Intellectuals solve problems; geniuses prevent them.
This is the fifth of a five part series or articles that explores the creative problem solving process. Each article builds on the next; taking you through a series of steps to help you solve any life or business challenge you face. Here are links to all articles within this series:
- Define Your Problem
- Investigate Your Problem
- Re-Imagine Your Idea
- Engineer Plan of Action
- Execute and Master
As you read through these articles, it is highly recommended that you have a problem in mind that you can work with. This will help you to immediately put these ideas into practice. Only in this way will you gain optimal value from this process.
The Purpose of this Step
Having worked through the previous four steps of this process, you should now have a plan of action in place that’s built around one key idea to help you solve your problem. This is of course a great start, but what now? What’s the next step?
This next step is to Execute and then Master.
To execute means to put your plan into action, and to master means to learn from your experience in order to make optimal improvements in the future. Therefore, the purpose of this step essentially comes down to taking positive action on your plan and then — no matter what the result — learning as much as possible from these actions (especially from mistakes and errors) in order to help you improve your future choices, decisions and actions.
This is typically a step of this process that many people disregard. They have a solution and a plan of action in place but unfortunately don’t really think through what it will take to put that plan of action into practice.
Hopefully you won’t end up as one of the victims who falls into this trap.
Working through the guidelines set out within this article will provide you with key insights that will ensure you take the necessary actions to put your plan into practice.
Executing Your Plan of Action
When it comes to executing your plan of action it’s important to stay proactive and to keep yourself accountable at all times. There is no blame and there are no excuses to be made. You alone are responsible for what happens, and therefore you have the power to change things if they don’t go according to plan. And this is of course where proactivity comes into play.
To be proactive means to control a situation rather than just responding to it after it has happened. The opposite of proactive is of course being reactive where you haphazardly respond to events and circumstances typically in an emotional impulsive way.
With this in mind you must therefore think ahead and mentally prepare yourself for all possible scenarios and outcomes that could result from your actions.
This is of course something we worked through within stage 4 of the creative problem solving process. However, even though you have already worked through possible scenarios, you must still stay vigilant of changing conditions and circumstances while taking action towards your desired outcome. To do this you must be mindful and constantly engaged within the activities you are working through.
Engagement within specific tasks and activities pertaining to your plan of action requires your full attention and a single-minded focus. Only in this way will you be able to see things clearly and understand what may be required of you down the track.
Every action you take towards your desired outcome will require certain things from you. These things came in the form of mental and physical resources and/or tools you need in order to work through something successfully. However, it is possible that at times you will be confronted with circumstances or setbacks that you never anticipated. Ill prepared for these moments you might not have the necessary resources to deal with the circumstances successfully. And that’s okay, because what you do have is your resourcefulness.
Being resourceful means having the ability to successfully adapt to changing conditions and circumstances while making the best use of what you currently have at your disposal to help you work through things in an optimal way. In other words, this is kind of like creative problem solving on the fly. You are essentially forced into a situation where you need to creatively make the best use of what you have to help you move through a situation successfully. You therefore might not have the necessary resources (tools, skills, experience, knowledge) to deal with this situation, however what you do have is the necessary resourcefulness to find a way through this despite your disadvantageous position.
Being resourceful of course begins with how you think about your circumstances. You must be in a positive and engaged state-of-mind in order to fully comprehend and understand what you’re facing. Once you have this clarity of mind you will then be in a far better position to deal with the circumstances in an optimal way.
In order to get to this stage you will of course need to cultivate curiosity and be willing to ask the necessary questions that will help you figure out a way through this; and that is essentially where your level of resourcefulness comes into play.
Systemize Your Action Plan
It’s of course wonderful to be resourceful when things don’t go to plan, however you can most certainly minimize these kind of scenarios by systemizing your actions.
To systemize something involves putting together checklists and scripts that effectively help you minimize the choices and decisions you make throughout the day.
It of course might seem counterintuitive to make a physical effort to minimize your choices and decisions. However, consider for a moment studies that have revealed that we actually have a limited supply of willpower each day. In other words, every time you are forced to make a choice and a subsequent decision you are at that moment depleting your supply of willpower. Once your willpower reserves have been depleted you will begin taking shortcuts in order to avoid making any sort of decision at all. This of course may be detrimental to your final outcome as you will tend to do “what is easy” rather than “what is most optimal”.
