Consultants and management types like to make a lot of hullabaloo about problem solving.
Management journals always like to talk about problem solving methodology — inductive reasoning, deductive logic, and so on.
But I have a very simple ethos for problem solving in any professional environment.
Here it is:
The One-Sentence Guide to Problem Solving
“Don’t solve problems. Listen, and help people.”
In my years of experience in many companies and many roles (including big brands like Lyft, Groupon, Bain, Accenture and others), nothing has served me better than that sentence. It has become my credo.
My early career as a consultant taught me about scientific problem solving: Ask questions, form a hypothesis, gather data, design the solution and then pitch it to everyone, until the executives, clients and implementers all agreed.
It was hard work, and felt good, but didn’t necessarily create lasting change.
Later in my career, in large, fragmented companies with many decision makers at all levels, I’ve had to practise a different way of working: listening and helping.
Instead of making it about me, I make it about everyone else.
How to solve problems by helping people
Here’s how it works:
- Spend a lot of time with people around the organisation. Find out who needs help — usually an underserved team outside the spotlight that nobody is paying attention to.
- Find out what’s difficult in their lives. Ask them directly. Better, walk a mile in their shoes and experience it. Keep probing until you find out not just what’s the core difficult thing, but exactly what solution they need to fix it. (And it’s not usually what they’ll first tell you.0
- Get them to tell you how the solution would help. What would they avoid doing? What more would they be freed up to do? How would this help their team and the company? Ask, and let them sell it to themselves.
- Make the solution. Give it to the one person or sub-group most in need.
This process does two things: a) it helps someone, which is enough in itself, and b) it creates a fan or fans.
No longer are you running a project in a vacuum. You’re helping other people, and they’ll love it.
And best of all, your new fans will spread the word about how helpful you are, and you’ll get to help others, too.
It has been years since I wrote this article. I still try to embody it in the work I do now. In fact, adapted to SEO, it’s how I write for the web.
If you have a similar approach, I’d love to hear from you.