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Last Updated on January 27, 2021

5 Steps (And 4 Techniques) for Effective Problem Solving

5 Steps (And 4 Techniques) for Effective Problem Solving
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Problem solving is the process of reviewing every element of an issue so you can get to a solution or fix it. Problem solving steps cover multiple aspects of a problem that you can bring together to find a solution. Whether that’s in a group collaboratively or independently, the process remains the same, but the approach and the steps can differ.

To find a problem solving approach that works for you, your team, or your company, you have to take into consideration the environment you’re in and the personalities around you.

Knowing the characters in the room will help you decide on the best approach to try and ultimately get to the best solution.

5 Problem Solving Steps

No matter what the problem is, to solve it, you nearly always have to follow these problem solving steps. Missing any of these steps can cause the problem to either resurface or the solution to not be implemented correctly.

Once you know these steps, you can then get creative with the approach you take to find the solutions you need.

1. Define the Problem

You must define and understand the problem before you start, whether you’re solving it independently or as a group. If you don’t have a single view of what the problem is, you could be fixing something that doesn’t need fixing, or you’ll fix the wrong problem.

Spend time elaborating on the problem, write it down, and discuss everything, so you’re clear on why the problem is occurring and who it is impacting.

2. Ideate

Once you have clarity on the problem, you then need to start thinking about every possible solution. This is where you go big and broad, as you want to come up with as many alternative solutions as possible.Don’t just take the first idea; build out as many as you can through active listening, as the more you create, the more likely you’ll find a solution that has the best impact on the team.

3. Decide on a Solution

Whichever solution you pick individually or as a team, make sure you think about the impact on others if you implement this solution. Ask questions like:

  • How will they react to this change?
  • Will they need to change anything?
  • Who do we need to inform of this change?

4. Implement the Solution

At this stage of problem solving, be prepared for feedback, and plan for this. When you roll out the solution, request feedback on the success of the change made.

5. Review, Iterate, and Improve

Making a change shouldn’t be a one time action. Spend time reviewing the results of the change to make sure it’s made the required impact and met the desired outcomes.

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Make changes where needed so you can further improve the solution implemented.

4 Techniques to Encourage Problem Solving

Each individual or team is going to have different needs and may need a different technique to encourage each of the problem solving steps. Try one of these to stimulate the process.

1-2-4 All Approach + Voting

The 1-2-4-All is a good problem solving approach that can work no matter how large the group is. Everyone is involved, and you can generate a vast amount of ideas quickly.

Ideas and solutions are discussed and organized rapidly, and what is great about this approach is the attendees own their ideas, so when it comes to implementing the solutions, you don’t have more work to gain buy-in.

As a facilitator, you first need to present the group with a question explaining the problem or situation. For example, “What actions or ideas would you recommend to solve the company’s lack of quiet working areas?”

1

With the question clear for all to see, the group then spends 5 minutes to reflect on the question individually. They can jot down their thoughts and ideas on Post-Its.

2

Now ask the participants to find one or two other people to discuss their ideas and thoughts with. Ask the group to move around to find a partner so they can mix with new people.

Ask the pairs to spend 5 minutes discussing their shared ideas and thoughts.

4

Next, put the group into groups of two or three pairs to make groups of 4-6. Each group shouldn’t be larger than six as the chances of everyone being able to speak reduces.

Ask the group to discuss one interesting idea they’ve heard in previous rounds, and each group member shares one each.

The group then needs to pick their preferred solution to the problem. This doesn’t have to be voted on, just one that resonated most with the group.

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Then ask for three actions that could be taken to implement this change.

All

Bring everyone back together as a group and ask open questions like “What is the one thing you discussed that stood out for you?” or “Is there something you now see differently following these discussions?”

By the end of the session, you’ll have multiple approaches to solve the problem, and the whole group will have contributed to the future solutions and improvements.

The Lightning Decision Jam

The Lightning Decision Jam is a great way to solve problems collaboratively and agree on one solution or experiment you want to try straight away. It encourages team decision making, but at the same time, the individual can get their ideas and feedback across.[1]

If, as a team, you have a particular area you want to improve upon, like the office environment, for example, this approach is perfect to incorporate in the problem solving steps.

The approach follows a simple loop.

Make a Note – Stick It on The Wall – Vote – Prioritize

Using sticky notes, the technique identifies major problems, encourages solutions, and opens the group up for discussion. It allows each team member to play an active role in identifying both problems and ways to solve them.

Mind Mapping

Mind mapping is a fantastic visual thinking tool that allows you to bring problems to life by building out the connections and visualizing the relationships that make up the problem.

You can use a mind map to quickly expand upon the problem and give yourself the full picture of the causes of the problem, as well as solutions[2].

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Problem Solving with Mind Maps (Tutorial) - Focus

    The goal of a mind map is to simplify the problem and link the causes and solutions to the problem.

    To create a mind map, you must first create the central topic (level 1). In this case, that’s the problem.

    Next, create the linked topics (level 2) that you place around and connect to the main central topic with a simple line.

