Take A Few Steps Back

You are stuck. You went through Step1 to Step3 and can't seem to find the solution that meets your criteria to solve the problem. Or you might have gotten to Step5 but you are finding the solution harder to do than you expected. You are having serious doubts about the 5 Steps. If you are depressed, you could also have serious doubts about your abilities and the situation you are in.
What advice do you give someone who is lost? "Re-trace your steps". Find the last junction you took. Go back some ways to the first junction you find. Look at your options. You know where you came from. You know where you got lost. How many other choices do you have? You should have at least one. Take it. Make note of where you came from and the options you already took. That way you don't try the same thing again.
When doing this, always remember that for each attempt taken, more resources and time will be used up. Be aware how much time you have left and what can you expend before solving the problem becomes your second concern.

Sports and the Problem at Hand

Team sports have two things that make their jobs easier than most people: a clear goal and a set of clear and stable rules and regulations. The know what sport they are in and have chosen to participate (Step1 and Step2.). They chose to be where they are and what they must do. We might not be so lucky but we can still learn a few things or two.
Like I said above, team sports have two things that make their jobs easier than most people: a clear goal and a set of clear and stable rules and regulations. When solving our problems, in Step3, we must establish clear goals. In Step2 we defined our problems and may have begun thinking of way to overcome it. Always focus on our main goal, that is to solve the problem. Solving the problem itself requires defining goals. One of these is the goal of the solutionMake those goals clear and definite. Be aware of limitations that our efforts have to be within. The rules and regulations that we must adhere to must be recognized and made certain. Be it in sports or in a working environment. In sports, the goal is simple: win.

If if you play sports or sports is part of your life, frame your problem within that context if it helps. You are the athlete. You know what goals are. The rules are made clear. It is now up to you. Make decisions. Decide on a strategy. Be aware of what you are up against. Psyche yourself up. Take to the field and go for success.

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Considering Time For Success

When describing a solution to be considered to solve a problem, describe also the factors that need to be in place for it to succeed and the factors that need to be absent for it to succeed. This is called describing the environment for it's success. In order to mend a burst pipe, the pipe may need to be replaced. So you need to know the measurements of the pipe in order to buy a new one. There must also be no water flowing when mending it. So the water mains needs to be closed or the pipe plugged somewhere else. Some factors will be absolute. It needs to be there or it cannot be there. However, one of the most critical factors is relative and that factor is time.
There are solutions that exist within a timeframe. When or the time a solution is going to be executed could be as important as the solution itself. Consider this and make a note of it when gathering solutions for the problem. Think about the time required to execute the solution versus when the problem has to be solved. Does the solution take too long? Is there time to correct another problem that may come up along the way?
Another question to ask ourselves is when is the best time to implement the solution. Does it depend on certain passing of time? Are there pre-requisites that must exist before a solution becomes possible? Are those time-specific?

Do Not Lose Focus of the Result

Maybe you think your problem is not worth solving. You've tried hard to find a solution. You've had problems defining the criteria that will make the solution. You've asked hard questions and only got more questions. You knew the road would be long and hard. But you never expected it to be this hard. Right about now, giving up would be a relief.
Please stay focused. You may be closer to the solution than you think. In the meantime, try focusing on the rewards and gains that is yours once the problem is solved. Think about all the things you will be able to do once this problem is solved. Imagine your success. Remember the last time you were successful at anything. Did you think your odds then were unsurmountable too? Despite that, you still found success.You still made it work. You found a way. Take yourself back to that time and remember how it felt. Now imagine you solving this problem and feeling the same thing. Is that a feeling you want? The joy and exuberance of success. It is within your grasp. Take this opportunity. You deserve it.

Describing a problem: Sometimes you just have to say it out loud

Whenever I think of this phrase, the image that always pops up is that of John Cusak holding up a boombox, playing a song to his love played by Ione Skye in the movie Say Anything. Sometimes you just have to say it out loud.
That phrase, I think, is what Step2 is mostly about. Often when we struggle over problems, we think about it alone, turning it over and over in our heads. We try to make out an image of a solution that will make the problem disappear. We examine the problem by ourselves because we think it will give space to clearly think. We seek peace in solitude, away from pressing matters caused by or related to the problem.
It turns out that as much as we understand a problem and work it through, we use many parts of the brain. It greatly depends on the problem and how your are working through it. However, the part of the brain we use to talk is largely in one area called Broca's Area. By talking about it, the information that is being processed in many parts of the brain is now processed by one part. This part of the brain probably processes the problem in a different way. It may string together separate thoughts in order for you to be able to explain it someone. Sometimes, in doing this, the problem's solution may become apparent or that the problem becomes clearer. This often leads to the part when you stop in the middle of describing a problem and suddenly realize a solution or a new way of looking at it.

