The art of problem solving

When I think of problem solving, I always think of the “Wolf,” a character in the 1994 movie “Pulp Fiction.”  The Wolf was known for his ability to solve problems in an efficient and timely manner.  When I speak of “problems” I’m not referring to simple choices such as where to go for dinner or the answer to 2+2, but the type that’s complex in nature.  Here’s the problem solving process I go through that may or may not help with your own.  Learn how to attack the problem rather than just solve them.

1.  Attack the problem.  First, you must have the mindset that you aren’t solving a problem, you are actually “attacking” it. I always think it’s better to be aggressive versus passive when it comes to problem solving.

2.  Write it down! Always write your thoughts down on paper. You’ll actually see the Wolf do it in Pulp Fiction.  You’ll want to do this so that you remember that thought 10 minutes later and also map out and structure your progress.

3.  We are visual. What helps is to create a diagram of your thinking like the my poorly drawn version to the right.  People remember things that normally have visual queues attached to them.  This is why you always see logos attached to company names or images that help tell the story in advertisements.  In grade school, you are always taught to write and draw out mathematical word problems.  It’s the same concept here.

My poorly drawn diagram

4.  We begin here. Start with the problem which is the center of the structure.  For the sake of conversation let’s say you’re an established, reputable company that would like to advertise a new product line to the mass market (everyone in Hawaii with no limits on consumer segmentation).

5.  Limitations. When exploring the problems, it’s helpful to know if there are any limitations or the current environment that you’re faced with.  Your company’s ad budget for this new product is $300,000.  You want to advertise the product for at least 2 quarters.  The focus groups you’ve undergone has revealed positive feedback.

6.  The fun part. This is where you brainstorm all the possible solutions to the problem.  Note, sometimes it is to your advantage to involve  more people in this part of the process.  You always hear the phrase “two heads are better than one.” Someone may think of something you may not have thought of.

7.  There may be more than one. Accept the fact that there may always be more than one solution to a problem as my diagram illustrates.

8.  The sky is the limit. When you write the possible solutions down on paper don’t think about whether you can or can’t undergo them. It will interfere with your thought process.  You’ll get to that part later.  For now, write down everything you think will help you with your problem.  Going back to my example, jot down some of the ways your company could reach the mass market through its resources.  Here are some possible simplified and broad solutions: Television, radio, print, online, social media and public relations.

9.  The X’s & Y’s. Now that you have mapped out all of your possible solutions, it’s time to evaluate.  Start with each solution and expand on the variables.  I go by X being the pros and Y as the cons.  Example:  Television X = large amount of impressions.  Y = expensive.  Or public relations X = no cost against budget.  Y = no guarantee that a media outlet will pick up the story.

10.  Evaluate. Now that you’ve structured everything out you can then go through the process of elimination of what you can or cannot foresee as an answer to your problem.

11.  Acceptance. Unfortunately, the answers you are left with may not always be ideal.  If I were that company I’d want to spend a good part of $ on TV ads to reach the mass market but since my ad budget is limited they can’t do this.  However, through this process we are still left with the most efficient possible solution(s) with the resources this company posses.

So that’s it.  Simple huh?  What do you think, how do you solve problems?  Feel free to comment or pass this on to others.

2 responses to this post.

  1. You’re process would’ve come in very handy at my former job. Maybe it would’ve prevented it from shutting down!


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