Problem-solving is fun and challenging. The more a person solves problems, the better they become at developing creative and effective solutions. The key is to exercise the problem-solving muscle and use a process that gets results.

The first step in problem-solving is to define the desired outcome.

What exactly do you want to accomplish? It would be best if you were very detailed in describing the desired result. Clarity is one of the most essential aspects of all planning. Get clear on what you want, or you will have to take what you get.

Define the problem.

This step can be deceiving in its apparent simplicity. Often, we fail to understand the problem clearly and, as a result, attempt to solve what is only a symptom of the problem. One common technique for identifying the root cause is the “5 Why’s”. Simply ask why five times. Why is my engine not starting? Because it will not crank. Why will it not crank? Because it is not getting power. Why is it not getting power? Because the battery is dead. Why is the battery dead? Because the interior light was on all night. Why was the interior light left on? I was tired when I arrived home and forgot to turn the interior light off. This example is simple but an excellent representation of basic troubleshooting.

Identify an appropriate solution.

The solution will often be a series of steps or actions that will move you toward the desired outcome. Continuing with the example above:
1. Turn interior light off.
2. Gather necessary tools for jump-starting the engine. You will need another vehicle that has a functioning engine or a starter power pack and jumper cables.
3. Pop the hood and connect the red cable to the positive (+) post and the black cable to the negative (-) post.
4. Allow a few minutes for the battery to receive some charge from the powered engine (you will want to make sure the vehicle you are using to jump the low battery vehicle is on).
5. Have a person in the powered vehicle rev the engine to 2000 RPM’s and proceed to turn the ignition on the car with the dead battery.
6. Assuming the engine starts, disconnect the red cable and then the black, making sure the two cables do not touch. Touching can result in the battery exploding.

Determine a permanent corrective action.

Ideally, you will establish a protocol or process that will ensure the issue is resolved permanently. In our example, a permanent solution might not be possible, but a note could be a reminder for the driver. The note could say “lights” to remind the driver to double-check that the lights are off before exiting the vehicle. Permanently eliminating the potential for a reoccurrence is the best option. The key here is to not be hasty in determining the permanent fix because there will likely be more than one solution, and one of those solutions will be the best. Often the best solution is removing the potential for failure altogether, but if eliminating is not possible, a simple approach is way better than a complicated one.

Communicate and educate others about the solution.

This is the step we most often overlook or skip altogether. It involves documenting the solution (in a professional setting) and letting others know about the solution. Permanent resolutions resulting from the chosen solution will eliminate the need for this step. Still, all process changes need to be explained and enforced to ensure the problem will not be repeated. Tribal knowledge is passed down from generation to generation to prevent poisonous berries from being consumed. Solving problems is the most fundamental and useful skill a person can develop. Every business, community, family, and country has issues that need to be addressed. Often, humans are not rational in solving problems because they become attached to the problem. If the solution involves a change of any kind, there will be push back and, in some cases, full revolt. When it comes to significant societal problems, the longer issues remain unresolved, the more our youth will pay the price as will their children because of our unwillingness to solve this issue. The point is that being emotionally attached to a problem and solution will make it nearly impossible to solve permanently. We kick the can down the road. The solution often requires discomfort for some time after implementing a solution. Fiscal solutions involve budgets and discipline similar to health solutions involving diet and physical activity.

How we choose to manage and solve our problems can have a significant impact on everything from our daily routine to the state of our society. Choose wisely.

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