Teaming Up To Win

A group working for success can best be seen in a sports team. The nature of the job demands success on a regular basis. They have to win regularly. Success is clearly defined which can make the job easier or harder. The success or failure is highly visible against a backdrop of clear rules and regulations. In that way, sports, especially professional sports is easier than most jobs. There are very few controversial wins. Those that happen, happen in clear view of the public.
There are many things to learn from watching a sports team working towards success. For example, they have many types of leaders each with their roles:
  • Coaches. They have specific skills required by the team do their job. In this way they are like a subject matter expert or a consultant. They don't play but greatly influence what happens on the field. Their knowledge about the sport can give a team the edge they need on game day. The experience they impart gives the team lessons it can learn without the hard knocks. And they also provide the voice to lead them and raise the team's spirit when the chips are down.

Own the Solution

Ownership is a tacky issue with problems. When a problem does occur, ownership gets tossed around. The assumption is that whomever owns the problem, has to solve it. This wastes precious time which could have been used to begin to solve the problem. It increases anxiety among people who are targeted and can create a general feeling of restlessness, waiting for the other shoe to drop.
If it is clear that the you or your group is responsible to solve a particular problem, perhaps it should viewed differently. It shouldn't be viewed as a burden or obstacle. Rather than focus on the problem, focus on owning the solution. That is what problem solving is really about. You are responsible for beginning the process of solving the problem. You will find a solution that is a fit for your problem. You are probably solving the problem right now simply by taking ownership and moving the process towards a solution..
Look past the problem and focus on the solution. Be proud of owning the solution and don't let anyone take that away from you.

The Dilbert Principle

Stressed out at the office? Wondering why your boss doesn't understand that there things that are impossible or illegal? If you are applying the 5 Steps at the office, its best to understand more about you environment and the challenges that you will face in solving your problem. There is no book that does that better than The Dilbert Principle. If this comic strip is new to you, visit the official site for a taste of the genius of the series.
The Dilbert Principle is made of a collection of experiences sent by real-life office workers of life and insanity at the office. Author Scott Adams tries to sort out and explain them the best he can. Each chapter is devoted to a topic and is peppered with comics from his popular strip. The strips illustrate a point or goes into detail on a series of events that chapter describes. It is heartening to know that what goes on in your office happens elsewhere too. Although he humorously points out that competency is rarely rewarded, it is sad to know that his statement is true in many places.
Which puts problem solving in a difficult place. I am not going to judge your motivation to solve your office problems. I just hope you do.
The Dilbert Principle offers an insight in the thinking (or lack thereof) that goes in the office every day. You can take with you the lessons the book puts forward and use them to your advantage. Or just smile when a scene from the book is repeated in real-life.
I haven't found a book that is so on the money that I keep coming back to it year after year. If I was any geekier, I'd say this is the "Lords of Rings" of management books. Get the Dilbert Omnibus for the full effect. You can skip the last section of his second book, the Dilbert Future and even his last book, The Joy of Work. Scott Adams gets too philosophical in those sections. Who wouldn't be after reading story after story of the madness that goes on in offices around the world.

Influence Yourself

Problems can affect us in many way, almost always negatively. We end up being in a funk or depressed or fearful. Some people are logical. They can rationalize everything into something positive. Find that silver lining where nobody else can see. Most of us are emotional. We act based in part on how we feel. The problem is, when there is a problem, we tend to feel like crap.
So how can we start solving our problem when we don't even feel like getting up? First, we probably need to change the way we feel. Here are some simple ways to start:

Solutions Should Start Simply

Do not limit ideas for possible solutions. However, start with the obvious. Begin with simple, straightforward solutions. Leave the explanations as to why they won't work or why they are not the right solution to later. We will take care of that in Step 4. Use the solution criteria as a guide. Don't worry if a solution does not meet all of the criteria, just as long as it does meet a few.  Once the obvious solutions are all said, layer each of them with one layer of complexity. Make the simple a bit more complicated. 
But that complication can't be for it's own sake. It has to contribute to the completeness of the solution. The solution can become more complicated if it meets more of the solution criteria. A solution can be more complex if it makes the solution better. Complexity has to bring the solution one step closer to being the best solution possible. It has be worthy of its inclusion. Repeat the process with other solutions your are considering. Then go back to first solution and create more possible solutions by layering another layer of complexity and so on.