People Who are Problem Solvers Don’t Need A Resume

Problem-solving is never out of style.


People who are problem solvers are in high demand.  If you know how to solve problems, you can get a job anywhere.  Every organization is looking for someone just like you!  People who have an uncanny sense about them, enabling them to see through the tangled networks of a problem, are worth your weight in gold.


You don’t need any degrees.  Age is not the determining factor. Often children can see through the web of details to find a solution much faster than their elders.  Problem-solving is an art of interwoven intelligence and wisdom infused with intuition. Problem solvers know that a faulty perspective of their own, or in the chain reaction, is usually at the root of the issue.


Once we deal with the roadblocks to see the situation accurately, we are free to add some deductive reasoning and examine possible solutions.  The first 80% (author estimates) takes the most time. There may be several iterations of the first 80%!


Before we get started:

Who is the person solving the problem?


Who you bring to the table to address challenges can make or break the effort.

problem-solving for teams

  • Are you already poised to fail? Is this a useless endeavor? A waste of time?
  • Have you been here and done that more times than you can count? Is this the same problem your team worked on three months ago?
  • Do you have animosity toward players in the problem? Are you at risk of losing position, rank, your reputation, or your job?
  • Do you feel physically drained and or mentally stagnant?
  • Is there a lot of confusion or fear on your team about the consequences of a failed solution?


Problem Solving Requires A Good Self-Balance


Employ a checklist like that above, or one you create for yourself, that you can use to monitor your condition before you enter the room. Here are some simple suggestions that you can use to prepare yourself for success, even if the answer is needed quickly.

problem solving self balance exercise


  • Be A Mountain  Make internal (and hopefully external) space to stop everything. Stand squarely with your feet shoulder-width apart. Feel the balance beneath your feet. Rock a bit back and forth from one foot to the other. Feel the difference when you are too heavy to the right or the left. Now, settle your feet so that the weight distributes equal on both sides. Feel the distinction. Be a mountain in your mind. Steady and sure, not moved by a windy day. Be that balance as you begin to walk towards the problem (or the opportunity, as some might say).


  • Air Watch  Count out ten breaths. Close your eyes and block out a distraction for the 60-90 seconds this will take. Count one, two three while you inhale. Feel the breath go through your nostrils and as it roams the depth of your chest. Count to three as you exhale. Each of the ten breaths is your powering mechanism. You are regaining your equilibrium. You are quieting and preparing to engage your internal strength.


chalkboard problem solving exercise

Clean Slate  Close your eyes, See a blackboard cluttered with phrases and words, random pictures and diagrams, crowded with so much information, that it is noisy. Slowly walk to the board, pick up the eraser, and while you breathe slowly, begin to erase the board. Pretend the eraser has a cleaning agent on it that leaves no chalk dust but cleans the board to an empty shine. Take a moment to feel the difference. A clean slate. Now you can “see differently.”

Problem-Solvers in High Demand Have Habits

Let’s take a comprehensive tour of the top ten characteristics, habits, or qualities of effective problem solvers.


1. Self-Evaluation of Personal Attitudes


What you believe about a problem is more relevant to the solution than the actual problem itself. If there is a “mother load” for practical problem solving, it is the attitude the individual or the team engages when initiating the process.  [HANDS DOWN]


It gets dicey here.  We bring a whole set of beliefs, experiences, attitudes, contexts, and history to each problem we face.  Faulty facts inform our initial position. Intimidation, anger, dread, anxiety, confusion, and frustration are just the edge of a scrapyard full of useless and disempowering emotions. The room is cloudy with a haze. Headaches begin to form.

problem solvers face yourself exercise


Master Your Mind – See Differently


Rather than diving into the problem with the same mindset that created the challenge, or at best, allowed it to continue, you will need to master your mind.  You are in control of the attitude you bring. No one else can make you mad, happy, hopeful, or in despair.  You are choosing the reactions you have moment by moment to the stimuli provided. So choose wisely!


Take charge and decide that your attitude will be one with a fresh slate. Admit to yourself that you could be wrong in your preconceived ideas.  You could have biased information. Your knowledge of the whole picture could have limits due to the inaccurate presentation of the problem to you by another source.


Welcome the notion that your stance, your position, while you work on the problem, is and will continue to be, “I will see differently.”


Arriving at an accurate representation of the problem is more about the people involved in problem-solving than the actual problem.


Prejudiced Thinking – Bias Entanglement


Before you begin trying to work on the problem, uncover your prejudices. How you approach the problem in the first place can make all the difference. If you hear yourself say, “we’ve been here so many times before,” or “if ___would get her/his act together, we would not need to waste this time., you’re working with a bigger problem. It’s you.


Problems are your opportunity to see things differently and create a better experience. You are running into opposition (the problem) because there is friction between what your team wants to accomplish and where they are right now. The solution to this problem could be a situation far better for you than you would have had without the challenge.


I am not giving you a pep talk. There are examples of this in many disciplines.


Determine your intention, your position, while you work on the problem, is and will continue to be, “I am open to see differently.”

see things differently harmony thiessen


The Answer Could Be Growing in the Garbage

It’s hard to imagine that less than 100 years ago, ninety one to be exact, died from common infections. We don’t give these infections a second thought today. But at the time, doctors were losing patients, sons and daughters, moms and dads, lovers, and leaders to minor injuries that advanced infections they couldn’t cure.


Sir Alexander Fleming, (I’m guessing he was mostly called Alex at the time) was working on the problem with a fervor, despite repeated failures. Like most of us, he reached his breaking point and threw the petri dish in the corner.


Distracted by other things, Sir Alexander Fleming didn’t notice that mold was growing. The bacteria in his dish was dissolving as food for the mold. The wonder drug that the scientist had worked at from so many directions was developing in the garbage.  Penicillin was found in 1928, when the problem solver, having reached the end of himself, was offered a gift that would change the world.

mold sir Alexander Fleming

Today, fatalities from infectious diseases are a remarkable 5% of what they were 100 years ago. Ninety-five percent of people who would have died from infection live now, because of this problem that became an enormous possibility.


Sir Fleming was forced to see differently.


Confirmation Bias


Sir Fleming is in good company.  We all have a bias, many in fact, and that bias helps us navigate.  We don’t need to process every single event that we encounter because we have a preference or a shortcut to a conclusion.  For instance, how to get to work. We know the way. And that shortcut in our thinking makes it possible for us to be thinking about other things while we drive to work. We arrive on time (we hope!) and consistently park in our spot, because of the bias –acting like things are right because we perceive them as truth.


We can thank a cognitive psychologist, Dr. Peter Cathcart Wason, for helping us understand confirmation bias.  After extensive research and experiments, he discovered that we naturally are attracted to information and facts, which we already believe to be true.


Like Sir Alexander Fleming.  The last thing he was looking for was mold. He was a scientist looking to heal. Not a sanitation engineer.


If you are looking for a reason to like someone, you will look at what is likable about them and focus on that. Likewise, if you dislike a person, you will see and highlight what is wrong with them. Consistently.


We look to establish the bias we already possess. And this can hinder a problem solvers attempt to create meaningful change.


I call this process of discovery in ourselves and our teams – decoding.

Leaders Problem Solving


If this area interests you, you may find the article by the Board of Innovation quite interesting. It discusses in much more detail than this guide can address the 16 types of bias called cognitive bias.

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