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Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The Problem Solver

Figaro! Figaro! Figaro!, ecc.
Ahimè, che furia!
Ahimè, che folla!
Uno alla volta, per carità!
Ehi, Figaro! Son qua.
Figaro qua, Figaro là,
Figaro su, Figaro giù.

     That’s Figaro, the hero of Rossini’s comic opera, “The Barber of Seville,” telling the audience – in Italian – how people are always after him.
     The translation:

Figaro! Figaro! Figaro!, etc.
Dear me, what frenzy!
Dear me, what a crowd!
One at a time, for pity's sake!
Hey, Figaro! I'm here.
Figaro here, Figaro there,
Figaro up, Figaro down.

     What’s the big attraction?

     Well, Figaro is Mr. Fixit, the problem solver, the go-to person. All the townspeople know that the clever barber can figure out a solution to whatever is bugging them. And, as we know from our own experience, problem solvers are very popular.
     That is because there aren’t an awful lot of them. And when we get one to help us, we don’t have to go through all the hassle of dealing with a bad situation alone. Hey, maybe the solver can just plain make it disappear!

     How do they do it? How can we be like that?
     A few people seem born to the role. The rest of us wrestle with our adversities, sometimes finding eventual success, sometimes just giving up.
     At worst, we might get trapped in the problem – fixated on the discomfort of our maladjustments. Just endlessly repeating, in mind and imagination, those words or that mistake or whatever.
     Or we can take responsibility for engaging our problems – teaching ourselves to be managers of our own attitudes, more effective at problem solving.
     And that, problem solving, is one of the two main roles of any management.
     The first role is process management – setting up people and assets to effectively produce desired results. That role devolves into relationships, networks and activities, as complex and detailed as needed and desired.
     Problem solving, the following role, is devoted to repairing the processes when they don’t work.
     Most of the time, the roles are not neatly joined. When something stops working, the originator/designer/builder/manufacturer often (usually?) is far away and/or long gone.

     So we don’t get to examine the blueprint. And, when we aren’t thinking effectively, we can wind up entangled uselessly in the symptoms, never getting close to the cause.
     The first step, then, is to find that cause. Why isn’t this thing doing what it’s supposed to do?
     If the problem solver is unusually brilliant, finding out doesn’t have to be difficult.
     The book “Genius” offers an anecdote about Richard Feynman, who in 1999 was listed by his peers worldwide as one of the 10 greatest physicists of all time.
     In the story, a radio wasn’t working. Feynman stood next to it, thinking. Then he opened up the device and switched two vacuum tubes, Bingo! Problem solved.
     We nongeniuses have to work a little harder at it.
     Situation: Something isn’t working the way it’s supposed to.
     My assignment: Fix it.
     This business of determining the cause isn’t at all simple for most of us. Our customary behavior is to pull the most promising antidote from memory and slap it on. When that doesn’t work (it won’t), we grab another one.

     That reactive approach is quick and easy, which is why we do it. We hope, against the evidence of our own experience, that this will make the undesired thing go away.
     When we run out of prefabricated measures, we’re likely to do what we should have done at the beginning. A blunt contractor from New Hampshire once told me: “When all else fails, read the instructions.”
     When we don’t have the instructions, we should seek answers rather than try to invent them.
     The best problem solvers I have known first ask questions to advance their understanding of the situation. They assume nothing. Then they go looking for the sources of solutions – people, manuals, phone banks, the Internet.
     The search may not provide the answer, but it rarely provides nothing. So, if partial information, and/or a few possibilities, are in hand, the problem solver follows a disciplined trial-and-error process:
     Try something that shows promise, not enough to solve the problem, but capable of revealing potential without excessive risk. The result is evaluated, and the approach is either abandoned or added to a growing body of useful information.

     The people who succeed at this noble occupation of problem solving exhibit certain characteristics: awareness, patience, openmindedness and persistence. They expect success, no matter how hopeless the matter may appear to be.
     They also, unlike most of us, cannot walk by a problem and pretend it isn’t there. They are alert to some little disturbance of routine that warns of an oncoming problem.      These special people pause, turn and face whatever it is, and engage it.
     The problem solver.
     When did Figaro ever have time to cut hair?

SEE ALSO: Creativity on Demand



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