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What’s Your Edge? was recently engaged to work with a team on problem-solving. How to deal with problems and effective problem-solving strategies is part of every program we provide because no matter where you work, at home, on a building site or from a boardroom, dealing with problems is part of our daily professional experience.  

Here are some of our favourite approaches to problem-solving  

Stop being scared of problems!

You may scoff at this bold statement, but fear is one of the greatest roadblocks for effective problem solving. People spend so much time fearing what could happen (if they get it wrong, make a mistake, fail) rather than taking the steps toward finding the answers effectively.

Fear is an uncomfortable but essential human trait that can hold us back from moving forward or moving faster.

One common fear, particularly for high achievers, is the fear of being seen as incompetent if they don’t handle problems by themselves. In the worst state, it shows up as a psychological phenomenon, known as impostor syndrome.

The “Impostor Phenomenon” was first described by Dr. Pauline Clance, from her observations in a clinical setting (Clance, 1985). Imposter syndrome can be defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. There are studies that suggest 70% of people experience impostor syndrome at some point in their career.

Suzanne Mercier, an Australian expert on Imposter Syndrome, described the moment she first recognised it in herself. “Was my work good enough? Could they see flaws? Had they seen someone else’s work that was so much better? Could I have done a much better job? Did they appreciate my style or consider me an amateur?” 

Two tweaks to your mindset to help you face your fears around problem solving.

  • Define problems like a mathematician
  • See problems as a gift

Define your problems like a mathematician, not a wordsmith

Most of us, define a problem much like the first definition in a common Dictionary: a matter or situation regarded as unwelcome or harmful and needing to be dealt with and overcome – Sounds awful right? Sounds like something our lizard brain instincts would decide to take flight from.

The lizard brain is the reason you’re afraid, the reason you don’t do all the art you can, the reason you don’t ship when you can. The lizard brain is the source of the resistance.” ~ Seth Godin

But what if we took the second definition? The one that mathematicians and physicists use?

A problem is: “an inquiry starting from given conditions to investigate” 

Can you see how inviting a problem might be if we were to approach it like an inquiry? A search for something which meant exploring and asking questions?  This popular word swap or mindset strategy is something we shared recently in relation to our fear of failure where you re-label your stressful/fearful event from a ‘crises’ to a ‘challenge’, with remarkable effect on how you deal with a situation.

Problems are a gift

Problem solving - Problems are a giftHere’s another tweak for you: start to consider problems as a gift, an opportunity to improve, grow, even to win more business. This approach to problem-solving is particularly effective when it comes to complaint handling.

Think about how you might complain to a business. What do you do if you don’t like a restaurant or a product or a service? Do you say something to help the business correct it? High fives if you do because feedback is valuable and most people are more comfortable complaining with their feet and complaining to their friends and colleagues.

Complaints are a gift. It’s an opportunity for you to find out more, ask questions, do something else to improve your service and relationships with your colleagues and your customers.

Embrace your inner Sherlock: ask questions

Now that you see your problem as a gift and an inquiry, it is time to embrace your inner Sherlock and ask questions, and open questions are best. Open questions encourage people to provide a full meaningful answer, rather than a yes or no, based on their own knowledge and feelings.

Be Team Intelligent™

It’s safe to say that most businesses employ smart people or at least the best possible suited to a role (just another reminder for the impostors) in order to work with fellow team members to achieve a shared team vision. Collectively, this is Team Intelligence ™ and when activated, it can give you access to completely unique points of view in a problem.

Statistics show that teams solve problems faster when they’re more cognitively diverse.

Next time, you are working together as a team to solve a problem try Edward De Bono’s Six Hat strategy for breaking down the problem, drawing out Team Intelligence™, and potentially solving your problem faster.

Six Thinking Hats Method

Edward de Bono is one of the pioneers of Brain Training. His methodologies have been proven to help people of all thinking levels to make smarter decisions, faster.

The concept of Six Thinking Hats provides everyone with a secure environment for giving thoughts and expressing feelings. Let’s look at a training scenario to demonstrate each hat.

Edward De Bono Six Hats

Blue Hat: This hat could be worn by the facilitator who might offer up a problem or concern that needs addressing and hands out the other hats, explaining each one.

White Hat: This hat is worn by the person who reviews the information that everyone else contributes, whether positive or negative and is responsible for presenting it without prejudice or interpretation.

Green Hat: This hat is worn by the person who initiates creative thinking or brainstorming methods, making sure all participants express their opinions and ideas about the problem.

Yellow Hat: The person wearing this hat makes sure all the other hats see the positive side of the ideas generated out of the green hat activities.

Black Hat: This hatter allows each different hat wearer to put across their respective negative feedback on the idea.

Red Hat: This hat wearer follows up the best ideas to come from yellow hat discussions and any creative solutions for problems that come from black hat’s discussions. The Red Hat also offers a chance for expressing emotions attached to any options chosen.

So many times we have seen this fascinating team intelligence process solving the problems by uncovering something else.

problem solving at its bestQuick Case Study

For example, a group of recent WYE? participants were asked to identify a ‘shared’ workplace problem and come up with some possible solutions. Here’s how it went:

Problem Identified: A lack of coffee mugs in the communal kitchens.

The participants had many questions for each other which led to the realisation that the initial problem was not the actual problem.

Actual Problem: There is a dishwasher management issue.

Even though this was an issue about the dishes what came out of the ‘intelligent’ team discussions was a very common result when problem-solving this way: The true source of the issue was found, and the original solution (buy more cups) gave way to a better one, and the problem was solved in a much faster time than if only one person (or hat) were charged with the task.


A problem is an inquiry to investigateProblem-solving, and mastering it, doesn’t have to be a big deal in itself. Start small and break down the problem into bite-sized pieces. Start by approaching each of your workplace problems as an inquiry starting from given conditions to investigate”.

Then when you explore, ask open questions, take in other people’s valuable views and input, and see what naturally floats to the top. And remember, it’s okay to collaborate, teams solve problems faster.

Our 7 approaches to smarter problem solving

  1. Give up the fear
  2. Define problems like a mathematician
  3. Problems are a gift
  4. Ask open questions
  5. Try the Six Thinking Hats Method
  6. Start small, break down the problem
  7. Be Team Intelligent™