Albert Einstein once said, “If I had 20 days to solve a problem, I would take 19 days to define it.” With this in mind, and realizing that problems are always different, I hope I can offer advice when taking the time to problem-solve.
Gather data by listening to those around you, whether there are cultural differences, an age gap or just very different views on the problem. Really try to understand what they’re saying and their reasoning behind their words. Problems are a matter of perspective. There is a lot to learn from people and self-improvement goes both ways.
Also take the time to gather data from any digital source you have. Although not a holy grail, it should be used to help understand what those problems are and reinforce the conversational data. It can also be handy to blend the two sources to make sense of problems and help leadership to make any necessary decisions.
Simplify the problem
It’s always a good idea to break things down into a base until you’ve found exactly the one problem and who it affects. Then, you can really start working on the solution.
If you have defined the problem and made it digestible, you will manage to stop 19 problems along the way to solving your “one” problem. If you don’t get to the root issue, you only stop 9 problems along the way and still have to work at finding the “one” problem.
It also makes solutions simple. More time thinking and less time in physical work. There can also be cost savings to this. Movies spend significantly more time in pre-production (planning) than they do shooting and editing. They only pay for what they need when they need it.
Reduce risk by planning
You could reduce risk if you plan carefully. While you can’t identify and anticipate every risk, take the time to do what you can to avoid unnecessary harm.
But also remember that taking chances is also important, if you can afford the time and/or resources.
One great thing about my job is that I’m basically here to try things out and see if they work.
Risk is where you can actually push your association ahead. If you’re not taking risks or being calculated about risk, you’re going to stay exactly where you are, which is going to be a problem in a world that’s ever changing.
Evaluate and reevaluate
We have a tendency to complicate things without realizing it. Taking a step back, or even just letting the problem rest for a bit and returning to it can help.
For example, video editing is really tedious and can be extremely frustrating when it’s not going your way. Recently I had a video for which I wanted to include a clip of a friendly joke about a dog at our office, but it wasn’t working. I made changes constantly, killing a lot of my time, but still it never really fit.
Taking a step back (could be a minute or a day) and doing something that puts me in a better mood can drastically change the way I look at a problem. Once I return, I can now take the time to think rationally about it and identify the simplest solution. And it typically happens very quickly. In this example, all I had to do was ask myself if the joke was necessary. Do I actually need this? I didn’t. I deleted it. Sometimes, that’s the hardest decision to make. Taking a break helps you see that larger picture and what really matters.
It’s also important to realize that once something is done, the problem solved, there are new problems, so reevaluating is constant. This makes holidays and other days off important, so you can always come back recharged to tackle old and new problems.
Build for excellence
This might be a personal thing, but if you’re going to do something, do it well. The reward is greater both personally and from your members. Your membership wants to be excellent at what they do; it’s likely why they are members and likely expect the same excellence from you. Or rather how can they be excellent if you’re not?
Einstein didn’t have the technology we have today, so I don’t know if I’d actually spend 19 days to define a problem. We’ve got things like robots to speed up part of the work for us, but for strategy and long-term solving, we humans still need some time.
Problems and problem solving are in the very fabric of what it means to be human. This constant rotation is how the human species evolved. It is impossible to grow without problems and finding solutions to those problems. It’s a very natural process to have and we should embrace it rather than fear it.