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Albert Einstein’s Problem-Solving Formula, and Why It Still Works Like a Charm

Albert Einstein’s Problem-Solving Formula, and Why It Still Works Like a Charm

When asked how he would spend his time if he was given an hour to solve a thorny problem, Einstein said he’d spend 55 minutes defining the problem and alternatives and 5 minutes solving it.

You’ve probably used a handy invention called “coffee sleeves” if you’ve ever visited a coffee shop.  These insulators make it bearable to hold that super-hot cup of coffee.  Jay Sorensen is the inventor of the coffee sleeve.  He came up with this idea when he was driving his daughter to school when he spilled a cup of coffee in his lap, because the coffee was too hot to hold.

It’s common wisdom that innovative ideas must be original, new, and a flash of creativity out of the blue. But this belief is a real obstacle to creativity.

Jay Sorensen didn’t create the coffee sleeve because he was setting out to innovative. He needed to solve a problem.

Innovation is not about creating something from nothing.

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There are problems everywhere, as long as you pay attention to them. Lots of great inventions come from the daily problems people encounter.

When it’s raining and you don’t want to wear clunky, unfashionable rain boots – but you don’t want to get your feet wet?  There go the Dry Steppers.  You want to bring a water bottle to work, but the shape of normal water bottles don’t work with your briefcase? Someone came up with the idea of Letter paper shaped bottles.

True breakthroughs happen when you notice problems and create solutions. Problems stimulate you to really think about what can be improved. Observing problems is a good start.

Different Levels of Problems

There are different types of problems. Some are easier to stimulate innovative ideas, some are more difficult.  Finding out the type of problem you have identified helps you to know your effort needed to create new ideas.

Type 1: Problems with Good Solutions Available

Difficulty Level: ★★★

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Some problems already have good solutions available. For example, in hot and humid climates, people have adjusted to the use of fans and air conditioning. It would take a huge breakthrough in order to think of a solution superior to what’s already available.

So, a brand-new invention to address hot climates would be a very difficult innovation to accomplish. There is no clear need for a new solution.

Type 2: Long Existing Problems with No Solutions Yet Found

Difficulty Level: ★★

A more intermediate scenario is when a problem has existed for a long time, and no solutions have yet emerged.

These intermediate problems are often very hard to fix because of their scale or complexity. For example, poverty is a huge problem, and everyone knows that. But nobody has “fixed” it probably because it’s hard to fix, and there are limitations on the resources to fix it.

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When anything is possible, it’s difficult to know when and how to kick it off. But this situation can also be positive. With intermediate problems, you have no restrictions, and so you’re free to try out creative ideas. Take this as a source of inspiration. You might not have the resources to apply your solution right now, but that shouldn’t hold you back. Think of a solution and try it out when the timing is right.

Type 3: Problems That Have Flawed Solutions Available

Difficulty Level: ★

Finally, there are easy innovations. These include problems that do have available solutions, but those solutions are flawed. You can take what’s already there and improve on it. For example, the smartphone is in many ways an improvement of the original cell phone; it has added a lot of new functionality to an old technology.

While you might feel inspired to tackle a 3-star problem, you might try to kickstart your innovation with an 2-star or 1-star problem first.

Start with a Problem Within Your Reach

There are tons of problems out there, in every conceivable area of life. Look for one that is within your own field of expertise – where you can excel by using your knowledge and skills. By narrowing the scope of the problem, you also won’t get distracted by problems that you can’t control.

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In your own field of work, you see recurring problems all the time. Find one that bothers you and dig deep into the root causes. Ask yourself, why does this happen all the time? Are there layers of causes? Understanding the problem deeply helps you think of more and better approaches to it.

Once you have identified the causes, turn to solutions.

First, are there any existing workarounds? If there are some, why aren’t they effective? Perhaps they don’t really address the root causes, or only address some of them. Consider how you might improve the available solution. If it’s possible to improve an existing solution, it could be easier to implement than something brand-new.

If there are no available solutions, then start brainstorming new solutions. In this scenario, it could be pretty tough to fix the problem outright. So instead of aiming to fix the root cause immediately, try to target individual layers of causes one at a time. This piecemeal kind of approach can help you work your way up to a complete solution.

Stop Thinking of New Ideas, Find Problems

Don’t look for a great idea. Look for a good problem. Observe the troubles that you come across in your everyday life.

It’s by addressing these problems that you can make the most positive impact on the world.

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Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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Last Updated on March 15, 2019

How to Be a Leader Who Is Inspiring and Influential

How to Be a Leader Who Is Inspiring and Influential

When I began managing people 15 years ago, I thought having a fancy title was synonymous with influence. Over time, I learned that power is conferred based on likeability, authenticity, courage, relationships and consistent behavior. When leaders cultivate these attributes, they earn power, which really means influence.

Understanding influence is essential to professional growth, and companies rise and fall based on the quality of their leadership.

In this article, we will look into the essentials of effective leadership and how to be a leader who is inspiring and influential.

What Makes a Leader Fail?

A host of factors influence a leader’s ability to succeed. To the extent that leaders fail to outline a compelling vision and strategy, they risk losing the trust and confidence of their teams. Employees want to know where a company is going and the strategy for how they will get there. Having this information enables employees to feel safe, and it allows them to see mistakes as part of the learning journey versus as fatal occurrences.

If employees and customers do not believe a company’s leadership is authentic and inspiring, they may disengage, or they may be less inclined to offer constructive criticism that can help a company innovate or help a leader improve.

