Problem Solving: The Secret Key You Should Know About

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Quick! Before you read any more of this article, take a look around your desk. Do you have a pencil and a piece of paper nearby? If you’re like most, you probably don’t. You rely completely on digital products now. You use your Google calendar to keep track of dates and you use Notepad for logging ideas or important information you don’t want to lose. But the key to solving any problem is a map. And the best way to draw a map is with a pencil and paper.

key problem

It’s a fact: The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. But we all know it’s not always possible to draw a perfectly straight line between Point A and Point B. Just look at a road map for example. Plot any road trip and you’re going to have to make turns and follow winding roads.

You may know that Philadelphia, where your aunt lives, lies directly to the North but without a road map you won’t make it to her house because there is no completely straight route from your house to hers. You’ll have to change interstates, make turns once you hit the downtown traffic, and find your way through the interconnecting streets in her neighborhood. You’d be lost without a map.

Sometimes it can seem like there’s no solution to your problem, just like it might seem impossible to find Aunt Martha’s house without a map. Oh, you can go to bed and sleep on your problem and hope that your an answer will pop into your head once you’ve had a little rest. But does the route to Aunt Martha’s house just pop into your head? Not likely.

You can ask other people, too, to help you find a solution to your problem but we all know what happens when you stop and ask someone else for directions. You might end up in Timbuktu. Most people don’t have your unique perspective on your problem and even if they did, not everyone had advice worth listening to.

In the end, the best way to solve any problem is to use a map. Point A is where you are now and Point B is where you want to be. The course you plot takes into consideration all the obstacles in your path and shows you which direction you need to go to get around them.

Don’t believe me? Try this. You probably have at least some little financial concern you’re worried about, most people do. You keep hoping a solution will pop into your head but so far that’s not happening. Have you tried putting a pencil to it?

Most people don’t realize just how much of their money leaks away on small things like Starbucks coffee and a crueller every morning. They don’t think about things like combining errands to help save gas. They don’t think about how much money they spend on fast food when they don’t feel like cooking, but all of these little things add up. And it’s not until you use a pencil and paper and start analyzing every single little expenditure that you suddenly realize the solution is out there. All you need to do is start brewing your own coffee in the morning and carpool to work.

When you have problems with your blog the solutions are out there, too. But when’s the last time you actually sat down, with pencil and paper, and really analyzed your statistics. Sure, you can look at them online and you can flip back and forth, but that’s distracting. Sometimes if get back to basics and draw yourself a good, old-fashioned map and you’ll be surprised at how easy you can solve a problem.

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  1. Jack Durish

    Actually, I’d be inclined to agree with you save one small problem. Most of us don’t know what points “A” and “B” are. I accumulated nearly fifty years solving problems. Three working for the federal government, almost six in the Army, and most of the rest as a consultant. (My demeanor is not conducive to staying in any one place very long.) I was successful helping others solve problems by first helping them define either point “A” or “B”. After that, the solutions usually came very easily. It was always fun sitting in a board room while executives argued over the next best strategy. At some point I would sit back and say, “Maybe I’m stupid, but I don’t understand what you’re trying to do.” Invariably, one of my clients (usually a young turk recently graduated with an MBA) would respond that I was stupid, that it was perfectly obvious what they were attempting to do. I would invite him/her to enlighten me. As soon as he/she attempted to do so, a new argument would break out, and I would lean back and smile to myself. My work was done. All that was left was to collect my fee. Once they agreed on points “A” and “B”, the best course between them was usually obvious. In fact, even if they selected the most circuitous one, they would arrive successfully because they were now all working to achieve a common goal.

    1. Hi Jack. First of all, thank you for your comment!

      Don’t get me wrong, I never said that solving any problem was easy.

      However, as you mention, once you manage to identify what are exactly your point “A” (current state) and your point “B” (goal), getting to a solution is the easy part.

  2. Marcel

    Thanks, very good advice. I found this very inspiring.

    We get distracted with a lot of things that many times we lose focus on the actual issue.

    There’s another problem though: Many times when I have an idea, for example for a new project, I find out how complex it really is only after I’ve started. This can lead to the estimated duration becoming one month instead of a week.

    During my career, I’ve learned that the key to solving a problem often times is to say no to things that can add complexity, and not get involved in too many things at a time.

    However, at the same time remain flexible and review the path to the solution every once in a while and see if you’re still on track or if you need to change directions.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience Marcel. I appreciate it.

      The preparation phase before starting working on a new project is critical… You should ask yourself if it’s going to be the best use of your resources (time and money) and if the ROI will be worth it. Once you know about these variables, you can more easily decide if you should start working on that new thing.

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