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Innovative problem-solving secrets

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Interpersonal Edge

Dr. Daneen Skube

Q: I’m having long-term entrenched problems at work. What I currently know is tons of things that don’t work! I end up staring at problems without ideas to fix them. How do you advise private clients to find solutions to hard, long-term problems?

A: I advise private clients that finding solutions to hard, long-term problems requires persistence, diplomacy, and systemic exhaustion of anything not already tried. Long-term problems require long-term perseverance.

Our culture, including our workplaces, loves the microwave promise of solutions. Any book entitled, “Two Easy steps to immediately fix your problems,” will be an instant best seller. The two easy steps won’t work…but many readers would blame themselves for not doing the techniques right. The truth is long-term solutions are long-term because they’re complex.

The famous theoretical physicist Albert Einstein accurately observed that you cannot solve problems at the same level of thinking that created the problem. The secret of innovative problem solving is we have to shift the kind of thinking that is perpetuating the problem.

Let me offer you a personal example: When I first worked as a counselor, my thinking was clients came to me because I had answers. My level of thinking was I couldn’t admit when I didn’t know what to do. I finally realized that part of my job was modeling vulnerability. When I admitted I didn’t always have the answers, my clients and I could work together. I found this was much more effective.

Our past identity is the main reason our problem solving is limited. We may rigidly define ourselves as smart, hard-working, competent, and generous. There are times at work, however, where the solutions we need require us to admit ignorance and lack of skills. We may also admit it’s time to stop trying.

Then, the big question becomes: Can you learn to be flexible about your identity?

If you believe you’re the office fixer that picks up all dropped balls, you cannot solve problems that require help. You will need to breathe deep, let balls drop, and have others notice their responsibilities to create better solutions. Shifting your level of thinking about who you are will make you anxious and perhaps create guilt.

I coach clients that if you have to pick between guilt and self-sacrifice, pick guilt! Behaviors that contradict our former identity often generate guilt. If we stop working until 10 pm at night, we may feel guilty. If we keep working 60 hours a week, we will get ill and burned out. You can see why guilt is preferable.

Other beliefs that can interfere with problem solving include our sense of entitlement that things should be fair, rational, and people should care about our problems. The quicker we let go of our perceived entitlements about how reality “ought to be,” the faster we move onto problem solving.

Lastly, I want to congratulate you on how many things you know that do not work. Your systematic willingness to network, ask help from everyone, and keep trying the next idea is what will finally get you a break through.

Brilliant solutions, even in the tangled jungle of workplace problems, are a gift given to those that shift their thinking about who they are, what reality is, and can stand hundreds of failures.

Break-through solutions are about not giving up.

The last word(s)

Q: I’ve been an avid reader and try each week to apply your latest ideas to my workplace. Then, despite my best intentions, I put my foot in my mouth. Do your clients ever get to the point where they stop being discouraged at their failures?

A: Yes, my long-term clients define failure as the chance to begin again more intelligently. Cultivate an enthusiasm for mistakes and you’ll be encouraged to be at peace with the reality we’re all learning on planet earth.

(Daneen Skube, Ph.D., executive coach, trainer, therapist and speaker, also appears as the FOX Channel’s “Workplace Guru” each Monday morning. She’s the author of “Interpersonal Edge: Breakthrough Tools for Talking to Anyone, Anywhere, About Anything” (Hay House, 2006). You can contact Dr. Skube at www.interpersonaledge.com or 1420 NW Gilman Blvd., #2845, Issaquah, WA 98027. Sorry, no personal replies.)

(C)2022 Interpersonal Edge. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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