Investors ask startup founders during a pitch: What problem are you trying to solve?
Consumers these days subconsciously or directly want to know: How can you solve a problem I have?
A boss or colleagues come to you with a question: What is the solution to this problem?
It seems our modern lives are characterized by problems! Pain points all around! But consider this: problems keep people busy. If you’re trying to be productive, you hit a curve. If you’re pursuing meaning, you encounter adversity. And amidst all this, your ability to solve problems is called forth and tested.
How about you include in your design the very idea that you’re a problem solver?
Sounds like a good problem, right? Let’s make this notion a bit concrete by looking at some principles and steps to becoming a problem solver.
Define the Problem
Kumail Nanjiani recently appeared on the Ellen Show, and in this clip he talked about how he was angry all day, yelling at people, honking, etc. And then he had a glass of water and realized he was just thirsty. Dehydration was the problem.
It’s a funny bit. But it also introduces the first principle/step neatly. (Thank you, Kumail.)
Define the problem. Spend time on it. Understand the dimensions of the problem. Get to its root cause.
To do this, employ the 5 Whys Technique. Developed by Sakichi Toyoda, whose son created car-maker brand Toyota, this method requires you to ask why 5 times to uncover a problem with multiple root causes. Or simply to arrive at the right question or problem. The fifth iteration is anecdotally observed to be enough in exploring cause-and-effect relationships. But you can go as high as sixth, seventh, eighth, and so on.
Another handy tool is related to the Socratic Method. Wait, you’ve heard this one before. I’m referring to inductive reasoning. This kind of reasoning starts with a conclusion you want to prove to be true.
Here’s how it can be applied. In charge of tourism efforts in your area, you conduct a focus group discussion on how to improve. You find out that a lack of transportation options is preventing people from exploring your sights. So you recommend close coordination with neighboring local areas to set up a point-to-point transport system.
In inductive reasoning, the premises seek to supply proof of the truth of a conclusion. You cannot, however, arrive logically at the certainty of the conclusion. By this approach, you can only obtain the probable cause of the problem. To better understand how it works, watch this Crash Course video on the subject:
Solo-Brainstorm 3 (or More) Solutions
You’ve reached the key step. This is important. A friend shared this with me, and it changed my perspective. If you’re given a problem or found one on your own, identify 3 solutions. I don’t mean, call a meeting and let people throw ideas. I mean, sit down, unleash your creativity, and come up with your ideas. It’s good exercise for your brain.
But there are also two reasons I’m encouraging you to go on an express solo-brainstorming session.
First, people’s creativity is unleashed when they’re asked to generate ideas privately. You read that right. Generating ideas is an individual task. You don’t need the company’s collective mind to birth ideas. Instead, teamwork is required when initial ideas have been gathered and sorted. That is when you need more heads to build on ideas with the highest potential.
Second, and this is for the greater good, it’s more productive to present solutions instead of problems. Absorb that statement. Perhaps recall how someone—a colleague or a friend—approached you with a laundry list of problems. And that person kept ranting the whole time. While it’s also cool to ask if they want to brainstorm solutions with you, you’d probably have liked it better if they consulted you with solutions instead.
It’s like, “Hey, boss/friend/partner/parent, what do you think of these solutions to our/your/my problem?” Wouldn’t that be a good use of everyone’s time? And let’s admit, listening to rants can be draining.
Share Your Hypotheses With Others
So, you have defined the problem and identified possible solutions. It’s time to see if your ideas hold water. This is the part where the teamwork comes in (from the earlier example). But if you’re working on a personal problem, inviting fresh eyes is just as necessary.
If you have a framework that you want everyone to use, share it with them, too. The 80/20 method is useful at this stage. Instead of proving or disproving the validity of each hypothesis, you can determine the most meaningful ones. Which among the proposed solutions will create the greatest impact? This is a good starting ground, especially if you’re working as a unit and potential solutions abound.
