Problem. Solution. 9 Action Steps. No Headaches.

Written by Tony BroadbentBusiness

Is this a guaranteed recipe for success when searching for solutions to problems? Does it always work? More importantly - will it work for you?

It will more often than not. I’ve certainly benefited countless times from remembering to remember to adopt this simple 9-Step process when approaching a problem. I do something similar when approaching a new textbook - whether I’m versed in the subject or not. After a while it simply becomes second nature - and the results will speak for themselves.

And talking of results - a quick side bar - ‘aspirin’ is considered a wonder drug because it works more than fifty per cent of the time. All of which is to say - practice the 9-Steps when approaching a problem and you have a better than two-to one chance at better outcomes. Headaches gone.

If those odds have any appeal - then read on Macduff.

If not - “No problems” - at least until you’re next faced with having to solve one. Then it might not be a bad idea to come back and give the 9-Step approach a try. Who knows - it might just work for you.

1. Step back: Start at “Chapter Zero”

When trying to solve any problem - complex or simply complicated - go back to the point before the problem presented itself - start at Chapter Zero - the real starting point.

Chapter Zero. All the information no one tells you - that you were too embarrassed or too intimidated - or even too afraid - to ask about. — Mark Johnson - The Understanding Business, San Francisco

Step back to ‘the vantage point’ that exists before almost everyone’s normal starting point. The moment everyone’s experienced at some time or another in his or her working life. That point in a meeting where everyone assumes everyone else already knows what needs to be known about the problem that needs to be solved - but no one ever thinks to ask whether it’s truly the case or not.

You’d be surprised at how many people jump straight into a problem totally unprepared and then end up wondering why coming up with any workable solution at all - let alone a creative one - seems so very hard.

The trick is to fully grasp the problem before you even try to get to grips with it - to give yourself time to let the problem fully sink in.

2. Gather your wits: mise-en-place’ ne pas mal placé

Gather your wits. Gather the mental tools you’re going to need to solve your problem. Get everything all laid out and ready. Just as happens at a restaurant kitchen work position - or operating theatre for that matter - the work area all laid out with tools to meet the specific needs of the task at hand. In all the better-run kitchens they refer to it as - ‘mise-en-place’ - where each piece of equipment - utensils as well as prepped ingredients are all perfectly placed - ready for the off - nothing forgotten or misplaced.

3. Is it the right time?: Final check before take-off

Simple, but so very easy to overlook in the rush to find a solution - the all-important question: Is it the right time to try and solve the problem? Are conditions right? Is there anything else - however small - that might get in the way of you completing your task? Things come to take away - put them in a ‘mental black box’ outside the door - free your mind.

4. Start at the end: Know your enemy

Know your enemy - a strategic maxim long employed by military planners. What do you hope to achieve? What’s the desired outcome? What’s the real goal? How would you equate success?

5. Define the problem: The ‘Tipping Point’

State the problem as simply and as clearly as you can. Half the solution to any problem is first understanding exactly what it is - appreciating its true scale - its dimensions. If possible - try to explain the problem to someone else. If not - write it down - as this will compel you to clarify it.

6. Get to grips with the problem: The beginning of the end

As you will have no doubt become increasingly aware by this stage. You’ve been working on the problem all along simply by approaching it in the right way. So this is when solutions start to present themselves - even before you’ve consciously fully engaged with the problem. So now ask yourself - Is there anything that immediately strikes you about the problem - a solution that seems easy or obvious?

7. Identify possible solutions: The many and the few

Identify any and all solutions that now begin to present themselves. Dismiss any that - for whatever reason - aren’t immediately feasible. (Put them in a folder marked ‘First Round No Go Ideas’ - whatever - just get them off your plate - knowing they’re there to go back to should future circumstances change). If action is called for a quick ‘SWOT’ Analysis: ‘Strengths? Weaknesses? Opportunities? Threats?’ can help determine which solution might work best. If a product of any sort is on the cards - apply the eternal ‘Iron Triangle’ of product development: ‘Good-Fast-Cheap - Pick any two’.

8. Turn your back: A tactical retreat oftentimes wins the day

Know when to walk away from the problem. If you are sure you have all the necessary input - and still cannot see the solution - make a conscious decision to walk away - to leave the problem be for a while - sleep on it if need be - just give time for your subconscious to work on the problem. (See DO Contribute: May 21 2017 ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough To Keep You From New Creative Heights’ - for Mad Man James Webb Young’s remarkably useful ‘5-Step Process for Creating Ideas’.)

9. Take no action: When to decide ‘not to decide’

Sometimes the best ‘Action Step’ is to do nothing but wait. As Bruce Lee so often demonstrated so brilliantly: “What does the man of action do when action is impossible?” Answer: “He sits - calmly - mindfully - and waits until such time as he can take action.” Some problems solve themselves. Sometimes subsequent events make it abundantly clear what course of action should be taken. Now you’ve awoken to the problem - wait - watch - and see. You’ll know whether the time is right to act or not - based on whatever new information becomes available.

The preparation is but the start - the readiness to remain engaged is all.

Think on.


Written by
Tony Broadbent
Writer. Author. Designer. Illustrator. Idea-tor. ReThinker. BABE (Bay Area Beatles Expert). Tony Broadbent was an art student in London in the late Sixties. He then worked as a copywriter and creative director at some of the best advertising agencies in London, New York, and San Francisco, before opening his own agency. He's now a consulting brand strategist, planner, and ideator for clients in the U.S. and Europe.

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