If you kept accurate tabs on your workday, you would probably find that at least 75 percent of your time and energy are devoted to solving problems. Many are minor, to be sure, and relatively routine. Others—the ones that require ingenuity and a summoning of all the resources at your command—are major, often one-of-a-kind mind bogglers.
All of your problems, regardless of their size, must be solved in one way or another. And how adept you are in solving them, or contributing to their solution, largely determines your value to your organization.
So, how good a problem solver are you? The following quiz should give you a pretty good idea.
- Do you view a problem as a barrier to getting your work done or, more realistically, as part of the work for which you are responsible?
- Do you customarily try to break a big problem down into a series of manageable smaller problems, then tackle them one at a time?
- Considering your major areas of responsibility, what are your strengths (where are problems least likely to occur?) Why?
- Have you ever tried to analyze those strengths and apply them to the more troublesome areas?
- Do you assign reasonable priorities to your problems, or do you consider every problem a crisis of the same magnitude?
- Are you in the habit of carrying a notebook at all times so that you can capture that sudden inspiration before it vanishes forever?
- Are you a patient, flexible, open-minded person?
- Are you suspicious of simple solutions to complex problems?
- Do you tackle a problem as soon as you are aware of it, or do you tend to avoid working at it as long as possible in the hope that it will somehow take care of itself.
- What is your greatest problem-solving strength (e.g., getting the facts, delegating responsibilities for solving parts of a problem, attention to detail, etc.)?
- Conversely, what is your greatest weakness?
- What do you do to counterbalance this weakness?
- Do you panic under pressure and, consequently, reach for any solution—or do you realize that answers may not come for a while and remain capable of doing other work while the problem simmers on a low burner in your brain?
- When a problem has you baffled, do you panic or back up and try to look at it in a new way?
- Have you noticed any pattern in your problem-solving record that might indicate the method that works best for you? Some people are at their best in the morning, others are at their best in a discussion with other people, and some people even do their best thinking while showering.
- Do you think twice before discarding a potential solution? Sometimes a seemingly unworkable idea is more viable than it first appears—or can be, with a little tinkering.
- When a solution to a problem doesn’t work out, do you discard it entirely or do you see what parts of it may be salvaged, modified, or amended?
- Do you ever cross functional lines to get the thinking of others who may view your problem from a fresh perspective?
- Are you familiar enough with the processes of logic so that you can spot faulty reasoning before it is allowed to work its mischief?
- Do you use a pencil to “visualize” problems, reducing them to numbers when possible, listing the choices open to you, or otherwise taking advantage of doodling your way to an answer?
- Just because you have never used a certain approach to similar prolems, do you reject it out of hand when facing a problem?
- Are you liberal in sharing the credit for solving a problem with those who worked with you on it? Those who don’t share the glory usually find it difficult to get others to cooperate next time around.
- When a problem has you running in circles, do you recognize that frustration is part of the problem-solving process, or do you take out your frustrations on those around you?
- Do you read outside your field of ordinary interest, always on the lookout for data that may, with only a little modification, help you solve a problem?
- When possible, do you try your solution on a trial basis first?
Take Advantage of Your Best Hours
Some of us are larks—at our best in the morning hours; others are owls—better in the afternoon. If you leap out of bed at the start of the day, your best time is probably in the morning. If you don’t feel like yourself before 11 a.m., your best time is probably in the afternoon.
Schedule your most difficult work for one period or the other. You’ll slice many minutes off the time it otherwise might take to complete this work. You may even find it worthwhile to rearrange your entire working schedule, depending on your particular circumstances.
Five Ways To Better Visual Aids
As a general rule, visual aids can add interest, clarity and drama to a speech. But ill-conceived, poorly planned visuals can ruin an otherwise effective presentation. If you plan to involve your audience’s eyes as well as its ears, these suggestions should help you avoid the most common traps:
- Be sure your visual is visible. A draw-ing or chart that cannot be seen be-yond the second row will not strengthen what you are saying. To the contrary, it will detract from your message.
- Keep it simple. Make sure no irrelevant details are included. For example, a map of the United States showing its major rivers should not also include its mountains, cities, lakes or weather patterns.
- Check your facilities in advance. Plan for every contingency. If you need an electric outlet, make sure one is conveniently located. If you intend to use a blackboard, have chalk and an eraser.
- Don’t forget your audience. Concen-trate on your listeners, not on your materials. Position yourself so that you can use the visual aid while facing the audience.
- Don’t overdo it. The more elaborate your visual, the more likely it will “smother” your message. An additional pitfall: the more complicated a visual aid, the more things can go wrong with it.
Tap Your People’s Idea Banks
Because of their diverse backgrounds and experiences, your people represent a potentially deep reservoir of creativity that you ought to be tapping regularly for good ideas.
If you are not, try encouraging them to submit ideas by reminding them of the advantages: Management recognition, job improvements and other research often result from good suggestions. Encourage those who repeatedly submit suggestions—they represent a particularly precious resource. And be sure to follow up on a suggestion, especially if it is an employee’s first.
- If you are convinced that the suggestion is impractical, explain why and encourage the employees to try again.
- If you see merit in the suggestion, do whatever you can to help make the idea even more worthwhile.
- If in doubt about the usefulness of a sug-gestion, discuss it with someone who is qualified to give you a second opinion.
- Try to report back to the employee on the suggestion as soon as possible.
In short, demonstrate that you prize good ideas, and your people will reward you with more of them.
How To Get People To Do What You Want
What appears to be employee lack of cooperation is sometimes really a case of insufficient motivation. The remedy: make your people want to do what you are asking them to do. Easier said than done? Perhaps. But there are techniques that work.
You can appeal to the desire for approval. Everybody wants to be liked, complimented, appreciated. Convince subordinates that what you want them to do will help them win approval in some way and you will kindle their interest. “Here’s an easy way to earn a reputation for dependability.” “This will look mighty good in your personnel file.” These are just a few examples of appealing to people’s desire for approval.
You can also harness the competitive instinct. Runners invariably perform better when they are pitted against other runners than against a stop watch. Why? Because the very human desire to excel is best satisfied in live rivalry. An employee desires to turn out better work than his peers. Just about every-body would like to improve on his own past performance. Explain how an individual can realize either of these ambitions by doing what you want and you will create the proper motivation for cooperation.
How To Double Your Convention Coverage
Those who take their conventions, conferences and annual meetings seriously are often unhappy because one person just can’t see, hear and discuss everything interesting or important. There are simply too many people to talk to and too many things going on and you just can’t be in more than one place at a time.
Veteran convention-goers, however, have developed a trick that for all practi-cal purposes does permit them to be in two places at the same time. If you’re headed for a get-together, you can use it—provided you plan to write a report on the convention for your company or organization when you return.
What these people do is simply make arrangements with one or more fellow delegates to swap by mail copies of the post-convention reports that they turn in to their organizations. They usually try to get partners who hail from different areas, who have somewhat different interests and who move in different circles at the convention.
Try it. Those who regularly use the system say they often get twice as much information, sample twice as broad a cross-section of opinion, pick the brains of twice as many people and see everything that goes on from two different viewpoints. Sometimes, they say, you can hardly recognize in another individual’s report the same convention you attended—so different are the conclusions, the emphases and the material gathered.