We encounter problems of a different scale on an everyday basis. Sometimes we succeed at finding desirable solutions, yet more than often the road to them turns out to be bumpy. In this short article, I would like to explore three common traps that make a problem-solving exercise very complicated at best.
To begin with, the trap number one is overthinking a problem. Our brain is wired to think stuff over and over again. The issue with this overthinking is that we start running in circles, every time adding yet another detail here and there. In the end, we are left with a huge snowball around the problem and an impression of no way out. Overthinking a problem is also dangerous because it limits our creativity as to the possible solutions to it. A good practice to address this would be describing the problem in writing. The very process of writing already helps properly articulating the problem, while having it written down also allows us to look at the problem from an “outside perspective”.
The second trap on the way to solve problems is trying to solve them too fast. What I mean here is leaping to solutions before actually fully understanding the problem renders solutions which are definitely not good enough. There is a quote by Charles Kettering (an inventor and the head of research for GM) that “a problem defined is half solved”. Indeed, in order to solve the problem, it makes sense to understand it from maximum possible angles. What do you think is the problem? Why is that the problem? Does it need to be solved? Is there something which can be done to eliminate the very fact of the problem? And so on. Spending enough time understanding the problem before trying to explore possible solutions is undoubtedly time well invested. Here written articulation can also prove beneficial.
Finally, detrimental to solving problems is our innate tendency to self-censor our own ideas. Thus, even if we have clearly defined the problem, spent enough time with it and came up with numerous possible solutions, more than often instead of leaving these solutions to sink, we start analyzing and eliminating them way too fast. Sometimes even before we note them as potential solutions. “This is not good enough”, “that is just stupid”, and “this is simply not possible” — do you recognize that critical internal voice of yours? It could even seem to be completely rational considerations of why not. The issue here, however, is that by immediately self-censoring ideas we don’t allow them to fully form. Moreover, some initial thoughts could serve as great foundations for further ideas and ultimately for better solutions; but if we censor them out right from the start they never get the chance to make this transformation.
Therefore, an effective problem-solving is vulnerable to a number of traps, like overthinking a problem, leaping to solutions way too fast and self-censoring your own ideas. A good way to address all of them involves written practices. Thinking on paper can prove beneficial in many ways, but will be especially valuable in helping to properly articulate the problem at hand, frame it, jot down possible solutions and ultimately, find the right one. A piece of paper and a pen have, thus, a great potential of assisting the more efficient problem-solving by navigating around the possible traps.
What is your experience? Have you noticed that a problem written out is easier to tackle?