We’ve all got problems of some sort. Business problems. Career problems. Personal problems. It seems that we spend our lives bumping from one problem to another. Yet how often do we really think about the way to approach solving problems?
Although I trained as an engineer, that’s not how I earn a living. So was my education a waste of time? I don’t think so because although I don’t use calculus, I do employ the structured way of thought drilled into me at engineering school. My MBA provided me with another, business-oriented lens to look at problems. While I don’t often think about it, depending on the nature of the problem I’m solving, I wheel out the framework that will be most useful.
In fact, that’s where effective problem solving begins. Before you can reach a solution, you must first master complex variables and an overwhelming amount of data by applying some sort of framework. The right framework reveals patterns and the big picture so you can focus on the core of the problem rather than being distracted by the noise. Some commonly used frameworks are: lifecycles, layered models, personas and quadrant charts. You’ve no doubt run into them many times (heck, even the tough decision of choosing a diamond has the “4 Cs” framework!)
Interestingly, frameworks can also help an organization stay coordinated. Employees craving a “ vision and mission statement” are often crying out for a framework other than just financial statements within which to understand their efforts. Frameworks can even be a way of communicating value to customers or an important brand element like the Boston Consulting Group portfolio matrix of star, cash cow, dog and question mark” fame.
Whether you’re solving a tough problem or attempting to communicate an idea, if you don’t seem to be getting anywhere, stop and think about how you’re approaching it. See if you can break down the problem’s complexity into component parts that can then be re-assembled in some structured way. Try doodling to reveal how things are grouped and linked. When it comes to finding a solution, you may just find that looking at your problem through a different framework . . . works!