Solve Problems in Less Time

<p>Do you welcome problems or avoid them? Problems can bring both opportunity and frustration. According to Henry Ford (founder of the Ford car) – <i>“Most people spend more time and energy going around problems than in trying to solve them”</i>. This article looks at ways to save time solving problems.</p>
<img src="/sites/default/files/solution-time.jpg" alt="Save time problem solving" width="300" /><!--break-->
<p><a href="">I... Arvind Balaraman /</a></p>

<h3>1. Clarity</h3>
<i> “A problem clearly stated is a problem half-solved” (Charles Kettering)</i>

Before trying to solve a problem, the problem needs to be clearly defined. Clarity gives focus, and focus reduces problem-solving time. Often we waste time because of a hazy understanding of the problem. Understanding often comes by learning to ask the right questions.

<h3>2. Asking the right questions</h3>
<i>"The most serious mistakes are not being made as a result of wrong answers. The truly dangerous thing is asking the wrong questions." (Peter Drucker)</i>

We can improve our understanding of problems by asking the right questions. Depending on the problem domain, useful questions might be as simple as:
<li>What is the problem? How does the problem manifest itself?
<li>Why is it a problem? (Is it really a problem? Can it be solved? If not, move on.)
<li>What should have happened?
<li>What don’t I understand?
<li>How do I reproduce the problem?
<li>What can be eliminated as the cause of the problem?
<li>When does it need to be solved by? Can it be solved?
<li>What do I need to learn about in order to solve the problem?
<li>Who can help me solve the problem?

<h3>3. Humility</h3>
<i>“Ego closes the mind, making it a self-contained world that is barren and sterile, into which no light can enter” (Egonomics, D. Marcum & S. Smith)</i>

Humility saves time in solving problems. In the work environment I have seen people waste days (and even loss their job) because their pride prevented them from seeking help. Having the humility to admit <i>“I need help”</i> or <i>“I do not know”</i> can accelerate learning and reduced problem solving time. Humility enables us to realize that our thinking or assumptions may need correcting to solve the problem.

<h3>4. Identify where the knowledge lies</h3>
<i>"The solving a problem lies in finding the solvers." (Van Herpen's Law)</i>

Who has the knowledge to solve the problem? Who is the <i>‘guru’</i> or <i>‘go to’</i> person that can point you in the right direction?
<b3>Crowdsourcing</b3< is another way to quickly obtaining solutions to problems. Essentially, this relies on using the web community to help you solve a problem. The Wikipedia defines crowdsourcing as a <i>“distributed problem-solving and production model. Problems are broadcast to an unknown group of solvers in the form of an open call for solutions. Users—also known as the crowd—typically form into online communities, and the crowd submits solutions”.</i>

<h3>5. Build a knowledge base</h3>
<i>“A man who has committed a mistake and doesn't correct it is committing another mistake.” (Confucius )</i>

<i>“Knowledge multiplies when shared” (S.P Sharma)</i>

Many years ago I worked on using artificial intelligence and knowledge bases to help banking staff provide quick solutions to customer problems. One thing I know from this is that most problems are not new. A useful way for reducing problem solving time is to develop a knowledge base containing a list of problems and solutions. When a problem arises, rather than re-invent the solution, the knowledge base is checked for an existing solution. If the problem isn’t listed, then the new problem (and solution) is added to the knowledge base. Consequently, time is saved the next time the problem arises.

<h3>6. Right attitude</h3>
<i>“Problems are to the mind what exercise is to the muscles, they toughen and make strong.” (Norman Vincent Peale)</i>

A new problem can provide an opportunity to improve a product, procedure or circumstance. You are more likely to come to a solution quickly if you tackle it with drive and a positive attitude. Often the problems that drag on are the ones we approach negatively.

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<h3>7. Complex problems can be broken down</h3>
<i>“There are no big problems, there are just a lot of little problems.” (Henry Ford)</i>

The size of some problems is overwhelming. To avoid getting bogged down, look for ways to break the problem down into a more manageable size. In other words, divide and conquer can save time.

<h3>8. Sleep on it </h3>
It is amazing how the sub-conscious mind can work on problems while you are asleep.

Start by understanding what the problem is, and then leave the problem for a couple of days (or sleep on it). What often happens is that your mind will subconsciously think of a solution or provide a new angle to tackle the problem.

<h3>9. Learn to think outside the square</h3>
Often we get stuck on a problem because we keep approaching the problem in the same way. We need to learn to approach old problem with new thinking. This will require lateral thinking, and perhaps group brainstorming.

<h3>10. Prevention is better than cure</h3>
Of course prevention a problem is better than cure. The final word on saving time with problem-solving goes to Albert Einstein <i>“Intellectuals solve problems, geniuses prevent them.”</i>

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