Soft Skill: Problem-Solving

Don't get stuck in the box; think outside of it

Rube Goldberg
AP

Are you a problem-solver? Do you identify potential roadblocks, whether it's a project that's behind schedule or an issue with the vending machine, and attack them from all angles? What if the vending machine has developed its own consciousness, and is attacking employees with crazed, rabid ferocity? What then, problem-solver? What then?

We run into all kinds of problems at work, and not all of them have easy solutions. Sometimes you have to think outside the box. Sometimes you have to take the box, kick it across the room, and turn it into some kind of crafty seafaring vessel. Whatever the case, being a great employee means being a great problem-solver, and AOL Jobs has rounded up some tips and tricks that'll leave you prepared for anything--even a vending machine with a nasty streak.

Rise to the challenge
When a problem arises, don't sit around waiting for it to solve itself. Dig in full-force, like it's a big, chocolatey problem-cake. Employers want to see their hires rising to the occasion and thinking creatively to solve potential hurdles. That means considering a variety of solutions, synthesizing the best of them, and implementing with skill and confidence.

Don't rush the solution
Problems are scary because they don't have a clear solution--if they did, they wouldn't be problems--and to propose a range of solutions is to risk conflict over which is the right one. Try looking for the solution at the end of the process, not the beginning. That way you'll fully understand the problem and all its contingencies before attempting to solve it, and possibly save your workplace a lot of tears and lung power.

Communicate and be open-minded
If you're a leader, you probably know a bit about "silo" mentality. These aren't silos in the agricultural sense; rather, it's a way to describe when a lack of communication prevents discrete teams or departments from successfully collaborating. But even if you're not a manager, you can still foster an atmosphere of open-mindedness. It's worth it: you never know which corner of the office a solution will come from.

> Find a job as a problem-solver

Lateral thinking
Lateral thinking is a way of approaching problems from new angles--literally "from the side"--and finding a solution in an unexpected place. It's a way of breaking with old, calcified lines of thought, which can blind us to less conventional, but equally effective solutions. Don't be afraid to get provocative. Maybe that idea you had for an inter-office zipline system has a practical application after all. Just try to keep it on budget.

Take a break
Sometimes the answer to a complex problem is right in front of you, tantalizing you with its closeness, but you can't quite reach it. Why not take a break? A study at Northwestern University has shown that the brain's unconscious keeps tinkering with problems even when you've gone on to do something else, and sometimes a quick refresh is all you need to unravel the thing that's nagging you.

Vary your routine
We wake up, we go to work, we come home, we go to sleep. Rinse and repeat. While routine gives our lives structure, repetition can also strengthen synaptic pathways that limit our thinking around a given task. Even something as small as parking in a different area or sitting in a new part of your office can break you out of a potentially narrow frame of mind.

Make a helpful chart
Or try using this one. Warning: helpful chart contains profanity.

> Find a job in problem management


Photo source: Getty Images

Check out more quotes on the importance of problem-solving skills here.

Filed under: Lists, Job Skills
Mack Gelber

Mack Gelber

Associate Programming Manager

Mack Gelber a Brooklyn-based writer and editor who has covered entertainment for AOL TV, and contributed fiction to Joyland Magazine and the Bushwick Review. He is a graduate of Oberlin College, where he studied creative writing. Twitter: @mackgelber

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