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.
5 Things to Do to Prepare for the Next Phase in Your Life
Are you experiencing new things and are overwhelmed because of the said things? Taking a step into the unknown future can be scary, but don’t we work for this very moment? While getting out of your comfort zone and exploring things can be frightening, they are exactly what helps you achieve great success.
If you are entering a new phase in life, doesn’t matter personally or professionally, you need to prepare yourself for new responsibilities and an entirely different schedule. It can also make you start feeling a different way and look at yourself in a completely new light. Here are some things you can do to prepare yourself for the next phase of your life.
1. Ace Your Managerial Skills
When you enter new phases of your life, you often have to learn and hone new skills. Managerial skill is something that will come in use in both personal and professional life. Usually, when you level up in your professional life, you have to start interacting more with your colleagues and employees. Higher the post, the more important people skills become.
You have to learn to get work done, even from the most difficult person, without losing your calm or creating a hostile environment. Finding the delicate balance of establishing your authority and also being welcoming can be tricky. But, this is one of those skills that make sure that you get the best out of people.
People shouldn’t be afraid to come to you with suggestions, issues, ideas, or in general. But, they shouldn’t also start taking your authority for granted. You need to be firm when getting work done, and warm when you are receiving the said work. Making people feel valued and their work appreciated is as important as pointing out things that can make their work better.
2. Create and Maintain a Work-Life Balance
You should probably start to evaluate your life before to commit to more responsibilities. Ask yourself these things –
- Am I have three proper meals?
- Am I getting enough sleep?
- Am I doing things that I love?
- Is there something I wish I had more time for?
- Am I spending enough time with my loved ones?
- Do I have a life other than my work?
If the answer to any of these things is “No,” then you might want to cut back on the hours you spend working or learn to manage time better. Having a healthy work-life balance or work-life integration is really important to succeed truly.
Having a better personal life and not a good professional life will eventually affect your personal life as well. Having a great work-life and no personal life will start mentally draining you. Having a balance is really important to set yourself up for success.
3. Make “Never Giving Up” Your Mantra
When nothing seems to be going in our favor, it is easy to just give up. But, for moving forward in life, this attitude just doesn’t cut it. I know, it is easier to blame the situation, the whatever, than to keep going. There will always be thousands of reasons to give up, but what matters is that one reason to not – which is moving forward in life!
When you take up new challenges, it is always going to seem difficult at the start. It might not even be that difficult in real life, but it something different and unfamiliar, and those facts are enough to scare us and make us start doubting ourselves.
Look at any issues that crop up like a bend in the road rather than a dead end. Giving up on your dreams means giving up on everything you have worked on up until that point. It is as good as giving up on yourself. When you give up on yourself, who do you think is going to take a chance on you?
4. Don’t Let Others Dull Your Shine
We often care a lot about what others think about our business when it is none of their business. People who have time to talk about others anyway are the kind you should not be associating with. People who are working on their own goals do not have the time to care about what other people are doing, let alone pass comments about it.
“Let your light shine today, and let your personality blossom, too. You don’t have to be a people-pleaser, just a people-lover.”
– Beth Moore
When you try something big or something different, people will generally have a negative attitude toward it. We often try to deviate from anything that isn’t familiar or risky, and this attitude carries when looking at others. You do not need people doubting you when you yourself are unsure about where you are going to end up.
People are going to talk; there’s nothing you can do about it. And honestly, answering them or even acknowledging their comments achieves nothing. Ignoring what other people have to say about your plans or dreams is one of the smartest moves you can make.
5. Follow Your Passion
When you follow your passion, all the things I talked about earlier become easier. Because whatever you are doing is something that every fiber of your being is invested in, so it becomes easier to invest everything in the success of the said plan.
When you take time to analyze the situation, you can tap into the best version of yourself, and it becomes easier to find an answer that you have been searching for. You can do what you like the most – going for walks, doing yoga, meditation, etc. If you have many voices in your head that tell you what to do, slowing down will help you listen to yourself.
So, slowing down is always the first step when you feel clueless or overwhelmed. Having many little hobbies can feel overwhelming at first, but it’s one of the best ways to find what you love most and do what you really want to do. Start doing lots of things – new hobbies, new interests, etc. It’s always better to try something new than to have no options at all.
Whenever you enter new phases in life, it is important to close the last chapter on a positive note and carry on with as many lessons as possible. Moving forward has to be proportional to increasing your skillset and value.
There’s no point in having an empty title and learn nothing new because it won’t help you much moving forward. Find yourself, find your purpose, and try to balance things out.
