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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Are we quitting when we have too many options?

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“We can not solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them” ― Albert Einstein

A colleague in my office was stuck into a situation where he couldn't resolve a problem. As I stopped by his desk, he was anxious and explained his helplessness in that situation. Many of us would have come across this situation in our daily life. So, why is that we couldn't solve problems?

image courtesy: everyvowel.com

A large problem will always be difficult to solve, but one must understand that some problems have solutions in it already. The issue lies in our approach to solution and not in the problem itself. During childhood, we play and solve many puzzles. We have been given puzzles to solve to enable our problem solving abilities. If we closely examine the list of puzzles, you will be able to notice that the approach that we used to solve those puzzles are coming to our rescue in solving major problems that we face in our work life.

image courtesy: pixabay.com

We quit when we have too many options

I am solving sudoku puzzles for many years now and I have noticed that we start with very little clue on the paper and ends up writing/correcting the numbers in the cells as solve. At one stage, we would be lost having multiple choices for a particular cell and unable to move further. Usually, this is the stage that we give up. We resign from the puzzle not because we don't have answers, but it is because we have too many options. If we have resigned from the puzzle game due to too many options, then this habit of us will also encourage us to quit when we have real life problems and work related problems.

If we go further to analyse the situation closer, we could clearly see that in the sudoku puzzle situation we have more than one numbers (options) in a cell. So, we quit when we have too many options and not because we dont have solutions as the solution is to try and see which one is correct and this requires constant perseverance.

How to approach the problem?

A paper and pencil comes to rescue. Use that to put down your problem:
  • Problem - Describe the problem to the best of your knowledge and keep it short 
  • 5-Whys - Ask questions about the problems to understand the root cause and the nature of the problem 
  • Solutions - Write down all the solutions/options that you have or you know to resolve the problem (regardless of the possibility of doing it). This helps you understand that there is a solution always.

Once you have identified all the options, it boils down to a "trial and error" situation than a "I don't have any solution" situation.

Lessons from puzzles

  • Don't quit when you have multiple options; one would turn out to be correct always. 
  • Break a large problem into multiple small problems as it is easier to solve many small problems than a large one. 
  • As we address small problems one by one, we will be able to see few problems are related and resolved without spending time and efforts. 
  • Solving small problems motivates us to pursue complete solution 
  • We learn new things as we solve small issues. It is easy to notice that one would learn new word after answering few small problems around a bigger problem. 
As the saying goes "quitters never win and winners never quit", don't quit until you solve the problem and see how to break the problems into small pieces that will help you focus and resolve it in a shorter period.

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