Check out the image below for one way to approach this phase:
As you can see above, you’re now encouraged to validate your hypotheses. In fact, if you can test your biggest assumptions more quickly, the better.
The example IBM gave relates to creating prototypes. But you can also try to apply that in your personal life. For instance, you can test your assumptions right away, such as in considering a more sustainable lifestyle. Just figure out how to do it without spending too much or wasting resources. Otherwise, it will kind of miss the point.
Analyze the Best Solution
Now, you may have reached the end stage of your problem-solving journey. At least for that one problem you’re working on. (There will be more to come. You know this.)
You might be thinking: What end stage? Didn’t you already apply the best solution in the previous step? Perhaps the proper term for this phase is post-mortem. That has nothing to do with anyone dying. But it has everything to do with the solution you just executed.
You should now evaluate if it was able to solve the problem. Are there aspects of the execution that you didn’t expect? What did you correctly predict? If it didn’t solve the problem, are you back at square one? Or can you move forward by integrating another hypothesis?
That’s a lot of questions! The questions never stop! I feel you. But it’s important to continue the process as long as your problem isn’t solved. But if you got it the first time, good for you. Now it’s time to solve another. What do you say about that, genius?
Bonus: Take Credit For What You Did
There’s a part of us that wants to share the glory with other people. Here’s an example. You’re interviewing for your dream job. The interviewer asks you to tell him or her about a time you solved a problem. Most people are hesitant to share their “most triumphant stories,” says HR expert Liz Ryan. They have to understand the person asking already knows you were working on it with a team.
“Just tell your problem-solving story and be proud of yourself for jumping in to make a positive impact way back when,” adds Ryan.
Two things to glean from this.
First, do not disqualify yourself from the job. You are a problem solver. So own your problem-solving stories. That doesn’t automatically mean you’re hogging the spotlight or discrediting your collaborators. Chances are you have solved a problem before, on your own or with others. How did you approach the situation? Is there something you can do to replicate what you did or revise it for future use?
Those questions lead us to the second point. And that is to keep refining your approach. Different problems require different approaches. Even one problem can be solved by looking at it from different angles. So, grow the confidence in your ability by trying out new things. Don’t rest on your laurels. You’re just as good as the last problem you solved.
Why Chasing Perfection is a Futile Activity
“Perfection is attained by slow degrees; it requires the hand of time.”
Perfection takes time. Time is something that most of us scared to invest. You either invest your time or you elude it trying to save it. From the time we start understanding words and achievements, we are inspired to chase perfection. By the time you realize that there is no such thing as ‘perfection’ in this world, you have already wasted a lot of your learning years chasing it.
While looking for a perfect job, a perfect career, a perfect relationship, a perfect moment – we often forget to cherish the things we have or be thankful the opportunities we have been given – we end up losing what we have.
“When you aim for perfection, you discover it’s a moving target.”
We keep on running after an adjective that is very hard to put onto things. Perfection is going to have a different meaning for different people. Something that isn’t perfect for you is going to be perfect for someone else.
The pursuit of perfection in every aspect of your life can be very exhausting, you will be going through every stage with a looming dread of not being perfect. Even when you have done a great job, you won’t be satisfied because it does not meet your idea of perfection.
In an attempt to achieve perfection, we have laden ourselves with copious amounts of pressure for every big or little thing we do. It sort of takes out the fun from things when you are constantly striving to make it exceptionally perfect.
“Perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add but when there is no longer anything to take away when a body has been stripped down to its nakedness.”
-Antoine De Saint-Exupry
We often chase perfection so that we can stand tall in front of society. The opinions of other people affect a lot of people and that is usually the driving force. We want to prove ourselves to others – it can be someone who said we can’t do this or it can be someone we want to be proud of ourselves. What we don’t realize is that everyone is struggling to do their bit. Everyone is under the pressure of being perfect, the irony being, none of us are.
