On Friday, I had an article published by SuccessFastlane.com.
It is an amazing site full of success, motivation, and development articles that are truly inspiring. I am so honored to be featured there.
Problem Solve Your Way to Success
Where does the most successful person you know excel?
Are they a phenomenal sales person? Do they connect with people easily and naturally? Do they create new products or services seemingly out of thin air?
These are all important characteristics that drive success, in business and in life. But at the heart of each one is the same core function: problem solving.
Sales is really about helping your customer solve their problem with your product or service. Connecting with others is solving a problem of mutual benefit. Creating new products and services is all about seeing a problem and developing a solution.
A problem is really just a difference between the current situation and the most desired situation.
Every Thursday at 3:30pm EST, James Altucher hosts a Twitter Q&A where anyone can Tweet him a question and he will answer as many as he can.
I just recently learned about this. He has done the Q&A’a since April 2010 and other than Thanksgiving holidays has only missed a few of these sessions. How amazing is that?
If you don’t know James Altucher, he is a best-selling author and entrepreneur who has started more than 20 companies (some of which he sold for lots of cash) and who has written 17 books. He writes a blog and has a relatively new podcast. He has done a little bit of everything. And his outlook on life and business is so fascinating to me.
During today’s Twitter Q&A, I asked James if he had a process for solving problems and if so what it was? He gets hundreds of tweets during this time, so I was not sure I would get a response. But I did!
@flipsidethinker a problem is intense only relative to how strong i am. So I make myself stronger than the problem. I do that by…
I love his response. “A problem is intense only relative to how strong I am” That’s a tweetable and quotable for sure!
He says he makes himself stronger than the problems and gives some tips on how he does that.
He writes down 10 ideas every day
He is grateful for the problem
He stays healthy
He surrounds himself with good people
What I love most about his response to this question is that it isn’t so much a problem solving process, but a “make your life better” process.
My focus is on teaching people how to be more creative problem solvers, but sometimes the issue is deeper than a person’s ability to think creatively and generate ideas. If you are not taking care of yourself it is hard for the brain to do its work and give you amazing results.
What things do you do to make yourself stronger and more ready and able to solve problems?
When you are solving problems, do you take the time to really think about your thoughts and ideas? The assumptions you are making about the important aspects of the problem?
Do you know whether you are basing decisions on fact or fiction?
How do you find out?
You can search the internet. You can talk to those around you.
We live in a wonderful age of technology and connectedness which, for all the potential negatives associated with it, gives us access to the vast and amazing knowledge of the entire world. There is not much we cannot find out today by surfing the internet. Google the basic premises of your assumptions and see what you find.
People often have faulty memories or believe what makes their lives the easiest. They like to operate in safe and comfortable bubbles of consistency, whether or not the assumption they operate in are fact or fiction. Talk to team members and those involved about the major issues. Do they believe the assumptions are hard and fast truths? Or do they understand that some are fiction? Asking basic questions such as “Why do you believe this?” or “Where did this come from?” can begin to bring to light fictions previously perceived to be facts.
Take those big issues and aspects of your problem and find out what is really fact and what is just fiction. It could be the fiction of someone’s opinion. It could be the fiction of a rumor run rampant. It could be the fiction of stories misunderstood. It could simply be the fiction of “we have always done things this way” or “that is just how it is done here”.
Taking time to do this when you are in the middle of a problem and struggling through the details will give you a better understanding of where you are at and where you need to go.
Numerous recent studies have shown that Americans are lacking in problem solving skills, particularly when compared to citizens of other countries.
The ability to solve problems is crucial to any countries future in business, education, government, and pretty much every other field. How can we expect to lead the world in innovations and world-changing technologies if we cannot solve problems?
A study by the Educational Testing Service found that:
In literacy, U.S. millennials scored lower than 15 of the 22 participating countries. Only millennials in Spain and Italy had lower scores.
In numeracy, U.S. millennials ranked last, along with Italy and Spain.
In PS-TRE, U.S. millennials also ranked last, along with the Slovak Republic, Ireland, and Poland.
The youngest segment of the U.S. millennial cohort (16- to 24-year-olds), who could be in the labor force for the next 50 years, ranked last in numeracy along with Italy and among the bottom countries in PS-TRE. In literacy, they scored higher than their peers in Italy and Spain.
Last in numeracy and problem solving! How is it that we have allowed ourselves to reach this point?