What checklists, scripts and systems in general do very well is they help you minimize the decisions you make throughout the day. You essentially don’t need to think so much about what you’re going to do next; as a result you are able to maintain higher reserves of willpower throughout the day. These reserves can then be used on things that matter most.
With all this in mind, take a moment right now to outline the set targets and milestones you are working towards. Furthermore, highlight your highest priority activities (actions) you need to take that will help you reach those targets and milestones.
With your priorities, targets and milestones set, consider what checklists, systems and scripts you can put in place to help you reach your goal. Ask yourself:
What systems and processes could I put in place that will help me become more effective and efficient while minimizing the decisions I must make?
What are some repetitive actions I need to take that I could outline in the form of a checklist?
What scripts could I create that could help me work through things far more effectively or communicate with other people more efficiently?
Taking the time to create appropriate systems, processes, checklists and scripts all of a sudden gives you a sense of confidence and self-assurance that you actually do have what it takes to work through this problem most effectively.
If at a certain point things don’t quite go to plan; there’s no need to worry because you will have an ample amount of willpower stored up to effectively tackle these challenges.
Finally, once a challenge has been tackled successfully, you will be in a prime position to make modifications to your systems and processes in order to account for future scenarios of this kind. It really couldn’t be any simpler. This is after all how great companies are built: one small checklist at a time. 🙂
To take charge essentially means to take control of your destiny. You have this problem you are wanting to solve, and you now have this goal you are working towards. This is your focus now, and no matter what happens from this point moving forward you cannot allow yourself to lose that focus.
In order to help you stay focused as you execute your plan of action, it’s essential that you stay proactive and continuously measure the results of these actions. When you do this consistently it will help you to adjust and adapt your actions successfully to the changing conditions and circumstances you face.
In order to stay focused, you will need to consistently utilize questions to help you gather the necessary feedback from your actions and from the environment. The answers to these questions will help you make the necessary adjustments as to where your focus should be directed upon next. For instance at the end of the day it can be helpful to ask yourself the following set of questions:
Am I on the right track?
What has worked well for me today? Why?
What actions have not been working out as I had expected? Why?
How have conditions and circumstances changed? Why?
What patterns and trends are now evident that I hadn’t noticed before?
As a result, what potential new problems have now come to the surface?
What potential opportunities could arise from these problems?
How must I adapt to these changes moving forward?
What specifically will I need to know and do next?
Do I need any assistance? Who could assist me best?
What’s the highest priority activity I should focus on tomorrow?
Regularly asking yourself these questions and then taking the time to answer them will put you into an optimal state-of-mind where you will be more focused and aware of what’s going on around you. As a result, you will be better able to adapt to changing conditions and circumstances accordingly.
This journey of course may not be easy. You may go through numerous ups and downs and you might very well need to change your course of action several times. This of course is fine, in fact it’s expected.
Success is never a straight line moving from Point A to Point B. It rather curves, loops and tangles in certain spots. However, if you stay the course, stay consistent, disciplined, passionate, proactive, flexible and curious throughout this journey you will get there in the end. The solution to your problem rests securely in your hands.
Review and Reflect
Okay, so let’s now say that you executed your plan of action. Did you manage to solve your problem? Did you get the outcome you wanted? Possibly you did, or maybe your problem still remains unsolved. No matter what the outcome, it’s time now to reflect back on the actions you took in order to gain most value from this experience.
To begin with, let’s breakdown the events surrounding your problem and the subsequent actions you took. Ask yourself:
What exactly have I done?
How well did I execute my plan of action?
Could I have gone about things differently?
How could I possibly have done things better?
Did I managed to solve the problem effectively? Why? Why not?
If I solved the problem successfully, then how exactly did I do this?
Why did this happen and not that? (be specific)
The purpose of these questions is to help you gather a better understanding of what worked and what might not have worked out as you had expected. Either way there are lessons to be learned here that can help you make better choices and decisions in the future when confronting the same or a similar problem. As such, it can be helpful to ask yourself an additional set of questions that will help you to better learn from your experience.
What have I learned from going through this experience?
How have I changed and grown as a person as a result of this experience?
What specifically has changed within me?
What specific skills have I improved upon or developed as a result of going through this experience?
What helpful habits have I adopted as a result of going through this?
