Approaching problem solving

 

Mount Buller July 2017

Don’t be deterred by the size of the problem.

How often do we feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of a problem because we try to take on the whole thing in one go.  I am reminded of the analogy how does one eat an elephant; one bite at a time. In week 5 we are being pushed to dive into our tool box to start the process of problem solving which does require some creativity and innovation.

I am learning that solutions are not always flashes of inspiration or even a light bulb moment. Even those that are regarded as geniuses did not arrive at that point without a process beforehand. Application and pure sweat are usually involved as well.

So how does one approach problem solving? Adam Savage of Myth Busters TV fame provides a useful framework in a talk he gave in 2010 in California to tackle this dilemma his way.  I regard myself as being more creative in literature than anything to do with science or maths. But Savage makes the point that we possess existing skills that can be utilised in a different discipline or area of endeavour. His skills as a sculptor and the knowledge he gained from doing his art were applied to a new role as a film producer. As he says even painters need to adopt some problem-solving steps to complete a great work of art.

Savage has come up with some useful steps that myself or others could apply.  To start with ask what is the problem I am solving and most importantly what is the problem. Once you are clear about that, think about the big picture. Am I solving a single problem or is it part of something else? Find out how much time I have to complete the task and what deadline pressures are involved. Time and resources needed tend to go hand-in-hand. And of course what budget is allowed is vital. Location can be another significant problem especially if it involves working in certain climatic conditions. Other considerations can be an awareness of the team’s morale and a realistic audit of my own skills and whether outside help is required.  Taking this step by step approach makes good sense because as a broad check list one can eliminate any issues or barriers before starting the physical work.

I am learning that there are various ways to approach problem solving. There is a current TV ad for Skoda cars which uses the line “you don’t have to be famous to be brilliant”.  Many innovations we take for granted were most likely created by ordinary people who were willing to step up to the mark.   There also needs to be a passion and a willingness to learn as much as you can about the problem you want to solve. Along the way, I am collecting new ideas and concepts, including TRIZ, a 40-principles matrix that offers another approach. What ever problem I encounter, the key is to plan the solution using the various tools available beforehand. I may not be famous but maybe I could aim for brilliance!

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