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  • Writer's pictureLucy Jackman

A revelation in problem solving

A revelation in problem solving

“Don’t tell me what to do!”

I don’t like being told what to do. Who does? I’ve been the same since childhood. I’m an independent thinker so when I face a challenge, I like to try and find my own solution in my own time. I get a much greater sense of achievement this way.

Here’s a classic example from my world…

When we bought our current house, we renovated it from top to bottom. It took us around 5 years to complete and it was a real labour of love. We stripped back walls to bare brick, filled holes, designed mood boards, and decorated until well after midnight. We had a personal interest in bringing every room back to life – with the exception of the bathroom.

The bathroom required specialist skills like plumbing, tiling and flooring that we didn’t possess. So we gutted the room and then reluctantly hired a tradesman to do everything. When it was finished, it looked fantastic but I felt like I’d been cheated. Apart from the design, there was nothing in there I could claim credit for, and more importantly, I felt no sense of achievement. No fist pump “Woo hoo! I did that!”

If you can start a business, you can solve anything

Sometimes you need to ask for help to solve a problem. But some of us are reluctant to admit that we need it. If you can start a business, surely you can solve anything that comes our way, right? Running your own business can be isolating at times and when you encounter challenges, it can be difficult to know where to turn. Issues easily get blown out of proportion and transform into the equivalent of a natural disaster in your mind.

So when I discovered a problem solving technique that allowed me to come up with my own solutions with the help of other people, it was a bit of a revelation!

The revelation

It’s called Action Learning Sets. Or, as I now like to call it, Group Problem Solving Therapy! I discovered it on a training course.

How it works

In a small group of 5-7 people, one person explains an issue causing them concern in their business.

The rest of the group start asking questions to help further their understanding. These must be open questions starting with Who, What, Why, Where, When or How.

Closed questions that could be used to steer you down a specific path or course of action are discouraged, e.g. Do you…? Would you…? Is it…? Are you…?

As the conversation progresses, the person with the challenge begins to come up with their own possible solutions – these are noted down as actions to take away.

Why it worked for me

1. The technique made my brain think in more creative ways. I started to ask myself questions and some of my answers made me think ‘Why haven’t I done this sooner!’.

2. Other people in the group were able to empathise with the problem, which made me feel less isolated.

3. I went away from the session with my list of actions, determined to tackle the problem head on. And I did this the next day.

I’d describe it as the equivalent of fitting a bathroom achieved in just 30 minutes!

There is still work to do but I know exactly what I need to do to resolve my challenge. Thanks to this problem solving exercise, I feel much more optimistic about what I can achieve.

*Fist pump “I did that!”

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