Every experience, whether good or bad, helps us grow and develop in some way. By recognizing and acknowledging this growth you will gain more self-confidence and self-assurance in yourself and in your own ability to tackle problems of this sort in the future.
Typically we learn best when we fail and make mistakes. It is said that success often brings with it the gift of celebration, while failure brings with it the gift of deep contemplation. In that regard, have a think about all the mistakes you made as you went about trying to solve your problem, and ask yourself:
What specific mistakes did I make along this journey?
How specifically did I make these mistakes?
Why specifically did I make these mistakes?
What can I learn from these mistakes that can serve me in the future?
Within every mistake and failure there is a valuable learning experience. This learning experience is what helps you grow and develop as a person; giving you the confidence you need to potentially tackle similar problems in the future. With this in mind, ask yourself:
How could I possibly use all these learnings in the future?
How could I potentially use this experience in a different context?
The lessons you gain from this experience will no doubt change you as a person; even if it’s in a small way. Having gone through this experience you are now wiser than before, and as a result you are more capable and resourceful; able to tackle bigger and more complex problems in the future. However, unless you recognize the true value you gained from this experience, then you will never truly understand what you might be capable of the next time you are faced with a similar challenge.
Looking into the Future
The final step of the creative problem solving process requires you project yourself into the future and begin anticipating what problems may arise before they arise. This way you can make adjustments on the fly to more effectively work through your problems.
This process works on two levels. On the first level you want to develop the ability to solve problems in advance before they become unmanageable. And on the second level you want to prevent various situations from happening before they become problematic.
To help you get an idea of what kind of thinking is involved here, it can be helpful to regularly ask yourself the following questions:
What am I certain about in my life at the moment?
What trends are currently shaping my future choices, decisions and actions?
What changes are likely to take place in the foreseeable future that are likely to affect me in some way?
In what specific way will these changes possibly affect me?
Given what I now know, what does my visible future look like?
What problems am I about to have in my life tomorrow? Next week? Next month? Next year?
Knowing what I know, how must I respond to these problems?
How could I potentially solve these problems before they affect me?
What actions could I take right now to create a better future?
Life is in a constant state of flux. Everything is changing. In fact, your life shifts, transforms and changes very much like the seasons. And with every change that takes place it brings with it a new set of problems that you will need to successfully deal with.
For instance if you are student your problems come in the form of deadlines. If you’re starting a new career then your problems could come in the form of learning how to cooperate within a team environment. If you just moved out of your parents home and into your first apartment then your problems can come in the form of bill payments, maintenance, and other responsibilities that come with living independently. Or let’s say you suddenly find yourself in a new relationship. Well, we all know what kind of problems can arise here. 😉 Or let’s say you are expecting your first child. All of a sudden another set of problems will come into play. In fact, when it comes to kids you may need to think far ahead to effectively anticipate the plethora of problems that are likely to arise.
These are just some quick examples, but I hope you can get a sense of how life is essentially an endless cycle of problems. It really never ends. Therefore the better you are at anticipating and dealing with these problems before they become problematic then the happier and more fulfilled you will be. 🙂
This is essentially the value of the creative problem solving process. It helps you to continuously adapt yourself to your life, to people, to the environment, and to changing circumstances in creative ways, all the while reinventing yourself over again.
In order to work through problems most effectively you must be consistently reinventing your habits, actions, decisions, behaviors and even the activities you involve yourself in. And of course this all comes down to growth.
Every time you reinvent yourself you grow. You grow in some way and as a result you become more resourceful and can handle bigger problems and challenges in the future. And that’s essentially what life is about. It’s about growth, it’s about finding new ways to work through problems so that we can grow wiser and live a more optimal existence.
In the end, the wisdom you gain from overcoming your problems isn’t only for your own personal benefit, it’s also for the benefit of the next generation.
We of course learn best from personal experience, but why make mistakes that others have already made? This is where learning from other people’s experience is of greatest value. And that is precisely the legacy that you leave behind: Your wisdom and experience.
Therefore whenever you’re faced with a seemingly insurmountable problem, don’t whine, blame, make excuses or complain. Instead remember that working through this problem successfully isn’t only for your personal benefit, it’s also for the benefit of those who look up to you for support and inspiration. And that where the true value of creative problem solving lies.
Time to Assimilate these Concepts
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