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How to Solve Your Problems Visually Using a Solution Map

How to Solve Your Problems Visually Using a Solution Map

Ever suffered from confusion around a personal or business issue?

It’s difficult to think clearly and find solutions easily when you’re overloaded with complex and contradicting information. A puzzle with just too many pieces is quite confusing.

I believe there are three levels of thinking…

  1. Regular thinking (inside your head)
  2. Thinking out loud
  3. Thinking visually

Regular thinking is just you thinking in silence. This is the baseline – it only gets better from here on.

Thinking out loud brings a few benefits. Expressing your thoughts verbally forces you to clarify them. You also get to feed off each other’s ideas.

Thinking visually is incredibly powerful:

  • Visualizing  your thoughts makes them much clearer;
  • Ideas are automatically organized;
  • Your productivity is maximized by leveraging mind mapping and other types of diagrams.

Problem solving is considered the most complex of all intellectual functions. Hence, all the help you can get is very welcome!

The late Eliyahu M. Goldratt, a business management guru, introduced several thinking processes that facilitate problem solving  in his book It’s Not Luck.

Goldratt’s Thinking Processes

  1. Current Reality Tree (CRT): Here you list our your irritants called UnDesirable Effects (UDEs), and try to identify the root cause(s) of all of them. Once you’ve identified the UnDesirables, you start coming up with potential solutions (injections).
  2. Future Reality Tree (FRT): This process helps you validate possible solutions by visualizing what your future situation will look like should you enact those alternatives.
  3. Pre-Requisite Tree (PRT): A Pre-Requisite Tree (PRT) helps you uncover potential impediments to the implementation of your solutions, and the actions that you need to take to overcome those impediments.
  4. Conflict cloud: With a Cloud, you can solve an apparent conflict or dilemma between two actions.

    When applying the thinking process method, there is a proper sequence to follow.
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    For example, a Current Reality Tree is always the best place to start. Once you’ve developed a CRT you follow up with a Future Reality Tree, and lastly a Pre-Requisite Tree.

    The Cloud, on the other hand, is used whenever you come across a conflict between actions.

    I created a simplified version of these processes derived from the CRT and the PRT. I call this approach a Solution Map.

    Using a solution map allows you to visualize your problem clearly. Simply put, you find the root cause(s) for all of your problems. In the end, you come up with a list of prioritized actions that you need to do, which you know will fix those problems.

     

      You will need…

      Although I find that the best way to use the solution map is with a computer, you can do it with post-its. If you choose post-its, then you are better off also using a whiteboard, on which you will place those post-its. A large sheet of paper will work too, but the advantage of the whiteboard is that you can easily move post-its around and redraw the connecting lines.

      In order to implement the Solution Map, follow these five steps:

      1. List your UnDesirable Effects (UDEs)
      2. Uncover the root cause(s)
      3. Brainstorm solutions
      4. Identify the obstacles
      5. List the actions

      1. List your UnDesirable Effects (UDEs)

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      These are your problems, irritants, negative things in your business or your personal life. List all the UDEs that you can think of for now, or capture them over a certain period of time.

      Write each UDE on a separate post-it. Stick them to your sheet or whiteboard, in no particular order.

           

          2. Uncover the root cause(s)

          Build a causal tree. “Because of A, then B”. Add a line (or arrow) between each cause and its consequence(s). Consequences go in the top of the tree, whereas causes go in the bottom. The root cause(s) are the elements that don’t have any other element causing them. So in other words, the root causes are the leaves of the tree, in the bottom.

            In our example, the two root causes are “Allergies” and “Too much focus on my personal life”.

            Note that you might also highlight the root causes in a different color. I kept things as simple as possible to demonstrate the process, but having some color coding is useful.

            If you have more than one root cause, prioritize them.  To evaluate an element, rate its impact and your capacity at solving it. Then, multiply those two numbers. You get a relative result that makes it easy for you to decide what the priorities are. In some cases where the hierarchy in importance is obvious, you don’t need to evaluate each element with those criteria; just decide.

