Problem Solving 5e962254a8281

Better Problem-Solving Through Perseverance

April 14, 2020
It takes more than a one-day workshop to improve your approach.

I’ve been rereading, in greater depth, Art Smalley’s book Four Types of Problems. Art and I first worked together about 25 years ago on the transformation of Chrysler. It went from near bankruptcy to the most profitable company in the industry, until it was sold to Daimler and leadership changes reversed much of what had been done.

Art wasn’t a known entity at the time and was part of the consulting team we had hired to help us develop training for the Chrysler Operating System. I found, in numerous sidebar conversations, that he had a keen perspective on lean that went beyond simply being the guy who had previously worked at Toyota, and I learned from our engagements.

In the Forward of the book, written by John Shook, who I met at approximately the same time, writes:

Problem-solving may be the most fundamental of human activities. We breathe, we eat, we sleep. Breathing and sleeping just happen. Then we get hungry or we might get cold. Those are our first problems to solve—how to find something to eat or how to stay warm. Solving problems is how we learned to think. To be human is, quite literally, to solve problems. How to solve problems effectively is fundamental to the reality of our daily existence.

This is why improving problem-solving is so elusive. We have done it so long, that changing it can seem as difficult as learning to write with our non-dominant hand. Have you tried it? Almost anyone who has had their hand in a cast has tried it, hated it, struggled with it, and as soon as the cast comes off, we switch back to our dominant hand. However, when someone loses their hand, they persevere and learn to write with their other hand. Others learn to write with a prosthetic. In some extreme cases, people have learned (or more accurately, taught themselves) how to write with their feet.

Why do I share this example? Because I believe that's the kind of perseverance and deliberate intent needed for many of us to change how we think about problem-solving. Problem-solving is so embedded in the human experience, that to undo it so that we can redo it is a fairly massive undertaking. It certainly takes more than taking a one-day workshop to change how we think about problem-solving.

So do you want to improve how you solve problems? You must start by becoming intensely aware of the magnitude of your personal gap, and the effort required to close it. And it will help if, pardon the expression, you cut off your hand. When you create a way, whether through a coach or a system or any forcing mechanism, to force yourself out of your old habits, you provide yourself the opportunity to replace it with new ones.

Jamie Flinchbaugh is the founder of JFlinch, an advisory firm that focuses on helping build cultures, capabilities, leadership, and operating systems that consistently perform and scale. Leveraging his extensive experience of helping transform over 300 companies, Jamie works with clients seeking expert guidance with process improvements, lean strategies, and leadership coaching. His areas of expertise include continuous improvement, innovation and entrepreneurship, coaching and training, process transformation, business strategy, and organizational design.

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