7 Reasons to Leave Your Comfort Zone
Everyone is afraid of leaving their comfort zone because your comfort zone is more comfortable, right? What we don’t realize is that we learn things when we find courage enough to step out of our comfort zones.
“The hardest thing to do is leaving your comfort zone. But you have to let go of the life you’re familiar with and take the risk to live the life you dream about.”
When you dream of something big, you will often have to do things that make you uncomfortable, that scare you. It doesn’t mean that those things are bad, chances are that they won’t be as difficult as you think. Some level of fear and anxiety is important for us to keep moving forward, to make progress, doing things that take us out of our comfort zone is a way to have those feelings propelling us forwards.
If things haven’t been working for you up until now, then you have nothing to lose by trying something new because to achieve something new, you have to do something that you have never done before. Take the first step, dip your toe in the sea, if you still feel scared out of your minds then you can always return to your safe space.
As long as you keep trying to get out there, you are good to go. Here are some reasons to take the plunge.
“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”
-Neale Donald Walsch
1. You Won’t Regret Missing Out on a Potential Opportunity
When you refuse to leave your comfort zone, there will be a lot of things you can miss. You cannot keep doing the same things you do right now and expect to achieve bigger dreams. If you have a big vision, then you will have to constantly be stepping out of your comfort zone.
Being a little uncomfortable means you are going to be learning a few new things. For example, if you have always been scared of public speaking then putting your ideas out there in meetings and presentations will be difficult. You will have to step out of your comfort zone, be a little uncomfortable, deal with a bit of anxiety, but eventually, you will be comfortable enough to speak up among people who hold power.
2. It Will Help Boost Your Confidence
When you get out of your comfort zone, you will learn new things, you will get new experiences, and eventually, you will put a new skill to your name. Having a new skill will boost your confidence because now you aren’t scared of doing something like you earlier were.
For the same example as above, now that you have learned to step out there and speak up, it will give you the confidence to put out your ideas and views in front of people and you will eventually get to take on bigger projects.
3. You Will Feel Self-Fulfilled
People who are stuck in their comfort zones often have a weight of the feeling of underachievement over whatever work they do. The regret that they couldn’t do something because it made them uncomfortable makes them feel that they are not quite living their life to the fullest.
When you step out of your comfort zone, you grow, find the momentum to move forward, find a better level of productivity – all of these things lead you to a sense of self-fulfillment, this gives you a feeling of satisfaction.
4. You Will Become More Productive
When you learn to be okay with the discomfort that comes in the beginning – when you do something that makes you step out of your comfort zone – you will eventually become more productive.
Getting out there requires you to be more focused, to develop self-confidence, and to believe in yourself – these things push you to do things you never thought were possible. When you learn to make yourself be heard even with the nagging discomfort of speaking in the public, you will eventually increase your productivity because you can get started on whatever it is that you wanted to discuss instead of waiting for someone else to come up with it or you to find someone alone or you to wait to develop enough confidence to broach the subject.
5. You Will Learn People Don’t Care a Lot
One of the reasons that people are scared of doing something is the thought of people judging them. Everyone has a lot on their plates, yes, they might look your way but nobody has the time to keep thinking about you. If they do, then you anyway shouldn’t be caring about their opinion.
You have to convince yourself to not let other people’s opinions sway your decisions. When you start doing things because they are going to help you grow, you will learn that what others say doesn’t hold much weight. You will learn to eliminate fear.
6. You Will Find New Things That You Love
You found your current passion by doing something you didn’t always do. Unless you try new things, you will never find things you enjoy that get your mind whirring. To learn more about ourselves, we need to keep testing our limits.
By stepping out, we are really connecting with our inner selves more. Because the more we go exploring, the more we are going to find out.
7. You Will Start Finding it Easier
As you start putting yourself out there more and more, it will start getting easier. You gain self-confidence and eliminate fear by venturing out of your comfort zone and these things that help you grow as a person will make the process easier.
The next time you have to do something uncomfortable to achieve something, it won’t be as difficult as the first time because now you know that the sense of achievement that follows the fear is totally worth doing it.
“The biggest rewards in life are found outside your comfort zone. Live with it. Fear and risk are prerequisites if you want to enjoy a life of success and adventure.”
The best things in life often happen just out of your comfort zone. It’s ok to be scared of new things. Being scared means you’re about to do something really brave and new, which will give you a new experience and will teach you a thing or two.
If you want to change, your life to change, then you have to be willing to be uncomfortable because by leaving your comfort zone behind, by taking a leap of faith, by risking something – you will find out who you are truly capable of. Unless you face something difficult, you will never know your truest potential.
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.
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