There is no shortage of problems in the world. We encounter them every day at work, at home and in our communities. Unexpected traffic or delays on public transportation stand in our way of being on time. Our technology doesn’t function the way we need it to. Family members, co-workers or friends don’t meet our expectations.
Often times, when these problems surface, we immediately express our frustration, we vent to anyone or anything willing to listen. Waving our hands in the air, we can feel the negativity fast tracking its way through our bodies, affecting our thoughts, what we hear, what we say and how we interact with those around us. This negativity showcases a weakness that we have in the face of problem. We stand down to the problem, even expand the problem, when we focus on how unfair the situation may be or complain about the disruption or our dissatisfaction. In those moments, problems breed problems.
For many of us, our human reaction to problems needs a makeover. It’s time to take a stand and gain control of how we approach the problem. We have got to adopt a solutions-oriented mindset. Our health, our relationships and our productivity depends on it. So the big question is how does one alter their instinctual reaction to problems and focus instead on surfacing solutions?
I believe that there are four steps to developing and evolving a solution-orientation.
Step 1: It starts with our attitude.
As soon as a problem surfaces, we must trigger a spirit of optimism that fuels us along our path to solutions. We must discipline ourselves to be hungry for solutions. The motivation to push past the obstacle in front of us should come from within and that takes a real paradigm shift. Will Rogers said, “If you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging.” It’s in that moment of choice, when a problem appears, that we decide to let the problem consume us or tackle the problem head on with the conviction to break through the barrier, to show that problem who is in control with the attitude of a champion.
Step 2: Adopting a solution-orientation requires focus and analysis.
Using critical thinking skills, we must break problems apart to understand them from their roots to the surface. Focusing in on the root causes and smaller elements of a problem enables us to tackle it without getting overwhelmed. This type of problem analysis also helps to set us up for future success in that we focus on sustainable solutions, not the band aid formula or “whack a mole” model where one problem leads to another problem. Normal Vincent Peale advised, “When a problem comes along, study it until you are completely knowledgeable. Then find the weak spot, break the problem apart, and the rest will be easy.”
Step 3: We must employ creativity to surface solutions that break the boundaries of traditional thinking and surface differentiating solutions.
Albert Einstein once said, “We are boxed in by the boundary conditions of our thinking.” When we commit to a solution orientation, we are demonstrating the value we bring to a relationship, a team or an organization. Leveraging our creativity requires us to effectively brainstorm solutions that exceed a short list of average ideas and instead push our thinking beyond our self-imposed limits to get to the ideas that are innovative in their design and approach. When we integrate the knowledge and experience of one field with another field, there is a synergistic multiplier effect that is activated. It is in that space that our solutions are game changing.
Step 4: After we discipline ourselves to adopt the attitude of a champion, commit to focus and analysis and leverage our creativity, we must take action.
We need to prioritize our solutions and make an individual or collective decision on how to proceed. By surfacing our recommendations with clear context and logical explanations, we demonstrate an ability to lead with purpose and to not stand paralyzed in the face of a problem.
Developing and evolving a solution orientation takes time, discipline and practice. I ran across this great example of innovative problem solving: “My therapist set half a glass of water in front of me. He asked if I was an optimist or pessimist. So, I drank the water and told him I was a problem solver.” To thrive at work, at home and in our relationships, it’s time to differentiate ourselves by tackling problems head on and channeling our attitude, time and energy to surfacing solutions rather than breeding more problems.