    If the central topic is “The client is always changing their mind at the last minute,” then you could have linked topics like:

    • How often does this happen?
    • Why are they doing this?
    • What are they asking for?
    • How do they ask for it?
    • What impact does this have?

    Adding these linking topics allows you to start building out the main causes of the problem as you can begin to see the full picture of what you need to fix. Once you’re happy that you’ve covered the breadth of the problem and its issues, you can start to ideate on how you’re going to fix it with the problem solving steps.

    Now, start adding subtopics (level 3) linking to each of the level 2 topics. This is where you can start to go big on solutions and ideas to help fix the problem.

    For each of the linked topics (level 2), start to think about how you can prevent them, mitigate them, or improve them. As this is just ideas on paper, write down anything that comes to mind, even if you think the client will never agree to it!

    The more you write down, the more ideas you’ll have until you find one or two that could solve the main problem.

    Once you run out of ideas, take a step back and highlight your favorite solutions to take forward and implement.

    The 5 Why’s

    The five why’s can sound a little controversial, and you shouldn’t try this without prepping the team beforehand.

    Asking “why” is a great way to go deep into the root of the problem to make the individual or team really think about the cause. When a problem arises, we often have preconceived ideas about why this problem has occurred, which is usually based on our experiences or beliefs.

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    Start with describing the problem, and then the facilitator can ask “Why?” fives time or more until you get to the root of the problem. It’s tough at first to keep being asked why, but it’s also satisfying when you get to the root of the problem[3].

    The 5 Whys

      As a facilitator, although the basic approach is to ask why, you need to be careful not to guide the participant down a single route.

      To help with this, you can use a mind map with the problem at the center. Then ask a why question that will result in multiple secondary topics around the central problem. Having this visual representation of the problem helps you build out more useful why questions around it.

      Once you get to the root of the problem, don’t forget to be clear in the actions to put a fix in place to resolve it.

      Learn more about how to use the five why’s here.

      The Bottom Line

      To fix a problem, you must first be in a position where you fully understand it. There are many ways to misinterpret a problem, and the best way to understand them is through conversation with the team or individuals who are experiencing it.

      Once you’re aligned, you can then begin to work on the solutions that will have the greatest impact through effective problem solving steps.

      For the more significant or difficult problems to solve, it’s often advisable to break the solution up into smaller actions or improvements.

      Trial these improvements in short iterations, and then continue the conversations to review and improve the solution. Implementing all of these steps will help you root out the problems and find useful solutions each time.

      More Tips on Problem Solving

      Featured photo credit: You X Ventures via unsplash.com

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      Reference

      More by this author

      Ben Willmott

      Productivity and Project Management blogger for at work and at home

      Why You Can’t Focus and 20 Things You Can Do to Fix It How to Compartmentalize to Live a Stress-Free and Successful Life 5 Steps (And 4 Techniques) for Effective Problem Solving How to Set OKRs to Keep Your Goals on Track 8 Essential Project Management Skills for Productive Work

      Trending in Brain Power

      1 What Is Loss Aversion And How To Avoid This Bias 2 Are You Right-Brain Dominant? (7 Right Brain Characteristics) 3 How to Tap into Your Right Brain’s Potential 4 How to Think Critically: 5 Powerful Techniques 5 How To Think Effectively: 12 Powerful Techniques

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      Published on August 2, 2021

      What Is Loss Aversion And How To Avoid This Bias

      What Is Loss Aversion And How To Avoid This Bias
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      Have you been feeling particularly cautious lately? Do you find yourself avoiding making major or seemingly risky decisions until you feel life has returned to “normal”? This isn’t unusual, and you are not alone. In these uncertain times of the COVID-19 pandemic, people would rather stick with what they perceive as safe. They veer away from making any sudden changes that could rock the boat and resort to loss aversion instead.

      After more than a year of having to take drastic measures to secure our safety as well as those of our loved ones, it’s not surprising to find that some people would choose to hunker down even when faced with issues that don’t pose any mortal danger to them.

      The pandemic has challenged us to become more resilient—a good thing—and even pick up an additional useful skill or two.[1] However, the flip side presents us with a potentially unfortunate side effect—that it could have altered our risk-taking behavior.

      Read on to learn what loss aversion is and how you can avoid this bias.

      Taking Risks, Making a Change

      Why is it important to have a healthy view of risk? Shouldn’t we approach life with caution to avoid making mistakes?

      I would say that, indeed, making careful, decisive choices will yield great results, so long as you can identify the line between being reasonably cautious and being downright fearful. There are also certain patterns in decision-making that you must watch out for.

      To illustrate further, I present you with this example: Let’s say you meet a kind stranger who offers you your choice of a great deal with absolutely no tricks. He gives you $45. Then, he asks you if you want to hold on to the money or give it back to him in exchange for a coin flip. If it’s heads, he’ll give you $100 right then and there. If it’s tails, you get nothing.

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      So, which one do you choose? Instant cash in your pocket or a chance to flip the coin? Think hard before you read further.

      When I present this coin scenario to different audiences, about 80% say they’ll take the $45 from the stranger. That’s the choice I made when I was also presented with this scenario many years ago. The same can be said for most people in studies of similar choices.[2] And why not? The $45 is a sure thing, after all.