Low self-esteem and self-doubt is usually the cause of us trying to be ‘perfect’ at everything, we do this to improve our self-esteem. Self-doubt also stems from constantly comparing ourselves with others. Many people suffer from imposter syndrome. We don’t understand how that can be detrimental to the work we do. Not feeling good enough, feeling like a fraud, feeling like you don’t deserve anything can really suck the life out of you. These are the mental roadblocks that stop you from doing your best while keeping you constantly worried about chasing a state that is not that tangible – ‘perfection.’
In the years you spend chasing it, there will come a moment of clarity that will help you realize that the pursuit is futile. When you realize that you no longer have to run after being perfect – when you understand that being good enough is actually enough – that is when you feel contentment in life.
Being content is the first step of feeling satisfied with your life and with your efforts. It is a liberating feeling to finally be happy with yourself after years of beating yourself up.
“To accomplish the perfect perfection, a little imperfection helps.”
There are a lot of advantages to not chasing perfection. You start feeling more happiness and gratitude in the light of appreciating the things around you and yourself. This results in you developing an optimistic approach toward life. When you are chasing perfection, it is somehow lost. You start finding faults in all your achievements, stopping yourself from being happy about them. This leads to negativity clouding your thoughts and as a result, you start pouring the same negativity in your life.
When you let go of the notion of perfection, you allow yourself to relax and be proud of your achievements. This action triggers positive emotions within you, helping you become optimistic toward the next stage of your life. This then leads to you feeling more confident. Being confident about your abilities also stops you from running after perfection and makes you realize the worth in what you do.
Striving for perfection is a good thing because then it will make you work harder to get better day by day. With time, every skill gets better. Chasing perfection, on the other hand, is dangerous to the learning process. You need to learn the difference so that you don’t end up harming yourself in the long run.
Instead of chasing perfection, remember to strive for improvement and excellence. When you focus on becoming better than you were yesterday, you automatically open doors for yourself. You surround yourself with positivity – inside and out – making it a much-needed fuel to keep working toward your goal.
Always believe in what you can achieve no matter how imperfect you feel. There are going to be days when you don’t feel good enough. Everyone feels like that once in a while – trust me we all feel the same as humans.
When you let go of that perfection ideology, you free yourself from your own expectations tying you down. You start feeling content with your life and with the pace you are going. That is what will help you sail by, that is what will hold you aboard.
Why You Should Take Control of Your Life
“The pen that writes your life story must be held in your own hand.”
-Irene C. Kassorla
What we often forget is that we are the author of our lives. Not only that, but we are also the main character of our story. So we might as well write the chapters ahead instead of waiting for someone else to write an epic turn of events.
If you aren’t happy with your life, it might be a sign that it is time to take the pen from whoever is holding it and start writing the next chapters in the book called life.
Incredible changes will come about your life when you decide that you have had enough of being a passive rider and would rather take control of what you have power over. There’s no point in dwelling over things you don’t have control over when you can put the things you can control to work.
If you don’t like the situation you are in, then the most logical thing to do is to work toward changing it rather than complaining. Once you realize that you are in control of your own life, it becomes easier to bring change to your life. The first step in taking any kind of control, over anything, is to realize that you can actually take control.
“You only have control over three things in your life – the thoughts you think, the images you visualize, and the actions you take.”
There’s this saying that all of us have heard – “Grass is greener on the other side.” Why do you think the majority of us are familiar with this saying? It is because we have been conditioned to constantly compare ourselves with everyone around us. It is supposed to motivate us in trying to improve ourselves.
What usually ends up happening is that we become demotivated. When we observe things from afar, it is easy to be blinded by the shine and not see all the polishing that was needed to bring about the shine. We compare it to the polishing we can see on our side and no shine whatsoever.
The reality is that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side, it’s just us who keep comparing ourselves to others and what we have to what others have. This makes us feel sorry for ourselves and pity our situation. Most of us are insecure and unsatisfied with our current conditions and that tends to demotivate us from working toward change. We start to slip instead of trying to better our situation.
