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How To: Become a Problem-Solver

How To: Become A Problem-Solver

Everyone has problems. Companies, couples, governments, you, your neighbour. Everyone.

Which is why everyone needs a problem solver around them. Companies & organisations need people who aren’t afraid of questioning systems (even though most won’t admit it). In fact, most problems get solved if you ask the right questions. Managers & bosses need individuals who can identify problems and suggest practical solutions to them. It’s worth noting that finding problems is easy, it’s the “What can you / we do about it?” part where most of us fall by the wayside.

Every industry / business /organisation is constantly looking for a person who identifies the problems worth solving. If you become that person you won’t make the highest salary or receive the most perks. You become your board’s / company’s / manager’s problem-solver.  A go-to person who can bring in fresh perspective on a problem. A fixer. A person who is guaranteed to bring so many options to the table that at least 1 of them will be worth a try. Does that make you irreplaceable? No, nobody is irreplaceable. What it does do is make the functions you fulfil, (almost) irreplaceable.

I heard someone saying that Mathematics teaches problem-solving. Maybe they were referring to the problems in a textbook. From my experience, when it comes to dealing with real-world problems like starting a business, resolving arguments in your marriage, deciding on a career-change or being fired from your job, you need to be a true problem-solver. And no textbook teaches you how to become one.

If you want to become almost irreplaceable (of course we know that nobody is irreplaceable) at your workplace or any other environment, this is what you need to do:

1. Out-Learn Everyone Around You
When I was in high-school, I failed an Arabic test by 2 marks. We had a new teacher and he set a test that the whole class failed. Intrigued by this new method of testing Arabic (and also because failure isn’t very palatable to a teenager) I decided to start studying the language. For the next 2 years I spent hundreds, if not thousands of hours after school and on weekends memorising grammar rules, translating volumes of texts and reading everything from Arabic books, journals, newspapers & magazines to train timetables & the list of ingredients on the back of biscuit packets. What was I going to do with all this? I had no idea.

I didn’t know it at the time but when it came to a new language, I was out-learning most teenagers in my age group.

Fast forward a few years and I had my first job, teaching Arabic. No Arabic degree,  no other study of the language, just the skill I had learnt when I was in high-school. How did I convince the committee to hire me? That’s a story for another day. Anyway, I got that job because of a skill I had and later I also resigned and became self-employed because of that skill. That’s how I started Rihla.co.za.

Constantly learning things will give you options. You need options especially if you don’t like going to work on Monday morning or you find yourself in a job you can’t see yourself in after 10 years. Make it a point to learn as much as you can about whatever is relevant to you,your goals, your job or any problem you’re trying to solve.

Have conversations with people in your industry. Talk to people in an industry you’d like to get into. Ask them lots of questions. This will help you identify the most common problems. If you look closely you’ll notice the patterns that are causing these problems and you can then avoid these problems or show others how to avoid them.

Read books. Lots of them. Read about marriage, parenting, financial management, public speaking.Read autobiographies. Devise ways to learn from other people’s unique experiences. Read blogs of people who are challenging your mind to think differently.

I try to read a book a week and I don’t think that’s enough.

Become a great listener. When you meet people, pay careful attention to them. When they speak of their experiences, failures, disappointments & successes, make mental notes. Somewhere along the line each bit of information will become useful. If not to you then to someone else, and that’s kind of the same thing because in a way we’re here to be useful to others.

The world is in need of contributors. Become one.

Golden Rule: The more you know the more you can contribute. Or as Dr.Seuss says, “The more you know, the more places you’ll go”.

2. Learn to Mirror Success
By this I mean, look at how others are solving their problems and then see how you can transplant those same strategies to solve your own problem. Want to self-publish a book? Check how someone else has done it. Need to learn how to become more confident in meetings? Read a career blog.

The internet gives you access to hundreds of millions of people who have devised, experienced, tried, failed, tweaked & succeeded at strategies for everything from business, marriage, diets, exercise plans, entrepreneurship & web design to carpentry, art, parenting, fear, personal development & home-schooling.

Granted, no two situations are alike and what works for 1 person may not work for you. That’s where point No.1 comes in. If you’ve cultivated the mindset of learning as much as you can, whenever you can, you’ll have no problem in taking somebody else’s experience and transplanting some or all of it into your own life. Also, if someone needs a problem solved, you have a possible solution.

I was going to write a 3rd point but this post is already quite long. Besides, if you act on point 1 & 2 you’ll be able to formulate your own steps to becoming a problem-solver.Then you can share those with others and they can solve their own problems and teach others as well.

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