      Back then, I thought that I’d certainly feel foolish if I took the risk just for a shot at getting $100 only to lose out. My gut instinct told me to avoid losing. I suppose anyone would feel the same way initially.

      Here’s the thing, though. If we run the numbers, the chance of getting heads is 50%, so in half of all cases, you’ll get the $100. In the rest of the cases, you won’t get anything. So, that’s equal to $50 on average, compared with just $45.

      Now, imagine if you flipped the coin 10 times, then 100 times, 1,000 times, on to 10,000 times, and then 100,000 times. At 100,000 times, on average you would win $5 million if you picked the coin flip for $100 every time, compared with $4.5 million if you picked $45 each time. The difference is an amazing $500,000.

      This means that picking $45 as your gift from the stranger leads to you losing out. The correct choice—the one that will mostly not lead to you losing—is to pick the coin flip. Pick the other choice and you’re pretty much guaranteed to lose over multiple coin flips.

      However, you might reason out that I presented the scenario as a one-time deal and not as a repeating opportunity. Perhaps, you’d say that if you knew it was a repeating scenario, then you would have picked differently.

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      The problem lies with this: studies have shown that our gut addresses each scenario we face as a one-off.[3] In reality, we are presented with a multitude of such choices every day. We are goaded by our intuition to deal with each one as an isolated situation. However, these choices are part of a broader repeating pattern where our gut pushes us towards losing money. We avoid risks—fearful of losing—and end up losing in the end.

      Why Are People Afraid to Take Risks?

      We are prone to shying away from risks due to a mental blindspot called loss aversion.[4] This is one of the many dangerous judgment errors that result from how our brains are wired—what scholars in cognitive neuroscience and behavioral economics call cognitive biases.[5]

      Research has shown that people are more sensitive to possible losses than potential gains.[6]

      Loss aversion goads us into having an unhealthy view of risk, causing us to have a knee-jerk and one-size-fits-all approach to risk-taking, which is to outright reject it. This rejection runs counter to the resilience and flexibility we gained during these uncertain times. It also poses a threat to how we can continue to adapt to the shifting nature of this pandemic, as well as how to smoothly transition to a post-COVID life.[7]

      The Sweeping Influence of Loss Aversion

      It’s easy enough to think that loss aversion only comes into play during major decisions or turning points. However, we are presented with a multitude of similar choices daily that—much like in the coin-flip scenario—represent a broader pattern that could cause us to lose out in life.

      Remember that loss aversion isn’t just limited to decisions that have a corresponding monetary result. It also applies to situations and circumstances where avoiding a possibly negative outcome might blind you to potentially positive changes in your life.

      Here are some aspects of life that can easily be derailed by loss aversion.

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      1. Exiting Toxic Relationships

      Have you ever stayed in a relationship (romantic or otherwise) that has clearly already run its course? Perhaps this relationship already causes you distress or keeps you from reaching your personal goals.

      Yet, despite indications that you would have a healthier, happier life without this stressful relationship, you find it difficult to walk away because of the disruption it would cause in your life. You worry about the loss of your routine, and this holds you back.

      2. Making Much-Needed Career Changes

      People are particularly cautious about making career changes especially during this pandemic, opting to “wait it out” and just trudging on until life returns to “normal.”

      We need to remember that we may never get back the version of normal that we had pre-pandemic. Just as the world changed and readjusted to COVID, so did each individual, and so did employers.

      Jobs and employment are constantly shifting and evolving, more so now than before, so you have to weigh and consider if the loss of an old job is truly that daunting versus transitioning to a new career that could enrich your life mid- and post-pandemic.

      3. Dealing With Your Current Pandemic Life and Looking Forward

      Loss aversion can trickle down even to the smallest perceivable things in life. With our wariness of COVID-19 modifying our behavior when it comes to going out, physical distancing, and socializing, it’s perfectly understandable to someday come out of this pandemic more cautious, more health-conscious, and more aware of our security than we were before 2020.

      However, as we start to consider what the world will be like after the pandemic, we should also plan our lives accordingly. This means that while our social and networking circles were forcibly shrunk in the last year, there is no need to let our lives deliberately stagnate for fear of leaving our comfort zone.

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      It also means that, when the time is right, we must be willing to reintegrate our lives into a changed world and balance the risk with a potentially more meaningful life.

      Conclusion

      While it might seem daunting, looking ahead into the future calls for a reexamination of loss aversion. If left unchecked, it will keep you from living your best life as it goads you into focusing on what you could lose versus what you might gain.

      With or without the pandemic, viewing risk with a steady perspective can indeed be helpful when weighing how to proceed with major life decisions. However, focusing too much on the risk may lead to abject fear, which can keep you from making balanced, decisive choices.

      Identifying the repeated pattern of our choices and knowing how to tackle and transform each possible loss into a gain will go a long way in winning in life—with or without a pandemic.

      More Biases That Unconsiously Affect Us Every Day

      Featured photo credit: AJ Yorio via unsplash.com

      Reference

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