In complicated times, simplicity is what we need
We live in an information-rich era. Technology has allowed us to streamline processes, work with higher efficiency and solve problems of grand scales. But you and I are only human, and we still have very human problems to deal with in our lives that complicated technology alone can’t solve.
While pondering the subject of problem-solving, I recently came across the book ‘Simple Habits for Complex Times’ by Jennifer Garvey Berger and Keith Johnston.
The book is mainly targeted towards business, in particular those who are aspiring business leaders. However, while reading it, I realized some of the 'simple habits’ could also apply to other areas of life where problems arise too.
Some points in the book were specific to business leadership, but I’ve managed to extract three main habits you can adopt even if you’re not in the business of leadership.
If you’re facing a problem in your work, social or personal life, consider trying out these steps, and using them consistently to develop them into habits.
1: Stop Asking Questions If You Know The Answer
As well as the above, don’t ask a question if you’ll ignore the answer given to you. Too many people these days spend too much time focusing on single aspects of problems when they already know the answers.
I’m guilty of this myself. When working in highly regulated industries, I would ask so many questions — which isn’t inherently wrong, but I asked questions I already knew the answer to “just to be sure”.
After a while, I realized it wasn’t helping anyone, least of all myself. I would have resolved issues a lot sooner if I had confidence in my knowledge and ability to assess the problem to go ahead.
When you’re faced with a problem you genuinely struggle with, instead of asking ‘clarifying’ questions (ones you hope will validate existing knowledge), take the opportunity to ask new questions that challenge your perspective.
Force yourself to consider the possibility other people’s ideas and solutions might be better than what you could come up with, and resist the urge to categorize people into enemies if their answer doesn’t necessarily match yours.
2: See The Problem As a Whole
In an ever-increasingly complicated life, it feels easier to just duct tape the leaky hole when we see it. Sure, it might work temporarily for a little while, but you’ll often find your problems worsen over time with this kind of mindset.
Instead of hyper-focusing on the little parts, like the leaky hole, try to take a step back and see if your structure is sound or if there’s a way to efficiently deal with the water coming in.
You’ll likely find the issue comes from a systemic problem, where there is more than one contributing cause. Sometimes it’s not just external either, sometimes you have to deal with you being part of the problem.
When this happens, it’s better to get multiple, diverse perspectives on the situation you’re dealing with to try and see the bigger picture in ways you couldn’t get on your own.
When testing possible solutions (even just in theory) seek feedback on your ideas and learn from the input with open-mindedness. Learn, fail, adjust, iterate, improve.
Learn to see the patterns in how changing one thing affects another, the web of connections. When you do this, your chances of fixing a problem better and quicker increases.
3: Think First, Act Later
I get it, you’re probably confused at this one. If you want to quickly solve a problem, why am I asking you to act later? Planning ahead is a fundamental part of problem-solving.
People are uncomfortable with thinking first and acting later because of our biological evolution favoring the opposite. But now the world demands forethought.
When you spend the extra time to think through the problem, you’re less likely to make a mistake in your solution and exacerbate the situation. On top of that, you’ll save yourself time and money by coming up with the right answer sooner.
By considering the first two points, you’ll have already come a long way in thinking first by listening to other people’s ideas and weighing up how the problem works in the bigger picture. But you also need to think about what happens after you implement your solutions.
Consider the consequences, both to yourself and other people, of your actions and ask yourself, “What do I have to learn in this situation?”.
This point is especially important when it comes to problems with a high emotional cost. You can quickly blurt out the wrong thing in the heat of the moment — and once said, cannot be unsaid. Take a pause, assess the situation, and consider your options.
Things Don’t Need to Be So Complicated
Some productivity gurus, entrepreneurs, and even friends are quick to sell you a piece of duct tape to help solve your problems in the short term. Others will come up with entire books of complicated instructions on how to resolve a specific issue.
But employing these three simple habits in your problem-solving arsenal can dramatically improve your approach to potential solutions.
Whether your problems are in the office, your home life, or your love life; being able to assess them carefully by:
- Instead of asking questions in which you already know the answer, ask questions that challenge your perceptions.
- Seeing them as a whole bigger picture where you can connect dots for more permanent solutions.
- Thinking first, acting later.
Doing so gives you a greater chance of successful solutions.