7 Power Tools For Better Problem Solving

If you don’t want to continue having the same problems, you’ve got to solve the ones you’ve got. Here are some power tools used by creative problem-solvers to deal with issues as expediently as possible.

Know which problems are yours to solve

Suppose your flight is delayed due to mechanical problems. Obviously, that’s not a problem you can solve, but it may create some new ones that are yours to handle such as notifying the folks who are expecting you or staying calm during the delay.

Stephen Covey writes about the the difference between our Circle of Influence and Circle of Concern. “Proactive people focus their efforts in the Circle of Influence,” he says. “They work on the things they can do something about. The nature of their energy is positive, enlarging and magnifying….Reactive people, on the other hand, focus their efforts in the Circle of Concern where they have no control.”

Stop thinking that problems are punishments

We love to tell my granddaughter Zoe that she’s the Puzzle Champion of the World. Watching the way she puts challenging puzzles together convinces me she’s going to be a fabulous problem-solver.

For instance, she never wastes time trying to jam a puzzle piece into a place where it doesn’t belong, but promptly exchanges it for another piece until she makes a match.

Most problems get solved by putting lots of pieces together. However, if you think you are the victim of your problems, you will miss the problem-solving game.

Not all problems are created equal

I am not certain if Nero really was fiddling while Rome burned, but that’s a stunning example of misplaced priorities. Align your efforts with your priorities so you aren’t  spending major time on minor things.

Define problems accurately

Keith Richards once said, “I don’t have a drug problem.I have a police problem.” I suspect he thought he was defining the problem accurately, but I’m not inclined to agree with him.

Money is an area where people often misdiagnosis the problem, thinking they need more of it to feel better about themselves. They  throw themselves into moneymaking activities only to discover that more of it doesn’t make them feel any better.

Money only solves money problems; self-esteem problems get solved another way.

Try new approaches

In Do One Thing Different, Bill O’Hanlan uses this example: “When we have problems, most of us repeat the same actions over and over again and wonder why  we get the same results. It’s a bit like the stereotypical American tourist trying to get directions from someone who speaks no English. When his question is not understood, he repeats it  louder and slower.


“When what we are doing doesn’t work, we often try it again, only this time louder or harder. Sometimes this persistence yields results (as any weary parent who gives in to the relentless pestering of a child can tell you), but more often it keeps us from getting what we want.

“One way to solve a problem, then, is not to analyze why the problem arose, but to change what you are doing to solve it.”

Generate options

Don’t get stuck thinking there’s only one possible solution to every problem. While some solutions may be better (or more appealing) than others, most problems can be solved in numerous ways.

Successful problem-solvers generate lists of options, then determine which one is the most  feasible. If that turns out to be incorrect, they go back to the list and choose another.

Upgrade to a better class of problem

It’s ridiculous to think you can eliminate problems from your life, but you can choose to have better ones. As Paul Hawken points out, “A good business has interesting problems. A bad business has boring ones.

Make it your mission to have the most interesting problems possible.

Barbara J. Winter’s life changed the day her neighbor pointed out that she had the wrong set of problems. “You should have problems like where to find a good mechanic for your Mercedes,” he advised. Ever since, she’s been encouraging others to master creative problem-solving.


Barbara Winter

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