How do you solve problems? Do you get frustrated when you encounter a problem? Do you ever think about your problem-solving habit?
A 20th-century philosopher, Karl Popper stated that, “All life is problem solving”. It is true. We encounter problems all day, every day. Our problems may be as simple as where to eat lunch, or more complex like contemplating a career change, but every day we have problems to solve.
Benjamin Franklin, a great American innovator, had a unique way of looking at problems and solutions. At the tender age of 12, he encountered a problem after his father sent him to apprentice in his brother’s print shop. Ben wanted his brother, James, to publish his writings, but when he refused to do so Ben created a pseudonym and wrote as “Mrs. Silence Dogood.”
Early in his life, Franklin learned how to transform a problem into an opportunity. With the Dogood letters, he found success at a young age with his wildly popular writings.
Elon Musk, founder of PayPal, Tesla Motors and SpaceX, has another way of looking at problems. He proposes looking at problems from the “first principle perspective.” This way of thinking is based on a physics term that describes looking at a problem from its most basic elements.
Musk describes this method of looking at problems in an interview with Kevin Rose:
As a way of applying this principle, Musk explains how to make battery packs cheaper. Battery packs are expensive and we pay the price without giving it much thought. To find a way to make battery packs cheaper, he suggest looking at each of the individual materials in a battery and devising a way to put the components together in a more economical way.
He does warn that this way of looking at problems takes much more mental energy than reasoning from analogy or trying to tweak an old way of doing things. Using this strategy can help us find creative and unique solutions to problems.
Problems and Life
Do you view the challenges in your life as opportunities for change and growth? Many of us think of the problems we encounter in life as hurdles that must be overcome. However, many of our problems are small and can be easily solved. Just think about a typical day. How many problems do you solve before you even leave for work?
Some days, I fantasize about living one problem-free sunny day after another. The reality is that some days are relatively problem-free, but more often than not I have to put on my problem-solving hat and prepare for the challenges ahead.
However, when you realize that problems are just opportunities in disguise, it can change your life. We can all learn to welcome the opportunities that come our way.
When confronted with a problem, try using the first principle method and break the problem down to its most basic truths. Then, work up from there: Invest the time upfront to understand the problem, and the solution will be much easier to find. This strategy can be helpful when trying to solve a problems alone or with others.
Once the problem (or problems) has been well defined, focus on a solution. Neuroscience has proven that our brains are unable to find a solution if we are too focused on the problem. Have you ever found yourself obsessing over a problem? When you do that, your brain is literally unable to see a solution.
With practice and intention, you can develop a solution-oriented mindset. Try to think of at least three ways to solve your problem, no matter how outlandish the solutions may seem. Doing this will help you develop a habit of looking for solutions rather than just focusing on the problem.
Great leaders view problems differently. They see problems as opportunities, and themselves as full-time problem solvers. Therefore, they see big problems as big opportunities.
Every problem, whether big or small, carries with it a silver lining or opportunity—if you are looking for it. Use these opportunities to learn, change and grow.
Successful people have developed new ways of looking at problems and a new mindset for solving problems. When you change the way you think about problems, and see them as opportunities for growth, you will become a much calmer and more effective problem solver.
“We can not solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.”
– Albert Einstein
Question: Are you aware of your problem-solving habit? Have you tried looking at problems as opportunities? Share your ideas in the comment section below.