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!”

The Problem of being Good at “Everything”

In my last post, I stated that I had some exciting news. By that, I meant exciting and nerve-wracking.

I quit my day job.

Curls gone wrong...

There. Now it’s out and not so bad. But honestly, I am a little anxious about the immediate future. Why?

I’ve decided to freelance and work for myself.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m excited to be working for myself. But those of you who share in my entrepreneurial spirit can empathize with just how challenging working for yourself can be. However, I will reiterate that I am thrilled and can’t wait for the next chapter of my life to unfold.

This was the first week that I had all to myself. It’s been a week in which I rested, took time to get lots of “busy work” done, crossed off several things on my to-do list, and began to draft what my life will now look like in this new structure. And, as always, there are so many things you learn about yourself whenever a big change occurs. For me, I’ve been learning about the importance of limiting my focus.

You see: I’m the classic overachiever. I am unsatisfied if the job done is less than 110% and have high expectations of myself and those with whom I work—i.e. if you’re on my team, you better be ready to kick some ass. There’s nothing wrong with having that kind of work ethic, but when your ego intermixes with achievement and grows en masse, the “intimidation monster” may rear its ugly head in the process. This is what I call “the problem of being good at everything.”

GC FineImage via Meme Generator.

In the past, several people have told me that I am intimidating. Those who know me very well wouldn’t describe me as such, but would agree that because I’m demanding of myself, it may come across as intimidating to others. When I was younger and just in the blossoming stages my career, I honestly had no idea why I was labeled in that way. In fact, being the sensitive flower that I am (ha!), I would actually become offended at said label. But now that I’ve finished a ten-year run in the education field, I can actually appreciate those perspectives because I understand where they were coming from.

When you’re a know-it-all and try to take on every task under the sun, you WILL come off as Hermione Granger—and not in a good way. One of the most important things I’ve learned about myself while growing in my career is that my number one strength is strategy. (According to Clifton Strengths Finder.) That means that I can see solutions where many people see puzzles. I can mentally rearrange the “pieces” of a problem and see the whole picture. It’s nothing over which I have control—I was made this way. I am not responsible for this gift. It’s how my brain works. Though it sounds like an amazing skill to possess, it also has its curse. The curse of: the temptation to rescue everyone and solve the problem before they can even attempt to work out a solution for themselves. This is what Liz Wiseman would call an “accidental diminisher.”

People only want to be rescued if they’re drowning. And guess what? Many people in the workforce aren’t drowning; they’re simply looking at different ways to solve problems and may not come to an answer as fast as a strategist. But those of us who rush in too quickly diminish the genius of others. Particularly those of us who have four page résumés. *Guiltily raising my hand.*

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I began to realize this especially when I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia last year. When I became physically limited, my eagerness to jump in and do everything and save the day was limited as well. Though Fibro is very painful and not something I would wish upon anyone, it has been a good thing. It taught me that I simply cannot do everything for everyone—I am NOT superwoman and that’s okay!

While I learned this lesson, old habits still crept in. I am nowhere near perfect, after all. Taking too much on my “job plate” was a problem and I’d become so overwhelmed that the huge progress I had made in lessening Fibro symptoms would be interrupted by a painful flare up. It sucked.

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Finally, I started focusing on myself more—specifically during this year. I was tired of feeling pain, tired of being overwhelmed, and tired of appearing intimidating. I just wanted to be me, enjoy my life, and pursue my passions. This caused me to initiate a mental dialogue with myself that eventually became external dialogues with some of my mentors. One mentor, in particular, said something so simple yet so riveting that it solidified my decision to change my life: “Tamar, you can either spend the rest of your life being good at everything…OR, you can spend the rest of your life being great at that one thing you’re passionate about.” Wow. Talk about conviction!

That conversation sparked events that eventually led to this blog post. Today, my office is a coffee shop and I’ll get to work out with all the retirees at the gym later—before most everyone is out of school and work. And if I want, I can squeeze in a nap, just because I can. But those are not the reasons why I’ve abandoned the intimidating overachiever. It’s much bigger than those perks.

Paid for Being FabImage via Some eCards.

 I’m finally pursuing my passion. The one thing at which I’m going to be great: writing.

Funny thing is, I liked writing when I was younger, hated it while in high school and college, and sort of rediscovered it as a means of mental freedom while penning my first novel, Feast Island, about five years ago. I had such a narrow perspective on writing until it became my liberator from the busyness of life. When it was the thing on which I spent all of my free time. When it evolved into more than just a portion of my job—it developed into my passion.

Now, the plan is to be a freelancer, specializing in copywriting, copyediting, content creation, and other writing services. Hopefully I will be able to have more time to focus on my fiction writing while not engaged in non-fiction writing. (Fiction doesn’t pay the bills quite yet, but here’s hoping!) I’m just about done with my NEW brand and website: helawrite.com. I will loudly announce when it’s ready for reveal, meaning I’ll be available for hire! 🙂 This is scary, new, exciting…all emotions mixed into one ball of anxiety-stricken and joy-filled energy. I’m optimistic about the future and expect failures, successes, and everything in between.

I don’t feel like I’m “finally on the right path”; rather, I feel like I’m on the right path for right now.

All that I experienced in my prior career shaped me to become the ME I am today. It helped me to learn very valuable lessons that I’ve since applied to my life to become better. I’m learning how to let go of things I can’t control. I’m perfectly happy being imperfect.  Every day, I come closer to truly understanding that this life isn’t about me, but rather about how I can be used to change the world through my vocation.

To the overachievers and those who “need” to control: guess what? You cannot control everything in life; the more you try to control, the more battles you will fight and lose. LET GO. It’s not about you. Become GREAT by relinquishing control, sharing the spotlight, and being a “multiplier” of talents around you.

To the underachievers: GRAB ON. Find your passion and begin to focus your energies on becoming better and better at that one thing. Become GREAT by being passionate, focused, and intentional. Bring others along side you for the journey.

I’ll leave you with the challenge to “dare greatly” as Brené Brown would say, and go forth in faith to do what you were meant to do. As the great Theodore Roosevelt said in the Citizen in a Republic speech,

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again,

because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause;

who at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly…”

Have a great weekend!