Whenever I interview candidates for a position (whether a developer position or not), I want to know one very important thing about them. Something that, for me, has been the number one key attribute that successful employees all have. What is it??
The ability to problem solve!
When you are an employee, the last thing you want to do is come to your boss with a problem, but not a solution.
It may seem obvious, but I’ll state it anyway — when you are employed by someone, they don’t want you to tell them you have a problem. They want you to tell them you have a solution. Many of your tasks are going to be resolving issues or coming up with solutions to problems (that’s what makes you valuable! Otherwise, a monkey could do your job. Sorry Monkeys).
Yet, very few of the people I interview have really great problem solving skills. Sure, they call themselves “Problem Solvers” on their resume. But how do they quantify it? Truthfully, not many can, and when put to the test many fall flat on their face.
Google has known this for years and that is the key reason they have been one of the most successful companies over the last decade. They hire the absolute best problem solvers. They have become notorious for coming up with questions in interviews that will not test the candidates knowledge but will instead test their intelligence.
The difference between knowledge and intelligence is key here. Knowledge is the collection of skills and information a person has acquired through experience. Intelligence is the ability to apply knowledge. Just because someone lacks knowledge of a particular subject doesn’t mean they can’t apply their intelligence to help solve problems.
Knowledge is wonderful, but it fades as processes and technologies come and go. Intelligence sustains. Its borders extend beyond any process or technology, and that makes all the difference.
One of the keys to being intelligent is coming up with creative solutions to difficult problems that you have not seen before.
Being great at solving difficult problems that you have never seen before is not easy, and building the intuition to do it does not happen overnight (this is one of the reasons Google’s rejection rate is so high). Only after you have had a lot of practice working through difficult situations to find the answers when everyone else is stumped, will you develop an intuition about how to solve a new problem.
However, if you want to start solving problems for your business today, there are a few tricks to help you kick start your problem solving capabilities. Whenever I come to a problem that I have not seen before and I do not have clear insight to the problem or how to fix it, I start with this problem solving technique. This technique allows you to apply your knowledge of what you do know, to the problem. I call it the Insight To Any Problem™ technique!
The 6 step technique looks like this:
- Defining the problem
- Make sure you are solving the right problem and not a result or symptom of the problem! Ask yourself “Is this the result of another problem?”
- Analyzing/Isolating the problem
- This is usually the most difficult part. See graph below.
- Developing possibilities
- See graph below for insight into how to develop possibilities.
- Selecting the best solution
- Determine between team and the people affected by the problem, which will be the best solution going forward.
- Evaluating and learning
- Always document your solutions so that if similar problems arise or other teams have the same issue you don’t go through the whole process again. Always learn! Always improve!
Most of the above techniques you have probably seen before. However, usually the hardest part is steps 2 and 3. That’s why I have have a “subsystem” to be able to effectively analyse and develop solutions for the hardest problems.
It may initially look familiar to you. It starts with the 5 ‘W’s (and 1 ‘H’) technique you learned in grade school when writing an English paper. The same way that it helped you write an A+ English paper is the same way it is going to help you problem solve.
Below is a infograph that outlines the whole technique that I have used to provide insight and solutions to many, many, many problems. It can do the same for you. The basic premise is to ask yourself questions about the problem to gain insight into a solution. It is surprisingly effective.
Give it a try and let me know of your favorite problem solving techniques in the comments!
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