Problems Suck. Here’s How To Deal With Them

Two wooden dolls on a chess board symbolizing a problem

Problems Suck

Let’s not play ridiculous word games about problems really being opportunities in disguise.  That’s B.S. and we all know it.

Problems suck.  They suck a lot.  Big problems suck a WHOLE lot. 

However Let’s Be Grateful

Despite the misery of problems, we should be grateful they exist (no, I’m not back to word games).  My rationale is simple: Business, no matter how big or small, is full of problems.  The better you get at solving them, the more successful you will be.

I want to say this again… Success in the business world is simple: Solve problems – for your company, customer, people who could be your customer, basically anyone or anything.

Companies and people pay a lot to have their problems solved.

Great, So How Do You Get Good At Solving Problems?

To answer that question, I’d like to employ the help of one of my favorite movies: Apollo 13, which I just recently rewatched…

First off, for those of you not familiar with the film, it’s based on the true story of how one of the USA’s flights to the moon experienced a catastrophic explosion in outer space.  Despite the damage to the space capsule, and the bleak odds facing the space crew, NASA and the Astronauts took this opportunity to show just how badass smart people can be.  Their combined efforts allowed a safe return to earth.

Solutions Not Panic

I particularly love Ed Harris’ portrayal of NASA Flight Director, Gene Kranz.  In particular, I was impressed that no matter how bad things got, there was never any panic. 

I did some research on the real Gene Kranz and discovered that Harris’ portrayal was spot on.  At no time during the tense mission to get the Astronauts back, did Kranz ever panic.  In fact, a reporter once asked him if anyone panicked.  Kranz’s response sets a great example for all of who deal with unexpected situations:

“No, when bad things happened, we just calmly laid out all the options and failure was not one of them. We never panicked and we never gave up on finding a solution.”

Problems Are A Part Of Life

As much as we would like it to be different, life and business are a series of problems.  Hard problems have hard solutions; however, our ability to effectively deal with them ultimately determines our success in our life, career and business.

Apply The Process

NASA’s surprisingly simple problem solving process is a great success tip.  Apply it to your own life, business, or career and discover how much more effective you’ll become at addressing challenges.  More importantly, you’ll notice a significant decline in stress as you’ll be directing your energy into solutions rather than panic, worry or frustration.

Step 1: Call It What It Is

I’ve seen a trend in recent years in which problems are now referred to as “opportunities”.  However, this is just an unproductive attempt to candy coat what is obviously a bad situation. 

Call it what it is (a problem) and then quickly move on to resolving it.

Step 2: Define The Problem

Often establishing a clear understanding of the problem will help identify a solution.  For example, the Apollo 13 problem consistent of a crippled spacecraft halfway to the moon without enough power to turn around and return to earth.

Step 3: What Is The Goal Or Objective?

The first thing is to have a clear understanding of what the ultimate objective is.  NASA’s goal was simple: return the space capsule and crew safely to earth before the life support systems run out of energy.

Step 4: Generate An Array Of Alternative Solutions

This step considerably reduces stress as attention is moved from the problem to solutions.  It is important not to judge each option as good or bad, just brainstorm as many alternatives as possible. 

If you’re a visual person, try diagraming your solutions with each one pointing back to the problem. 

Step 5: Evaluate The Possible Consequences Of Each

Simply write or outline what can happen as a result of each choice.  For example, in the Apollo 13 crisis, the consequence of turning around and heading back meant running out of fuel and oxygen before reaching earth. 

Step 6: Based On The Consequences Outlines In Step 5, Choose One Or More Courses Of Action

Now that you have an understanding of what might happen as result of each choice, choose one or more alternatives that have the best chance of success.  For Apollo 13, NASA chose continuing to the moon and using its gravity to slingshot the ship and crew back to earth. 

Step 7: Plan The Implementation

This simply means identifying what you need in order to carry out your chosen course of action/actions.  Does the solution require money, time or help from others?  If so, there needs to be a plan to secure one or all of these.

NASA brought in the people who made the space capsule to help map out the plan of going around the moon.

Step 8: Implement The Plan With Full Commitment

Depending on the problem, there might not be a “great” solution; however, an acceptable plan implemented with full commitment is better than a great plan poorly executed. 

I’m sure some of NASA’s team thought that shutting down most of the space capsule’s systems and going around the moon to get back to earth wasn’t the solution they wanted, but they threw themselves into the solution and as a result turned a potential tragedy into a great accomplishment.

Does this sound difficult or like it will take too much time?  Consider the following:

In the beginning the process might be a bit tough.  But everything is hard before it’s easy.  Things you take for granted now, from walking to operating your phone was at one time difficult. 

Dedicate yourself to the process and in a short time it will get easier and faster.

Finally, time spent using a process that helps you solve your problem is much better than time dedicated to stress and worry.

About Angelo

Angelo Lombardo is a Fortune 500 executive who is dedicated to giving other business people the mentality, motivation, tools and processes to “Go On The Offensive” to create the career and/or life they choose.

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