Make It Work: Approaching a Problem with Multiple Solutions

(As previously seen on the HelaWrite blog.)

"Make it work!" Photo via Jessie Pridemore from Flickr Creative Commons.

Tim Gunn: “Make it work!” Photo via Jessie Pridemore from Flickr Creative Commons.

If you’ve ever watched Project Runway, then you’ve heard the famous “Make it work” motto of fashion genius Tim Gunn. My family and I often use this phrase in a patronizing or humorous way, but Mr. Gunn has a great point. In other words, he’s admonishing the show’s contestants to figure it out–make something happen. And that’s what we need when it’s problem-solving time.

Solving problems can be a daunting task, especially if you only look at the big picture rather than piecing it out in parts. Believing that there’s only one solution to a problem can also stop you dead in your problem-solving-tracks.

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Before I started my business last year, I was a school administrator. The school’s Director of Operations, to be exact. Solving problems was at the top of my job description. I had the support of our leadership team, but at the end of the day, I was the one responsible for all the small- and large-scale events, community gatherings, communication processes, and marketing. Talk about putting out fires.

I knew I had to keep my cool, no matter what the circumstance. The most important part about problem-solving, for me, was to draft out solutions and keep an open mind to the ideas my team members and the school’s parents had. If I had chosen to shut out every opinion, there’s no way I could have accomplished everything I did while in that position.

Solving problems involves efficiency, the ability to move quickly (mentally and sometimes physically), and the desire to involve the appropriate people to get the task done. Being a good leader means that you abandon the temptation to be a “lone wolf” and you get your team involved.

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Needless to say, I learned a lot from that job and was able to apply multiple solutions to the hurdles that came my way. So, just how can you solve a problem by using multiple solutions?

Here’s my process:

1. Brainstorm

Approaching a problem organically is a huge factor. It alleviates the pressure of finding the perfect answer right away (kinda like the stress of huge math problems). Here are some ways to brainstorm:

  • Draw it out: Use a web, diagram, or pictures to generate ideas. Don’t throw out any crazy ideas during this process. Sometimes the crazy ones are the best.

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  • Write it out: Grab a journal and have a dialogue with yourself; walk yourself through the process of solving the problem.

 

  • Talk it out: Call a meeting with those you trust most; those who have the ability to give you varying perspectives. Be open to their ideas and hear what they have to say in regards to finding a solution. This would be a GREAT time to use someone who has strategy as one of their Top Strengths. Since my Top Strength is strategy, I have often been called into various planning meetings to give input during the brainstorming process. Strategists usually have great solutions, but make sure they don’t dominate the entire conversation. 🙂

2. Narrow It Down

Once you have generated multiple solutions, prioritize the ideas that could actually work. Throw out the ones that are bogus. You can use a criteria list to help with this part of the process. Look at things like: 

  • Efficiency
  • Time it will take to implement a solution
  • Cost of the solution (especially if you have a tight budget)

3. Choose the Best Solution–or a Combination of Some

Again, there is not always ONE right answer. Sometimes, it may take a combination of solutions and ideas to approach a problem and solve it. Keep an open mind while trying to figure out what will work best, and be wary of falling into the trap of over-analyzing.

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4. Set A Timeline

This is one of the most important areas of problem-solving. A solution is only as good as its plan. I know that sounds strange, but planning is so underrated. Once you have an answer, set up the blueprint for execution. Here are some questions you may need to ask yourself:

  • Does this problem/solution have a due date?
  • When will I/we begin working on the problem, using the chosen solution?
  • How long will the problem take to solve?
  • Do I need others to help me solve the problem?

5. Delegate As Appropriate

The key to success begins with delegation. And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. If you’re like me, wavering between perfectionism and creativism (totally made up that word), then you can empathize with the real temptation of doing everything yourself. I had to learn the hard way that it’s a good thing to ask for help, and that I can actually get more done with extra hands. Who knew, right?

Build a team (if applicable) of people who are trustworthy that can get the job done. They may not do things your way, but that’s okay. As long as the outcome is successful, you’ll be grateful for the extra help. And let me be the first to say that my former assistant was a godsend! I wouldn’t have been alive at the end of the school year without her.

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6. Execute

Once you have the pieces in place, it’s time to solve the puzzle. You have your solution, timeline, and team, so get to work! Just picture Tim Gunn looming over your workstation, and ask yourself if he’d be impressed or horrified by your creation.

 

I hope you find yourself using some (or maybe all) of these tips the next time you face a big problem. Nothing (except hangovers and procreation) happens overnight, so take a breath and give yourself a break. Look at the problem as a whole, then break it up into manageable pieces. You’ll be surprised at how much simpler it looks that way. “Make it work!”

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