Understanding the beauty of problems
German-born theoretical physicist, Albert Einstein is one of the most accomplished scientists and philosophers of the modern era. He developed the general theory of relativity, one of the two pillars of modern physics.
His work is also known for its influence on the philosophy of science and he published more than 300 scientific papers along with over 150 non-scientific works. On December 5, 2014, universities and archives announced the release of Einstein’s papers, comprising more than 30,000 unique documents. His intellectual achievements and originality have now made the word “Einstein” synonymous with “genius.
When he was asked about the secret of his phenomenal success, he simply said: “It is not that I am so smart, it is just that I stay with problems longer.” By this, what this genius implies is that, the secret of his success is that he loved tackling difficult problems. This is quite instructive. Indeed, organisations now require two essential things from employees. The first is the ability to use initiative by being creative and pro-active while the other is the ability to resolve problems, think logically and use ingenuous means to overcome difficult tasks.
Anyone with these skills will not only go far but will become a prized jewel in any organisation. According to American diplomat and author,
Harlan Cleveland, “Leaders are problem solvers by talent and temperament, and by choice.” Consequently, any organisation that has within its fold a team of accomplished problem solvers will undoubtedly excel and thrive. Whereas those who run away from confronting problems are not often considered for crucial tasks and by inference career upliftment, the sky cannot even limit the progression of consummate and creative problem solvers. Sadly, those who run away from problems easily forget Henri Kaiser’s claim that: “Problems are only opportunities in work clothes.”
Universally, problem-solving qualities help employees to add value in their respective work places and make huge difference in the discharge of assigned tasks. One of the world’s most accomplished writers on skills development and human resource expert, Alison Doyle, once noted that: “In nearly every sector, problem solving is one of the key skills that employers seek…It is hard to find a blue collar, administrative, managerial, or professional position that doesn’t require problem-solving skills of some kind.” Indeed, it is now required of employees to describe situations they encountered in previous roles, the processes they followed to address the problems, the skills they applied, and the results of their actions.
Behavioural scientists have been able to study and codify the‘best-practice’ stages to solving problems. According to them, the first stage to solving a problem is to evaluate it while the next stage is to manage the problem and the third step is decision-making. The fourth step in the process is to resolve the problem and the final step is to examine the results. In doing this, those involved must monitor the outcome of action taken, review the problem and take proactive steps to avoid similar situations in future.
It is, however, one thing to know the process, but it is another to understand the mind frame for approaching the implementation of the process. Developing this mind frame is one of the essential soft skills that are mandatory for success in today’s rapidly changing world. According to workplace strategist and author of Simple Life Strategies, Zoe Brendan, the mind frame for successful problem solving calls for lesser focus on the solution and not the problem.
Neuroscientists have, indeed, proven that the human brain cannot find the right solutions if it focuses mostly on problem. When the mind focuses too much on problem, it is fed with negativity which in turn activates negative emotions in the brain. These emotions block potential solutions. This is not saying that one should ‘ignore the problem.’ Instead, it helps to first acknowledge the problem and then move one’s focus to a solution-oriented mindset where one keeps a fixed gaze on what the ‘answer’ could be instead of lingering on ‘what went wrong’ and ‘whose fault it is.’
The right mind frame also calls for an open mind in order to try and entertain ‘All Possible Solutions’ – even if they seem ridiculous at first.
It is important for one to keep an open mind to boost creative thinking, which can trigger potential solutions. In the context, the trite slogan in the corporate advertising industry that: ‘No idea is a bad idea’ should always come to mind. This aids creative thinking in brainstorming sessions and other problem-solving techniques. Whatever you do, do not ridicule yourself for coming up with seemingly ‘stupid solutions’ because it is often the crazy ideas that trigger other more viable solutions.
In developing the suitable mind frame for problem solving, it is equally crucial to always view problem neutrally by not trying to view it as ‘scary’ issue. Really, a problem is just a feedback on the current situation which is sounding as a reminder that something is not currently working and that there is a need to find new ways around it. Therefore, it is usually prudent to try and approach problems neutrally, that is, without any judgment. If you get caught up in the label ‘problem,’ this may trigger a torrent of negative thoughts and block any potential solutions from occurring to you.
In same vein, it is logical to constantly engage in lateral thinking. In this wise, it is sensible to frequently pay attention to the saying: ‘You cannot dig a hole in a different place by digging it deeper.” Hence, it is fine to change one’s approach to issues and look at things in new ways. Perhaps, more important is the manner of language that is used when one is faced with a herculean problem. It is, thus, important to use language that creates possibilities and not defeatist ones. Creative language opens up the brains to think creatively and encourage solutions.
On a final note, problems are the pathway to success. Successful men across the ages have come to see problem as opportunity in disguised.
Hence, while failures run away from problems and prefer their comfort zones, consummate problem solvers easily climb the ladder of success. It is this basic principle that we try to imbibe in the workforce of the Lagos State Government in almost all our training programmes and gladly it is yielding positive results.
• Dr. Benson is honourable commissioner for Establishments, Training and Pensions, Lagos State.