Do you know of any good problem solving tools? Well, I didn't. My approach seemed to consist mostly of dumb luck.
That works most of the time, but feels inadequate for someone looking to improve their ability to make good decisions.
So I did what any person preferring reading to reality TV does and purchased a lot of books on problem solving. I convinced myself that an investment of a little time to find some problem solving tools, which marginally improved my ability to effectively solve problems would pay off handsomely over a long lifetime.
The book with the most problem solving tools is one that I didn't think I'd enjoy at all: Problem Solving 101 by Ken Wantanabe.
This book offered a simple way to deal with problems that I can still recall today: (1) understand the current situation; (2) identify the root cause of the problem; (3) develop an effective action plan; and (4) execute until the problem is solved. While simple—and remarkably effective—the process is not easy to execute.
If you've ever found yourself in the middle of a problem solving meeting you know that our bias towards action causes us to want to skip steps 1 and 2. We're prone to action. We want to shoot first and ask questions later.
This bias makes the simple four step approach above almost painful. If we think we understand the problem our minds naturally see steps 1 and 2 as a waste. The next time you find yourself in an unfortuante problem solving meeting ask yourself a few questions – are we addressing a problem or a symptom. If you're addressing a problem, does everyone in the room agree on the problem? How will we know we've solved the problem?
Think about how doctors diagnose patients.
When you visit a Dr. they first ask you questions about your symptoms and then take your temperature. They might run a blood test or two. Maybe order an X-Ray. They collect information that can be used to identify the root cause of your illness. After they've determined, and hopefully confirmed, a diagnosis they decide what to prescribe. While the process isn't the most efficient, it leads to good outcomes more often than not.
If you want to learn to solve problems better, you should buy problem solving 101. If you're really motivated, cut your cable subscription and read judgment and managerial decision making too. Exercising your brain is time well spent.
Still Curious? Check out these books on decision making.