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            Impact * Capacity = Priority

            Mark the most important root cause by highlighting it.

                 

                3. Brainstorm solutions

                Since you now know which root cause(s) to focus on, it is the time to brainstorm solutions for that one, or for the top few. List all the potential solutions that you can think of. Place those post-its below their associated root cause. Draw a line or arrow from each solution to its related root cause. Prioritize with the same criteria (impact * capacity). Highlight the most important solutions with a different marker.

                       

                      4. Identify the obstacles

                      For each of the most important solutions, identify the obstacles to their implementation. An obstacle is something stopping you from implementing the solution you have for a root cause.

                      Did you notice the red dotted arrow? This is what is called a negative reinforcing loop. It is simply a loop in your irritants that keeps making things worse, and worse, until you solve it. In our example, “being tired” feeds off the problem of “lacking energy to stick to things I’m committed to”. It is said that a Current Reality Tree is not really a Current Reality Tree until you have a negative reinforcing loop.

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                          Then, prioritize the obstacles with the same criteria (impact * capacity).

                               

                              5. List the actions

                              For the most important obstacle or for the top few, identify the list of actions needed to alleviate it. An action is simply the thing you need to do to remove that obstacle. Prioritize the actions you find, using the same criteria.


                                  And you’re done!

                                  You now have an ordered list of actions to take, which will remove the obstacles to the implementation of the solutions. Once you’re done with those actions, you need to start implementing the solution itself.

                                  Obviously, I kept this example very simple, with only a few UDEs, root causes, solutions and actions. Your real-life situation might be a lot more complex.

                                  And this brings me back to making the suggestion of using the computer, or at least a large white board. You will need plenty of space to create your Solution Map. I personally use Mindjet MindManager, but any visual tool that allows you to position elements freely on a white canvas and adding lines or arrows between those will do just fine.

                                    More by this author

                                    Matt Tanguay

                                    Matt is the CEO and Chief Visual Facilitator of Fluent Brain. He writes about problem solving techniques and tips to supercharge the brain.

                                    How to Mind Map: Visualize Your Cluttered Thoughts in 3 Simple Steps Master Your New Year’s Resolutions: The Ultimate Infographic How to Solve Your Problems Visually Using a Solution Map

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                                    Last Updated on March 21, 2019

                                    11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

                                    11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

                                    Most gurus talk about habits in a way that doesn’t help you:

                                    You need to push yourself more. You can’t be lazy. You need to wake up at 5 am. You need more motivation. You can never fail…blah blah “insert more gibberish here.”

                                    But let me share with you the unconventional truths I found out:

                                    To build and change habits, you don’t need motivation or wake up at 5 am. Heck, you can fail multiple times, be lazy, have no motivation and still pull it off with ease.

                                    It’s quite simple and easy to do, especially with the following list I’m going to show to you. But remember, Jim Rohn used to say,

                                    “What is simple and easy to do is also simple and easy not to do.”

                                    The important things to remember when changing your habits are both simple and easy, just don’t think that they don’t make any difference because they do.

                                    In fact, they are the only things that make a difference.

                                    Let’s see what those small things are, shall we?

                                    1. Start Small

                                    The biggest mistake I see people doing with habits is by going big. You don’t go big…ever. You start small with your habits.

                                    Want to grow a book reading habit? Don’t start reading a book a day. Start with 10 pages a day.

                                    Want to become a writer? Don’t start writing 10,000 words a day. Start with 300 words.

                                    Want to lose weight? Don’t stop eating ice cream. Eat one less ball of it.

                                    Whatever it is, you need to start small. Starting big always leads to failure. It has to, because it’s not sustainable.

                                    Start small. How small? The amount needs to be in your comfort zone. So if you think that reading 20 pages of a book is a bit too much, start with 10 or 5.

                                    It needs to appear easy and be easy to do.

