Strong problem-solving skills are crucial to have in business. Without developing the ability to step back, look at the various causes and outcomes, and then take the steps needed to pursue the right course, you or your team will be regularly in a state of crisis, unable to move forward with any real speed.
When you feel like you’re hitting a wall in your leadership or entrepreneurial journey, you’ll want to be able to find your way around it. To help you better handle such roadblocks, we asked a panel of Young Entrepreneur Council members to share their best advice for honing problem-solving skills. Here’s what they said:
1. Reflect on your worst times.
Problem-solving is something we all deal with on a daily basis. However, we all deal with problems differently. In order to solve your own problems and teach others how to do the same, one must reflect back on their worst times and remember the processes they took to get out of it. As you do this, be sure to take notes and reverse engineer your action process—then apply this to other situations.
2. Always be a student.
As we hit certain accomplishments and gather certain credibility, our ego might get the best of us. One piece of advice for all thought leaders is to continuously learn from others. We have to be open minded. Just because we became successful doesn’t mean we have no room for improvement. We don’t and won’t ever know it all. So in order to hone our skills, we must be forever a student.
3. Exercise creativity like a muscle.
You can exercise creativity regularly to get better at problem-solving. It’s like a muscle—the more you work, the stronger it gets. Some helpful skills that are free are writing, doodling and brainstorming. It’s important to allow yourself to express any idea no matter how absurd it seems. Once you’ve come with more answers than you need, you can whittle it down to the most useful answer.
4. Don’t take things personally.
When we can’t solve a problem as quickly or efficiently as we hope, we habitually blame ourselves. Ironically, blaming ourselves makes it harder to solve new problems as they arise. I suggest that you always step back from a situation that requires a solution and look at it from an objective point of view.
5. Define the problem before trying to solve it.
You need to know exactly what problem you’re facing before you can solve it. Lay it all out there—the circumstances and your options—and decide what is best for you based on what you know. The more you practice, the better at it you’ll get.
6. Change your perspective.
If you change the way you see a problem, from another person’s shoes, or perspective, you are more likely to have the tools you need to understand their point of view. Which helps you make a more balanced and informed decision.
7. Bounce ideas off other people.
There’s a lot of power in stating your problems and thoughts aloud to other people; you get feedback and fresh ideas. Other people can often point out things that are obvious but which you’ve missed because you were too close to the problem. You don’t have to be alone when it comes to problem-solving for your business. It’s helpful to find a community or colleagues to support you.
8. Keep your higher purpose in mind.
The best advice I have for leaders to hone their problem-solving skills is to keep your higher purpose in mind. What drives you? Why are your putting effort and time into your business? Knowing the answer to these questions allows you to solve problems with more creativity, confidence and power. Those around you will also see your passion, prompting them to develop leadership skills, too.
9. Look for unusual connections.
The most extraordinary solutions to problems are not necessarily complex, but they are always creative. Creativity is not only about making something new. It’s also the ability to find unusual connections between familiar things. My advice is to exercise your creativity by soaking in as many ideas as you can. The more ideas you learn, the more creative solutions you prepare for.
10. Don’t neglect your body.
The body and the mind are connected as part of one organism. That means if you want to improve your mental health and problem-solving skills, you can’t neglect your physical health. Remember to exercise regularly, get a good night’s sleep and take breaks if you spend a long time behind a desk looking at the computer.
11. Simplify the problem.
Simplify the problem down to its most basic core. Then simplify the solution. Determine two or three concrete steps that, when taken, will solve the problem. For the most part, it’s that simple.
12. Look at the problem as an opportunity.
Problem-solving skills are vital in the workforce and often determine success. I would say one of the best pieces of advice for leaders to hone their problem-solving skills is to be aware of your mindset. If you allow yourself to be burdened or frustrated by the problem, then you are less likely to come up with the best solution. See problems as an opportunity to learn, get creative and be resourceful instead.
13. Volunteer for other organizations.
The best way to practice problem-solving is to expose yourself to new challenges and new industries. A great way to do that is by volunteering for a nonprofit organization or even a political campaign. You’ll interact with new people and learn new tools and approaches that can help expand your creativity to solve problems in your own business.
14. Read case studies.
Wherever possible, read case studies of current and past leaders you admire. Their memoirs, internal reports and analysts’ reports all help paint a vivid picture of how more established leaders have handled difficult decisions in a wise manner. Even better, turn this activity into a group exercise by asking fellow executives to review the same cases and discuss their conclusions with you.
15. Change up your routine.
One of the biggest challenges to problem-solving is habitual thinking. To solve problems, you need to think in creative ways. And to think creatively, you need to get outside the routine. One of the best ways to get your brain in a creative space is to schedule a time to get away from the desk, go for a walk and allow your mind to wander. You’ll find that new ideas emerge.
16. Face your problems authentically.
With every problem you attempt to solve, remind yourself of who you are and why you are doing what you’re doing. Face all your problems bravely and solve them based on your inner voice, gut feel and authenticity to yourself. There’s no other way to solve your problems but to face them with pride in knowing that you are being true to yourself, and your mission and vision are still intact.
These answers are provided by Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most successful young entrepreneurs. YEC members represent nearly every industry, generate billions of dollars in revenue each year and have created tens of thousands of jobs. Learn more at yec.co.
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