And it is not just the leadership at the top that matters. Middle managers play a distinct role in guiding teams. Depending on the company’s size, employees may have more access to mid-level managers than they do members of the C-suite, meaning their supervisors and managers have greater influence on the employee and the customer experience.

What Is Effective Leadership?

Effective leadership is inspiring, and it is influential. Cultivating inspiring and influential leaders requires building relationships across the company.

Leaders must be connected to both the teams they lead as well as to their own colleagues and managers. This is key as titles do not make a person a leader, nor do they automatically confer influence. These are earned through trusting relationships. This explains why some leaders can get more out of their teams than others and why some leaders experience soaring profits and engagement while others sizzle out.

Eric Garton said in an April 25, 2017, Harvard Business Review article:[1]

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“… inspiring leaders are those who use their unique combination of strengths to motivate individuals and teams to take on bold missions – and hold them accountable for results. And they unlock higher performance through empowerment, not command and control.”

How to Be an Inspiring and Influential Leader

To be an inspiring and influential leader requires:

1. Courage

The late poet Maya Angelou once said,

“Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage.”

Courage is required in the workplace when implementing new strategies, especially when they go against professional norms.

For instance, I heard Lisa TerKeurst, bestselling author and founder of Proverbs 31 Ministries, explain her decision to move away from her company’s magazine. While the organization had long had a magazine, she saw a future where it didn’t exist.

In order to make the switch, she risked angering her team members and customers. She took a chance, and what started out as a monthly newsletter, has grown into a multi-dimensional organization boasting half a million followers. Had Lisa not found the courage to change the direction of her organization, they undoubtedly would not have been able to experience such exponential growth.

It also takes courage to give and receive feedback. When leaders see employees who are not living into the company’s mission or who are engaging in behavior that may undermine their long-term success, one must risk temporary angst and speak candidly with the colleague in question.

Similarly, it takes courage to hear constructive criticism and try to change. In business, as in life, courage is necessary for being an inspiring and influential leader.

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2. A Commitment to Face Your Internal Demons.

If you feel great about yourself, enter a leadership position. You are likely to be triggered in ways you didn’t think possible. You are also likely to receive feedback that may leave you second-guessing yourself and your leadership skills.

The truth about leading others is that you get to a point where you realize that it is difficult to take people to places where you yourself haven’t gone.

To be an influential and inspiring leader, you have to face your own demons and vow to continually improve. Influential leaders take their personal evolution serious, and they invest in coaching, therapy and mindfulness to ensure that their personal struggles do not overshadow their professional development.

3. A Willingness to Accept Feedback

Inspiring and influential leaders are not afraid to accept feedback. In fact, they actively solicit it. They understand that everyone in their life has a lesson to teach them, and they are willing to accept it.

Inspirational leaders understand that feedback is neither good nor bad but rather an offering that is critical to growth. Even when it hurts or is an affront to the ego, influential leaders understand that feedback is critical to their ability to lead.

4. Likability

Some people will argue that leaders need not worry about being liked but should instead focus on being respected. I disagree. Both are important.

When team members like their boss and believe their boss likes them, they are more likely to go the extra mile to fulfill departmental or organizational goals. Likable leaders are moved to the front of the line when it comes to being influential.

Relatedly, when colleagues feel management dislikes them, they experience internal stress and can spend unnecessary time focusing on the source of their manager’s discontent versus the work they have been hired to do.

So, likability is important for both the leader and the people she leads.

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5. Vulnerability

Vulnerability is critical for being an inspiring leader. People want the truth. They admire leaders who can occasionally demonstrate vulnerability. It promotes deeper relationships and inspires trust.

When leaders can showcase vulnerability appropriately, they destroy the illusion that one must be perfect to be a leader. They also demonstrate that vulnerability is not a dirty word; they too can be vulnerable and ask for a helping hand when necessary.

6. Authenticity

Authenticity is about living up to one’s stated values in public and behind closed doors.

Influential leaders are authentic. They set to live out their values and use those values to guide their decisions. The interesting thing about leadership is that people are not looking for perfect leaders. They are, in part, looking for leaders who are authentic.

7. A True Understanding of Inspiration

Effective leaders are inspirational. They understand the power of words and deeds and use both strategically.

Inspiring leaders appropriately use stories and narratives to enable the teams around them to see common situations in an entirely new light.

Inspirational leaders also showcase grit and triumph while convincing the people around them that success and victory are attainable.

Finally, inspiring leaders encourage the teams they lead to tap into their own genius. They convince others that genius is not reserved for a select few but that most people have it in them.

As explained in the article True Leadership: What Separates a Leader from a Boss:

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“A leader creates visions and motivates team members to work together towards the same goal.”

8. An Ability to See the Humanity in Others

Inspiring and influential leaders see the humanity in others. Rather than treating their teams as mere tools to accomplish organizational goals, they believe the people around them are unique beings with inherent value.

This means knowing when to pause to address personal challenges and dispelling with the myth that the personal is separate from the professional.

9. A Passion for Continual Learning

Inspiring and influential leaders are committed to continual learning. They invest in their own development and take responsibility for their professional growth.

These leaders understand that like a college campus, the workplace is a laboratory for learning. They believe that they can learn from multiple generations in the workplace as well as from people from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds.

Influential leaders proactively seek out opportunities for learning.

The Bottom Line

No one said leadership was easy, but it is also a joy. Influencing others to action and positively impacting the lives of others is a reward unto itself.

Since leadership abounds, there is an abundance of resources to help you grow into the type of leader who inspires and influences others.

More Resources About Effective Leadership

Featured photo credit: Markus Spiske via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Harvard Business Review: How to Be an Inspiring Leader

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