*Problem Solving 101*
29 October 2016
How do you deal with problems? The common approach for people in the US today seems to be; wind up emotionally, find sound bites and memes on the internet that express your concern, look for articles to validate and inflate your point of view, then share with family, friends, coworkers and acquaintances while being prepared to crush anyone who disagrees with you. This process involves a lot of feeling, few facts and no rationale or critical thought.
Our emotions and the endocrine system that drives them has evolved over thousands of years and is very advanced and effective in a natural environment. The problem is, we live in a largely synthetic/man-made environment and people have learned to control groups of people by using sound bites and graphics to manipulate people. If you have an emotional response to a threat in nature like a bear or mountain lion or a 2-legged predator alone on the street with you late at night, an emotional/endocrine response will help you survive as nature intended. If you're watching TV, driving in traffic, surfing the internet or talking by the water cooler at work, there's a good chance an emotional/endocrine response will drive you in someone else's best interest rather than your own. The first step in effectively addressing problems in society today is to learn when to trust your emotions and when to ignore them.
Once you've deemed there is a problem that warrants your attention and endocrine/emotional response is not the most effective solution, there are several different processes you can follow to solve the problem. I'll describe one but you can find more if you just search the internet for "problem solving process."
Step 1: Identify the problem. In this step, describe the problem as objectively as possible, which requires leaving out emotional words and phrases. Avoid focusing on consequences or implications. This really is THE critical step because if you get it wrong, you'll be developing solutions that don't match the actual problem.
Step 2: Define and analyze the problem. This may take a little time, but it's time well spent. It's not possible to effectively address something you don't have a thorough understanding of. What caused the problem? Try to analyze and research the problem to gain a thorough understanding.
Step 3: List solutions. There are normally a host of different ways to solve problems. Take some time to consider possible solutions and list them all. Don't stop to consider constraints or viability in this step, just list any solutions that might work to solve your problem. Group brainstorming can be beneficial at this point if you don't stifle input.
Step 4: As possible, break the problems into manageable portions and develop unique solutions for each aspect.
Step 5: Make a decision. Based on your analysis of the problem and possible solutions, choose the best one. Consider possible implications and which solution best fits your requirements and situation.
Step 6: Implement your decision. Observe results closely, evaluate the effectiveness of your solution and be prepared to shift back to previous steps as necessary. Watch for unintended consequences and new problems that may result from your solution.
Practicing detaching emotionally from problems and developing solutions every day will hone the ability to make effective decisions during the most crucial times. When you first start using a process to solve problems it will seem a little onerous, but with time and practice it will become second nature and you'll do it every day without any extra effort.Morpheus
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