search for every piece of information that is needed.