Great problem solvers are cultivated rather than born. That is what is discovered by industry experts after decades of working with leaders in the business, non-profit, and policy sectors to solve problems. These leaders learn to have a particularly open and inquiring mentality, as well as to follow a systematic approach to solving even the most difficult challenges. They’re fantastic at resolving tricky situations, and they’re at their most brilliant when the level of uncertainty is at its highest.
Their success is based on six mutually reinforcing approaches:
- Boundless curiosity about all aspects of a problem
- Embracing imperfection and ambiguity
- Having the ability to see the world through multiple lenses
- Experimenting relentlessly
- Tapping into collective intelligence, and
- Practicing “show and tell”, because storytelling precedes action
It is found that better results come from embracing uncertainty. Curiosity is the engine of creativity. That’s why, at the start of a problem-solving session, a simple method to adopt is to stop and question why conditions or assumptions are as they are until you get to the bottom of the issue. Being curious is one of the best qualities a person can have. Curiosity about a wider range of possible solutions leads to better—and more creative—solutions.
Embracing imperfection and ambiguity
Recent research shows that we are better at solving challenges when we think in terms of odds rather than certainties. Perfect knowledge is in short supply, particularly for complex business and societal issues. Embracing imperfection can lead to more effective problem-solving. It’s practically a must in situations of high uncertainty, such as the beginning of a problem-solving process or during an emergency.
Having a “dragonfly-eye” like perception of the world is common to great problem solvers. Dragonflies have large, compound eyes, with thousands of lenses and photoreceptors sensitive to different wavelengths of light. Like a dragonfly, the foremost troubleshooters are capable of taking in 360 degrees of perception and information.
It is observed that great minds unravel challenges by relentlessly experimenting; they readily explore whether evidence on the facets of a solution can be observed, or running experiments to test hypotheses.
Tapping into collective intelligence
Sometimes, the smartest person isn’t in the room discussing the challenge at hand. It’s often prudent to draw on diverse experiences and expertise beyond your own. Start with brainstorming sessions that engage people from outside your team. Try broader crowdsourcing competitions to generate ideas. Or bring in deep-learning talent to see what insights exist in your data that conventional approaches haven’t brought to light. The broader the circles of information you access, the more likely it is that your solutions will be novel and creative.
Show and tell
And finally, show and tell is how you connect your audience with the problem and then use combinations of logic and persuasion to get action. To get better at this, start by being clear about the action that should flow from your problem-solving and findings: the governing idea for change. Then find a way to present your logic visually so that the path to answers can be debated and embraced. Present the argument emotionally as well as logically, and show why the preferred action offers an attractive balance between risks and rewards. But don’t stop there. Spell out the risks of inaction, which often have a higher cost than imperfect actions.