In our last blog post we discussed a step by step plan to solve major problems. Here are some extra tips and hints we found amusing and helpful!

problem solving 2

Smile & ponder

A young boy had a pair of squeaky black shoes. The noise drove him crazy. His father told him to soak the shoes all night long in a bucket of water. In the morning, the water was black and the shoes no longer squeaked. The young boy concluded that, by getting rid of the black, he got rid of the squeak.

The moral of the story is that, when trying to solve a problem, make sure you don’t reach the wrong conclusion.

Here’s an idea

To get at the true cause of a problem, try asking ‘why’ up to five times.

Example: A pump has burned out. Why? There were metal filings in the bearings. Why? The filter screen wasn’t on the filter. Why? Because it fell off and was at the bottom of the coolant basin. Why? The repair man didn’t put a lock nut on the filter. Why? And there’s the real problem.

One ‘why’ lets you take emergency and usually temporary corrective action. Five ‘whys’ help you isolate the real source of the problem and to solve it, permanently.

Here’s an idea

Every now and again, every manager is faced with a problem for which there appears to be no solution. When faced with such a situation, try this tactic:

Forget about the immediate problem. Instead, focus on how to make sure it never happens again. More often than not, looking at the problem from this angle will solve the immediate problem at hand as well.


The key: Define the problem

The toughest part of problem solving is defining the problem. What appears to be the problem might at best be merely a symptom. It usually is necessary to delve deeper in order to locate the real problem and define it.

For example, a supervisor might believe that she is confronted with a problem of conflicting personalities when two employees are continually bickering and cannot get along together. After checking, the supervisor finds that the real problem is that she, the supervisor, has never clearly outlined the functions and duties of each employee – where their duties begin and end. Therefore, what appeared on the surface to be a problem of personality conflict was actually a problem of an organisational nature. Only after the true nature of the problem has been recognised can the supervisor do something about it.

Theo Haimann & Ray Hilgert in Supervision.


Recognising those problems early

A test of a leader, writes John Maxwell in ‘Developing the Leader within You’, is the ability to recognise a problem before it becomes an emergency.

Under excellent leadership, a problem seldom reaches gigantic proportions because it is recognised and fixed in its early stages.

Great leaders usually recognise a problem in the following sequence, says Maxwell:

  1. They sense it before they see it (intuition).
  2. They begin looking for it and ask questions (curiosity).
  3. They gather data (processing).
  4. They share their feelings and findings with a few trusted colleagues (communicating).
  5. They define the problem (writing).
  6. They check their resources (evaluating).
  7. They make a decision (leading).

Great leaders are seldom blind-sided, he says. They realise that the punch that knocks them out is seldom the hard one – it’s the one they didn’t see coming. Therefore, they are always looking for signs and indicators that will give them insight into the problem ahead.

In other words, they treat problems like the potential trespasser on an Indiana farm who read this sign on a fence post: ‘If you cross this field, you’d better do it in 11.8 seconds. Our bull can do it in twelve seconds.’


Learn to give yourself advice

We’re all better at solving other people’s problems than solving our own, aren’t we? The next time you are stuck on a problem, step outside the situation and think in terms of what advice you would give to someone else if that person were facing the same problem. This tactic allows you to approach the problem from a different angle, and more often than not you’ll come up with a satisfying solution.


For more information, tips and hints, don’t hesitate to contact us! If you are interested in starting an online course or qualification, check out our list of possibilities to find out what best suits you!