Here’s another approach to problem solving: When you have a problem, turn it into a question. Write it down on a document or sheet of paper, and then think through it on paper. Define the problem first, and probe it deeply. Ask “what is the problem?” and then “what else could be the problem?” Then do the same to identify causes, and then solutions.
When it comes to solving complex problems where we don’t seem to be making any headway, an approach called “the breakout” can be helpful. I came across this in a Harvard Business Review article a few years ago.
Here’s the summary of the concept: “By bringing the brain to the height of activity and then suddenly moving it into a passive, relaxed state, it’s possible to stimulate much higher neurological performance than would otherwise be the case. Over time, subjects who learn to do this as a matter of course perform at consistently higher levels.”
And here are the key steps:
- Struggle mightily with the thorny problem.
- Walk away from the problem at the top of the curve (when you stop feeling productive and start feeling stressed) and do something utterly different that produces the relaxation response.
- The actual breakout–sudden insight comes. A sense of well-being and relaxation brings an unexpected insight or higher level of performance.
- Return to the new normal state within which the sense of self-confidence continues.