                                    Do less today to do more in a year.

                                    2. Stay Small

                                    There is a notion of Kaizen which means continuous improvement. They use this notion in habits where they tell you to start with reading 1 page of a book a day and then gradually increase the amount you do over time.

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                                    But the problem with this approach is the end line — where the “improvement” stops.

                                    If I go from reading 1 page of a book a day and gradually reach 75 and 100, when do I stop? When I reach 1 book a day? That is just absurd.

                                    When you start a habit, stay at it in the intensity you have decided. Don’t push yourself for more.

                                    I started reading 20 pages of a book a day. It’s been more than 2 years now and I’ve read 101 books in that period. There is no way I will increase the number in the future.

                                    Why?

                                    Because reading 40 to 50 books a year is enough.

                                    The same thing applies to every other habit out there.

                                    Pick a (small) number and stay at it.

                                    3. Bad Days Are 100 Percent Occurrence

                                    No matter how great you are, you will have bad days where you won’t do your habit. Period.

                                    There is no way of going around this. So it’s better to prepare yourself for when that happens instead of thinking that it won’t ever happen.

                                    What I do when I miss a day of my habit(s) is that I try to bounce back the next day while trying to do habits for both of those days.

                                    Example for that is if I read 20 pages of a book a day and I miss a day, the next day I will have to read 40 pages of a book. If I miss writing 500 words, the next day I need to write 1000.

                                    This is a really important point we will discuss later on rewards and punishments.

                                    This is how I prepare for the bad days when I skip my habit(s) and it’s a model you should take as well.

                                    4. Those Who Track It, Hack It

                                    When you track an activity, you can objectively tell what you did in the past days, weeks, months, and years. If you don’t track, you will for sure forget everything you did.

                                    There are many different ways you can track your activities today, from Habitica to a simple Excel sheet that I use, to even a Whatsapp Tracker.

                                    Peter Drucker said,

                                    “What you track is what you do.”

                                    So track it to do it — it really helps.

                                    But tracking is accompanied by one more easy activity — measuring.

                                    5. Measure Once, Do Twice

                                    Peter Drucker also said,

                                    “What you measure is what you improve.”

                                    So alongside my tracker, I have numbers with which I measure doses of daily activities:

                                    For reading, it’s 20 pages.
                                    For writing, it’s 500 words.
                                    For the gym, it’s 1 (I went) or 0 (didn’t go).
                                    For budgeting, it’s writing down the incomes and expenses.

                                    Tracking and measuring go hand in hand, they take less than 20 seconds a day but they create so much momentum that it’s unbelievable.

                                    6. All Days Make a Difference

                                    Will one day in the gym make you fit? It won’t.

                                    Will two? They won’t.

                                    Will three? They won’t.

                                    Which means that a single gym session won’t make you fit. But after 100 gym sessions, you will look and feel fit.

                                    What happened? Which one made you fit?

                                    The answer to this (Sorites paradox)[1] is that no single gym session made you fit, they all did.

                                    No single day makes a difference, but when combined, they all do. So trust the process and keep on going (small).

                                    7. They Are Never Fully Automated

                                    Gurus tell you that habits become automatic. And yes, some of them do, like showering a certain way of brushing your teeth.

                                    But some habits don’t become automatic, they become a lifestyle.

                                    What I mean by that is that you won’t automatically “wake up” in the gym and wonder how you got there.

                                    It will just become a part of your lifestyle.

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                                    The difference is that you do the first one automatically, without conscious thought, while the other is a part of how you live your life.

                                    It’s not automatic, but it’s a decision you don’t ponder on or think about — you simply do it.

                                    It will become easy at a certain point, but they will never become fully automated.

                                    8. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

                                    Marshall Goldsmith has a great book with the same title to it. The phrase means that sometimes, you will need to ditch certain habits to make room for other ones which will bring you to the next step.

                                    Don’t be afraid to evolve your habits when you sense that they don’t bring you where you want to go.

