Jul 252013 2 Responses

4 Steps to Problem Solving

Problem solving seems to be a lost art.

Yet of all the skills we wish to pass on to our children, problem solving should be near the top of the list.

While the Bible does not necessarily describe a specific problem solving process, it does describe one that I have found extremely helpful.

At the end of Acts 1, the disciples are charged with finding a new disciple since Judas was no longer part of the group. The process they used can be useful for any problem solving situation.

1. Define Success: It’s impossible to know a solution until we have properly defined what success would be. To be an apostle, a man had to have been with Jesus from the beginning of his ministry. In order to witness everything which had transpired, they needed a first hand account. This, along with some other character qualities, narrowed the field of possible candidates. When a person is the solution to a possible problem, listing the characteristics necessary for the person to be successful is a key step. When the solution being sought is not a person, but a specific outcome, listing what would define a successful outcome is half the journey toward success. G.I. Joe always said, “knowing is half the battle.” When it comes to problem solving, knowing what success looks like is the first half of the battle.

2. List Possible Solutions: After the criteria for success is defined, finding possible candidates or specific solutions which fit the criteria can be accomplished. This is the most overlooked aspect of problem solving. Good problem solvers do not pick the right people or the right outcomes; good problem solvers eliminate the bad candidates or outcomes from their prospective list.

I always think about this in terms of a coin flip. Would you risk your net worth on a single coin flip? Probably not. I would under one condition—if you let me pick the coin. If I could pick a one-sided coin, I would flip you for any amount of money you want. While the bet is the same, all the risk has been eliminated. Choosing the right list of candidates or possible choices tilts the odds in our favor.

When I’m facing a difficult situation, the majority of my time is spent on the first two steps of this problem solving process. If I can eliminate the bad options and leave myself with several good options, it won’t necessarily matter which option I pick.

3. Pray: It’s easy in the midst of problem solving to forget the presence of God with us. If we aren’t careful, we can become so confident in our ability or so obsessed with our responsibility that we do not ask for guidance and submit our plan to God’s. In humility, we should pray for God’s wisdom.

(The disciples then cast lots. While this was a part of their problem solving process, it is the last time in the Bible in which this method is used. It was a common process in the Old Testament and early New Testament. After finding possible solutions, casting lots was a way of involving God in the process. This is the last time this process is used because one chapter after this one in the Book of Acts, the Holy Spirit arrives and indwells God’s people. No longer is it necessary to cast lots to involve God in the process; now we trust that God is involved as he works within us.)

4. Pick: For many people, this is the step which stymies them. Picking requires the ability to make a commitment. Many people struggle to do so. Yet the better the first three steps are executed, the easier it is to make a selection. No candidate is perfect. No outcome is guaranteed. But leadership requires us to make the difficult choices and live with the consequences. Work the process and then make a choice.

Problem solving might be a lost art, but it is still a needed skill. The great aspect of problem solving is that when it goes right, lives are changed. When it goes wrong, we should learn lessons to help us for the next decision.

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