When we want what others have or what others think we should have, we give them the power to control our lives. We lose our individuality – trying to fit in – trying to shape ourselves to suit others idea of what we are supposed to be. We start wanting what we don’t have instead of appreciating what we do have.
At times like this, we should remind ourselves that there will always be something better that we’re missing. We will always think other people have it better. The irony here is that the people on the other side are most probably thinking that your grass is greener!
What this shows us is that instead of worrying about other people’s grass, we need to spend time tending to our own and trying to keep it as green as possible. Watering it, fertilizing it, and weeding the useless dead grass out.
“No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.”
We are so used to someone else holding our hand while we learn to navigate through life, that we often forget that eventually, we will need to learn to walk on our own. Unless we do that, we will never be able to decide the direction we want to take. We will always have to follow the person holding our hand.
The first step you take toward independent decision making will make you realize that no one has power over you unless you give it to them. As you start deciding the course of your journey, you will see that you are in control of your life and your choices decide your own fate. Blaming others was never an answer and now you know why.
You will learn that no one is in control of your happiness but you. No one owes you a thing and you don’t owe anything to anyone. Therefore, you have the power to change anything about yourself or your life that you want to change – it is your life, you don’t have to let others tell you how to live it.
“Don’t let someone else control what you do in life. It’s your decisions, your outcomes, your life.”
We are so conditioned to follow societal norms that we don’t even question it even though it isn’t making us happy. It is totally okay to choose a path that isn’t conventional. Sometimes you need to do what is best for you because YOU are the one who knows what is best for your life better than anyone else. You are not obliged to do what is best for everyone else, your biggest obligation is to yourself.
Do not mould yourself to what the world dictates, instead make your own unique mould that fits you. Breathe, meditate, and connect with yourself – it will help you be true to yourself. Because it isn’t always you against the world, most of the times it is YOU against YOURSELF. Do not compare your journey with others but only yourself.
Learn to recognize your talent and your capability – hone them and use them. Don’t chase perfection because nobody is perfect and chasing perfection is a futile activity. Every person who walks this planet has flaws. The best you can do is be true to your imperfections.
“You can influence, direct and control your own environment. You can make your life what you want it to be.”
You have to understand that if you don’t take control over your life, your life will take control over you. You have to decide to be in control because as Willie Nelson said – “Freedom is control in your own life.”
Although it isn’t possible to have complete control over life, you certainly can shape and influence it. One of the ways is to take control of your habits. Your habits help you shape your future. You become what you are because of all the choices you have made till date and the choices you will continue to make – both conscious and subconscious.
While you do not have complete control over your life, you do have complete control over your attitude and your effort – these two things hold a lot of power when it comes to taking lead and paving the path.
“Control your thoughts. Decide about that which you will think and concentrate upon. You are in charge of your life to the degree you take charge of your thoughts.”
To make any kind of change in your life, to make any significant decision, you need to be in tune with your mind. Whatever consumes your mind and your thoughts will control your life. Don’t let negativity make a home in your mind – take control of your consistent emotions, your emotional wellbeing, and your dominating emotional state. Because the emotion that dominates your mind – whether positive or negative – will consciously and deliberately reshape your life, both in the long term and in terms of your daily experiences.
Why You Need to Stop Waiting For Things to Happen
We often wait for the right time, especially when it comes to making big decisions that will result in huge changes. Usually, when you are waiting for the right time or the right opportunity it is because you are afraid of the step that you need to take.
“Conditions are never perfect. ‘Someday’ is a disease that will take your dreams to the grave with you…. If it’s important to you and you want to do it ‘eventually,’ just do it and correct course along the way.”
Anything taking us out of our comfort zone is immediately perceived as a threat by our brain and we start coming up with reasons to not do it – now isn’t the right time is the more common one.
Another one includes thinking you are underprepared so you should just keep on working and researching more before you take a step. You could have done all you can but you will still hesitate to make a decision. You fall into analysis paralysis, where you are in a state of over-analyzing a situation or problem, and as a result, a decision or action is never taken, paralyzing the outcome.
