How often do we feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of a problem because we try to take on the whole thing in one go. I am reminded of the analogy how does one eat an elephant; one bite at a time. In week 5 we are being pushed to dive into our tool box to start the process of problem solving which does require some creativity and innovation.
I am learning that solutions are not always flashes of inspiration or even a light bulb moment. Even those that are regarded as geniuses did not arrive at that point without a process beforehand. Application and pure sweat are usually involved as well.
So how does one approach problem solving? Adam Savage of Myth Busters TV fame provides a useful framework in a talk he gave in 2010 in California to tackle this dilemma his way. I regard myself as being more creative in literature than anything to do with science or maths. But Savage makes the point that we possess existing skills that can be utilised in a different discipline or area of endeavour. His skills as a sculptor and the knowledge he gained from doing his art were applied to a new role as a film producer. As he says even painters need to adopt some problem-solving steps to complete a great work of art.
Savage has come up with some useful steps that myself or others could apply. To start with ask what is the problem I am solving and most importantly what is the problem. Once you are clear about that, think about the big picture. Am I solving a single problem or is it part of something else? Find out how much time I have to complete the task and what deadline pressures are involved. Time and resources needed tend to go hand-in-hand. And of course what budget is allowed is vital. Location can be another significant problem especially if it involves working in certain climatic conditions. Other considerations can be an awareness of the team’s morale and a realistic audit of my own skills and whether outside help is required. Taking this step by step approach makes good sense because as a broad check list one can eliminate any issues or barriers before starting the physical work.
I am learning that there are various ways to approach problem solving. There is a current TV ad for Skoda cars which uses the line “you don’t have to be famous to be brilliant”. Many innovations we take for granted were most likely created by ordinary people who were willing to step up to the mark. There also needs to be a passion and a willingness to learn as much as you can about the problem you want to solve. Along the way, I am collecting new ideas and concepts, including TRIZ, a 40-principles matrix that offers another approach. What ever problem I encounter, the key is to plan the solution using the various tools available beforehand. I may not be famous but maybe I could aim for brilliance!
This week we are being challenged by the topic Perturbing Thoughts and how to disrupt our well-established mindsets that seem to dictate so much of our everyday lives. Let’s face it, us humans are creatures of habit, whether it be the route we take to work, where we sit in a lecture theatre or the camp site for our annual holiday.
Of course there may be practical reasons for why we adopt such predictable behaviours but when it comes to finding new ways of creative thinking and being open to innovative actions; there needs to be a disruption to our usual thought patterns. Easier said than done, I hear you say.
Edward De Bono’s research which produced The Six Hats of Thinking strategy offers some insights into our own ways of thinking and how we can adopt a different coloured hat or bring in others to obtain the missing thought processes to come up with workable solutions and ideas. Being a “blue hat” myself which involves being focussed and keeping the process on track means that I may overlook some other processes that can prove useful.
Since starting this voyage of self-discovery, I have been bouncing different thoughts off my husband. He doesn’t consider himself creative in any way and likes to keep busy with manual work. But his thoughts are not contained like mine which unwittingly have been moulded into the “status quo”. It’s not that I’m not creative but rather I park some ideas to the side while I deal with everyday business of life and work.
Driving home the other night, my husband and I, were discussing lateral thinking and adopting a different approach to solving problems. Living in country areas or semi-rural locations, has created a conflict with wildlife and motorists trying to share the same space. Sadly, this often results in road trauma for our native animals and increased risk to drivers. Down our country lane lives four giant wombats who cross the road at night and can be rather difficult to see when they step out from the side of the road. We have lost one large male this week.
My husband made the suggestion that maybe we should paint the wombats with “high-vis” orange paint so motorists could see them better. I was ready to dismiss this silly idea but then I realise without such thoughts how can one proceed to the next step of formulating a solution to such a problem. His other idea was to fit some sort of sonar device to vehicles to deter wildlife. I’m not sure, but I think there is such a thing in Scandinavia to warn off wild deer. Our exchange also highlighted to me the need for more than one thinking hat to successful problem solving.
Living on 25 acres, also requires some lateral thinking as well. It is not big enough for large-scale farming so I am trying to think in practical and creative ways to use our land. Exposing myself to new ideas and concepts through alternative farming practices which encompass organic approaches and land management, has been a valuable experience because I add to my knowledge base and network with many other people on small acreage. This will be a long-term joint project with my “outside the box” thinking husband. Hopefully, it may help disrupt my thoughts in a perturbing way!