Got a tough problem? Try this technique.

Do you find it’s sometimes easier to find solutions for other people’s problems than your own? It turns out the reason is based on science. I recently came across an article from Daniel Pink, one of my favorite authors and researcher of all things brainy. In his post entitled 3 Tricks for Solving Problems Faster And Better, Pink discusses three tactics that revolve around the concept of construal level theory. According to construal level theory, objects, events or situations can be perceived as either close or distant. The further away we are from a situation, the more we able to view it from an abstract point of view. This psychological distance is what allows us to focus on the problem itself, without getting wrapped up in the “messiness” of the situation. This explains why many times it’s easier to find really good solutions for other people’s problems, but get stymied in trying to solve our own.

So how can we employ this concept for better problem solving and decision making, especially as the stakes rise in the problems we face? Here are three suggestions.

  1. Seek input from people whose perspective you trust, and who are somewhat removed from the problem. These might be colleagues, mentors, or trusted friends. Their perspective will be shaped by the characteristics of the problem and merits of the potential solutions, not by the baggage that accompanies the problem and perhaps your assessment of it.
  2. Employ a coach from outside your organization. Coaches are a perfect fit for this role because they are trained to help you see problems and opportunities from new perspectives and seek effective solutions. Think of a coach as a “thinking partner” who is committed to helping you achieve your goals.
  3. Use a reliable problem solving / decision making approach to guide your analysis. The structure embedded in Decision Focus ® and similar tools helps you get at the heart of issues faster and make sound decisions about the actions you take. It will also minimize the many biases that can pollute decision thinking, especially in group situations.

What other problem solving tricks have you come across that put some “distance” between you and the problem?

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