What is the biggest problem we have in business today? Lack of capital and resources? Uncertain markets and currencies? The possibility of Donald Trump as our next president?
I would argue the most significant problem we face today is too many people who find problems. They are called "problem identifiers," or complainers.
Unfortunately, I see this all day, in conversations online, among friends in coffee shops and even casually by someone on the phone (sometimes it is difficult not to eavesdrop). These problem identifiers disguise themselves as heedful social servants, more than happy to offer up an opinion on a particular matter and why it is a menace to our community -- or just their immediate work space. They typically know exactly who to blame and the process by which it became such as huge burden to society.
What they rarely offer, however, is a clear, reasonable and responsible solution.
History’s greatest leaders may have complained from time to time, but they all built legacies around their innate abilities to find and execute solutions to their biggest gripes. To follow in their footsteps and avoid being the Debbie Downer of your organization or circle of friends, think before you speak and follow these tips to become a better problem-solver.
1. Determine the scope of the problem.
If the problem is something that is out of your control, such as international monetary policy, traffic lights or Donald Trump’s latest tweet, then it is best to let it be. Focus on the issues you have some control over and can make an impact toward changing.
2. Stay objective.
When approaching an issue, try to leave your ego and biases aside. Examine the problem from an objective point of view, considering the pros and cons as well as all views of other parties affected by it.
3. Ask questions.
Problems are often rooted in miscommunication. Before you jump all over an issue, ask questions -- many of them -- and determine if you simply may have misunderstood the problem at hand.
4. Get to the root problem.
If you are asking the right questions of the right people, and examining a problem objectively, there is a very good chance that the issue you have identified is more a symptom of a much more significant problem. Dig deep and find the root problem first, then begin making a list of actions you can take to resolve it.
5. Narrow your options.
Coming up with countless solutions to a problem can be easy, especially if you are trying to hedge your bet. But risk takers don’t hedge. They leverage the resources available to them -- their experiences and networks -- and narrow their solutions down to a top choice. The reason is so the proper energy, attention and resources can be devoted to solving the issue, and the proposed solution will less likely be abandoned simply because it does not go exactly as planned.
6. Frame the problem in the form of a solution.
The difference between someone who leads teams in finding solutions and those that are just complaining is the ability to phrase a problem as a simple and obvious action.
For instance, a problem identifier will say, “Our revenues are falling, and we only have a few weeks of operational capital from which to work.”
While a problem solver will say, “We need to divert marketing resources to an aggressive social-media campaign to drive traffic to our ecommerce site immediately.”
Which one are you more likely to follow?
The adage that misery loves company is a powerful and toxic recipe for an office. While you may never snuff out complainers entirely, you can lead from the top and set an example as a respected and dependable problem-solver in your organization.
And, for what it’s worth, I might argue there is nothing wrong with poking fun at Donald Trump’s latest tweet -- as long as you educate yourself and vote. Otherwise, don’t expect to get into a substantial political debate with someone who is too busy changing the world in other ways.