Businesses are feeling the effects of this lacking skill set. A Wall Street Journal article from October 2014 quoted a Harris Interactive study and reported:
“A Harris Interactive survey of 2,001 U.S. college students and 1,000 hiring managers last fall found that 69% of students felt they were “very or completely prepared” for problem-solving tasks in the workplace, while fewer than half of the employers agreed.”
Half of hiring managers do not believe that recent college graduates are prepared for problem solving tasks on the job.
Companies need employees who can see problems and implement solutions and who can seek out opportunities and take advantage of them. It’s these type of people who have made American companies some of the greatest in the world and created some of the world’s greatest technologies and products.
Skills such as literacy, numeracy, and problem solving are some of the most basic skills that help people start new companies, develop solutions to society’s problems, and effectively run governments. They certainly are not the only skills needed to do these things, but without these foundations innovations of all types will stagnate.
Education is the first and most obvious place to start to fix these issues, but it will not be an easy process. Too many classrooms are based on teaching memorization and not focused on the real-world application of concepts from different subjects.
Bryan Cordova, in an article for The Pioneer, the online magazine for California State University East Bay, discusses how memorization of facts is a disservice to students. He lists six different subjects and what they actually teach versus what they should teach. He says:
“Instead of the majority of lessons in high school being facts that we can use for trivia, we should be teaching students how things work, and take more hands-on approaches. We should stay away from rewarding students with grades for showing the ability to memorize theories, and empower them with applied knowledge.”
I could not agree more. Students at all levels, and Americans across the board, should know how to apply knowledge to existing problems and how to seek out the knowledge they need to solve problems when they cannot do it on their own.
If we do not begin to correct this failing of Americans, we will be putting our future in a perilous place.
A recent InnoChat Twitter chat topic was Design Entrepreneurship for Social Impact, and one of the questions was “What does Design Entrepreneurship cover that Design and Entrepreneurship severally do not?”
It was interesting to think about how the combination of those two words potentially changed the meaning. It didn’t truly hit home for me until I was working last week with teams for our statewide collegiate business plan competition, the Donald W Reynolds Governor’s Cup.
The Governor’s Cup is a competition I participated in while getting my MBA at the University of Tulsa, and I have mentored teams for TU every year since. I was helping with practice interviews for the teams and asking them to explain their product, technology, and business.
Each team this year has technology that was developed on campus by one or more of the team members, which is different from prior years when students looked for outside technologies to use for the competition. Because these students developed technologies during research and then presented them to be used in the business plan competition, teams were challenged with finding valuable uses for the technologies across any and all industries.
It presented an interesting contrast of entrepreneurship and what the #InnoChat defined as Design Entrepreneurship.
Design Entrepreneurship, particularly when focused on Social Impact, involves seeing a problem and finding a way to solve it. The design and creation is specific to the issue at hand. The Governor’s Cup teams have existing designs and technologies they are looking to use to solve problems. These are two very different ways to approach problem solving.
And you know I love to think about problem solving.
I do not think one method is better than the other, I can see benefits to both.
Designing something to solve a problem is talked about a lot in terms of big, world-changing innovations and rockstar businesses much more than adapting existing technology to a problem. Alan Turing wanted to break the Nazi code Enigma and created the basis for the computer. (I just saw The Imitation Game – go see it if you haven’t. Really.) Larry Page and Sergey Brin wanted more relevant search results and created Google.
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of articles that say the best way to start a business is to find a problem to solve. This one from Entrepreneur and this one from Forbes are two examples.
However, some of the world’s great inventions came from a technology that was developed (sometimes accidentally) and a use or purpose had to be found for it. Post-it notes are a perfect example for this.
While designing a solution to a problem seems very obvious, taking an existing technology and trying to find a way to make it a solution can lead to fascinating results. Spencer Silver, the creator of the Post-It note, was trying to create a super strong adhesive, not one that was easily removable, and it took 6 years to figure out how the removable adhesive could be used to solve a problem.
In much the same way, the TU Governor’s Cup teams have developed cool and useful technologies, but they are still looking for the right problems to solve. They are using a different type of creativity and process to solve problems.
I think anytime someone finds a solution to a problem, it is a win. I love working with the teams and guiding them through the process. I cannot wait to see if any of them are able to make their technologies viable businesses, turning research and invention into innovation.
Do you have experience with either of these problem solving perspectives? Do you think one is better than the other? I would love to hear your thoughts!