Problem solving is an essential duty of most professionals. Few days pass by without some unforeseen trouble, some error, misstep, or setback that you and your team are tasked with resolving. The rest of the time is dedicated to figuring out how to direct the resources of the organization into activities that will yield greater revenues and profits.
It is believed that meetings, aimed at solving such problems, are useless without a single mind setting the agenda and steering the energies of the groups towards that purpose. Why shouldn’t yours be that single mind? Even if you are not the team lead you can exert leadership by volunteering to take charge of solving the identified problem. Rather than depending on your team lead—who is too scattered to be effective—you should put yourself forward as the person, ready to rescue your colleagues from the kind of brooding and desultory office meetings that constitute most problem solving sessions.
Your education and experience provides a solid foundation for this venture. You could also use a number of smart television programs, offering models that can give you additional support.
Here is a list of five fictional geniuses exhibiting qualities and attributes that, if imitated, will help you in this endeavor.
1. Tom Kane: Solve the Problem by Seeing the Interests
The ruthless, enigmatic, near sociopathic, Tom Kane, is the mayor of Chicago in the television series Boss. He allows no law of state, friendship, or love to stand in the way of his political agenda—which has served him well, as it has enabled him to stay in office for two decades and to accrue enough power in Illinois to dominate the politics of the entire state. Kane is certainly no model for anyone who wants a life filled with gregariousness and affection. But his way of picking off his opponents and removing other obstacles to his pursuit of achievement offer insight into what it takes to be an effective problem solver.
Mayor Kane sees the entire board and keeps himself ahead of the game. That is why he continually comes out on top. He sees interests rather than parties. He maneuvers according to the material and emotional needs of his constituents and the city’s civic leaders. It is a lesson worth taking. Though most business problems involve tangible things that can be named and numbered, it is people who have to be dealt with. And in the end, the individuals that you will have to work with to solve the problem will each be looking after their own interests—a promotion, a raise, a new career opportunity—as they consider your ideas and proposals.
2. John Luther: Solve With Your Head, But Don’t Forget Your Heart
The example of DCI John Luther, in the television series of the same name, stands opposite to that of Tom Kane: solve the problem with your head, but don’t forget your heart. Luther is a tormented soul of high intellect and deep feeling. He confronts the world as an intelligent, passionate, high-spirited individual, but does so with sensitivity, compassion, and a consistent desire to nourish and advance the careers of his colleagues. He is strongly committed to his work and those he cares about. Though a genius, he has the cast of an ordinary person. He feels and relates as an ordinary person, and this makes the people in his unit fiercely loyal to him, and vice versa.
Most problems in business cannot be solved if there is no trust among those involved. Forging relationships that include this kind of bond takes more than spending time together at company socials and after-work cocktail bars. We as humans need recognition. We want leaders to take notice of our work and reward us for it. That is the true mortar of establishing loyalty and trust: two things that a problem solver cannot do without.
3. Olivia Pope: Set the Right Team Conditions
The popular television show Scandal features the extraordinarily talented, Washington insider and problem solver, Olivia Pope. The plot twists can be a bit far-fetched at times, but who can resist watching the Pope and Associates team spring into action! Pope knows how to set the right conditions for teamwork within her team. That is why they are able to master the complexities of philandering politicians, bratty rich kids who fake their own kidnappings, closeted gay conservative activists, and other public relations disasters.
Although you may be given a mandate to form a group to solve a particular problem, the team work required to attain such a goal is much harder to develop. Pope makes utilizing the strengths of each of her employees a priority. By doing so, she unlocks the knowledge, skills, and abilities of each individual. Most problems require a combination of competencies to solve. Dividing work accordingly will give individuals the feeling of being masters in their respective domains, which will in turn encourage cooperation among them. Your job will then be to ensure that deadlines are met and that the right work is being done by the right person towards the right end. Be a team builder; it will make you a better problem solver.
4. Gil Grissom: Know the Limits of the Facts
Gil Grissom, who for years led the team of forensic experts on the hit television show CSI Las Vegas, was a scientist turned law enforcement officer. Private, insular, and at times cold and awkward, Grissom brought his powerful analytic mind to the solving of murders. One of the great lessons of this great fictional hero is the need for the problem solver to understand the limits of evidence. A compelling feature of the character is his tendency to check the assumptions and speculations of team members by challenging facts that explain too much.
This is one of the hardest forms of discipline to learn as a problem solver. Humans are pattern-seeking animals. As such, we tend to want to connect one piece of anecdotal evidence with another and establish relations between them that may not actually exist. Although all problem-solving must be based on known facts, it is necessary, as the example of Gil Grissom demonstrates, to test such facts in all possible ways—to determine how much they really explain.
5. Don Draper: Be Creative in a Way That Leads to Creation
Mad Men took an honest, insightful look into the American advertising industry of the mid-twentieth century. Don Draper is the self-made ad man who anchors the show. He is ambitious and ruthless, demanding and brilliant. The one thing that most exemplifies the latter is his uncanny ability to turn creativity into proper creation. When his people come to him with half-thought out notions, he sends them back to work them out fully—into something that he can further develop and sell to clients as a new image that will help their brand.
This is true creation. And it is preferable to the constant talk about ‘creativity’ in the workplace. As a problem solver, it is important for you to avoid the trap of plunging everyone into a sea of faint and vague ideas without any arguable views or actionable conceptions. Don Draper gets it right: you must ensure that your team is creative in a way that leads to actual creation.
See Also: 3 Creative Approaches to Problem Solving
Unless you have an enthusiasm for unorganized mental toil, you should seek to establish intellectual guideposts for solving problems. Leading your team requires offering each member the right guidance, as you all try to find solutions. Watching the five television geniuses above in action, may give you a sense of how you might go about effectively doing this.
What is your take on problem solving? What habits have proven most effective for you? Let us know below…