                                    When I started reading, it was about reading business and tactic books. But two years into it, I switched to philosophy books which don’t teach me anything “applicable,” but instead teach me how to think.

                                    The most important ability of the 21st century is the ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn. The strongest tree is the willow tree – not because it has the strongest root or biggest trunk, but because it is flexible enough to endure and sustain anything.

                                    Be like a willow, adapting to the new ways of doing things.

                                    9. Set a Goal and Then Forget It

                                    The most successful of us know what they want to achieve, but they don’t focus on it.

                                    Sounds paradoxical? You’re right, it does. But here is the logic behind it.

                                    You need to have a goal of doing something – “I want to become a healthy individual” – and then, you need to reverse engineer how to get there with your habits- “I will go to the gym four times a week.”

                                    But once you have your goal, you need to “forget” about it and only focus on the process. Because you are working on the process of becoming healthy and it’s always in the making. You will only be as healthy as you take care of your body.

                                    So you have a goal which isn’t static but keeps on moving.

                                    If you went to the gym 150 times year and you hit your goal, what would you do then? You would stop going to the gym.

                                    This is why goal-oriented people experience yo-yo effect[2] and why process-oriented people don’t.

                                    The difference between process-oriented and goal-oriented people is that the first focus on daily actions while others only focus on the reward at the finish line.

                                    Set a goal but then forget about it and reap massive awards.

                                    10. Punish Yourself

                                    Last two sections are pure Pavlovian – you need to punish bad behavior and reward good behavior. You are the only person who decides what is good and what is bad for you, but when you do, you need to rigorously follow that.

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                                    I’ve told you in point #3 about bad days and how after one occurs, I do double the work on the next day. That is one of my forms of punishments.

                                    It’s the need to tell your brain that certain behaviors are unacceptable and that they lead to bad outcomes. That’s what punishments are for.

                                    You want to tell your brain that there are real consequences to missing your daily habits.[3]

                                    No favorite food to eat or favorite show to watch or going to the cinema for a new Marvel movie- none, zero, zilch.

                                    The brain will remember these bad feelings and will try to avoid the behaviors that led to them as much as possible.

                                    But don’t forget the other side of the same coin.

                                    11. Reward Yourself

                                    When you follow and execute on your plan, reward yourself. It’s how the brain knows that you did something good.

                                    Whenever I finish one of my habits for the day, I open my tracker (who am I kidding, I always keep it open on my desktop) and fill it with a number. As soon as I finish reading 20 pages of a book a day (or a bit more), I open the tracker and write the number down.

                                    The cell becomes green and gives me an instant boost of endorphin – a great success for the day. Then, it becomes all about not breaking the chain and having as many green fields as possible.

                                    After 100 days, I crunch some numbers and see how I did.

                                    If I have less than 10 cheat days, I reward myself with a great meal in a restaurant. You can create your own rewards and they can be daily, weekly, monthly or any arbitrary time table that you create.

                                    Primoz Bozic, a productivity coach, has gold, silver, and bronze medals as his reward system.[4]

                                    If you’re having problems creating a system which works for you, contact me via email and we can discuss specifics.

                                    In the End, It Matters

                                    What you do matters not only to you but to the people around you.

                                    When you increase the quality of your life, you indirectly increase the quality of life of people around you. And sometimes, that is all the “motivation” we need to start.

                                    And that’s the best quote for the end of this article:

                                    “Motivation gets you started, but habits keep you going.”

                                    Keep going.

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                                    More Resources to Help You Build Habits

                                    Featured photo credit: Anete Lūsiņa via unsplash.com

                                    Reference

                                    [1] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Sorites paradox
                                    [2] Muscle Zone: What causes yo-yo effect and how to avoid it?
                                    [3] Growth Habits: 5 Missteps That Cause You To Quit Building A Habit
                                    [4] Primoz Bozic: The Lean Review: How to Plan Your 2019 in 20 Minutes

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