You can only think about so much, you can only do so many things to ensure everything goes smoothly, you can only think about so many risks that you can counter – unless you don’t do something about it you will never know if it is going to work on not.
I am definitely not telling you to take the plunge with no research involved, as someone who has dabbled in my fair share of businesses, I know how important research is. The problem here is that – what we often don’t realize is – there comes a point when you have to leave the whiteboard and walk over to the workstation.
Commitment to taking actions and not pausing after the phase of research and preparation is not something you’ll achieve overnight. You will have to learn to push yourself and fight the tendency to fall back into your old patterns. Instead of accepting your inaction with whatever excuse your brain comes up with, always try to find the cause for it, and learn ways to overcome it. Because oftentimes you will find that the root cause for your inaction is your brain’s way of protecting you from a sticky situation.
You need to keep moving forward in order to achieve your dreams and stay true to your visions. Being at the same place, doing the same things you have always done will never help you achieve the things you want.
Make friends with the act of finding your shortcomings and tackling them head-on so that you don’t blame yourself for not going after what you want; so that you do all you can to make things happen. Because, by taking no action, all we do is make sure that we don’t succeed.
Life isn’t fair is something that we all have heard, and there are good chances that we have said it too. But, life is fair in the sense that it is unfair to everyone. Then there comes the comeback that not everyone is born with a silver spoon in their mouth. Yes, that is true but what you do with what you are provided is what makes huge things happen.
This often opens up the discussion of how equal opportunities can solve all the problems that the world faces. Equal opportunity is the idealistic goal we, as a society, are trying to achieve from the start. But, just because you weren’t at the same starting point as everyone else, doesn’t mean you do not run the race.
Have you heard of the quote – success comes when preparation meets opportunity – I used to live by it, I still do. Opportunities do come knocking on our doors; we just have to be very receptive to the sound and answer immediately, escort it in and embrace it with all we have.
That being said, you can’t always wait for opportunities to make a house call, you can’t simply wait for success to come around on its own. Success is never handed out, you need to earn it by taking things into your hands and making things happen.
“The only place success comes before work is in the dictionary.”
Through your actions and preparations, you have to make use of everything you already have and work on what you don’t but you need. Life is not supposed to be just received – what’s the fun in that – it is supposed to be made into something bigger; by you. If you think your life hasn’t given you enough, then instead of using that as a get out of jail card, get yourself together and create your own options, your own opportunities, your own destiny.
“I made a resolve then that I was going to amount to something if I could. And no hours, nor amount of labor, nor amount of money would deter me from giving the best that there was in me. And I have done that ever since, and I win by it. I know.”
We often rely too much on people or are afraid to ask for help. Both these extremes are detrimental. You need to create your own platform. The world is in a rat race – everyone has someplace to go, things to do, and dreams to work on. Chances are, noo one is going to stop to help you out, but no one owes you a thing anyway.
Some will help, but as long as their own dreams are not being compromised, which is the smart thing to do for anyone. Don’t challenge or compare yourself to another person, but challenge yourself. You are your only competition and the past you is your only rival. You need to be better than you were yesterday. Believe in yourself. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Have the courage to move forward. Get inspired, stay motivated, and you’ll build a lot of doors. When you start answering doors and when you get a chance, build some for others as well.
It is true that life doesn’t always work out the way you plan it – you have to be willing to adapt. You can’t always have a plan, you can’t be at the steering wheel always, but you must be able to go on regardless of whether you have the ball in your court or not.
You can keep dreaming about what you want all your life but do not do anything to make it happen. It is unfair to your dreams and yourself. Don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone. Make efforts, take risks, and make smart decisions. Don’t wait for opportunities to come to you, go and create them for yourself.
If I had to summarize it then I would say that build a door for the opportunity to knock if the opportunity hasn’t knocked yet.
“The way to get started is to quit talking and start doing.”
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