Sometimes when we’re faced with problems at work it can feel like we’re lost in the woods and unsure of where to start. In this post we’ll look at a simple system to solve almost any problem you face in your daily life.
After you gain a bit of experience, like I have, you see patterns in the world and in the problems you encounter at work and in other areas of your life. Here’s a straightforward approach that I use, and you may laugh at how simple it is. It strips down and organizes all of the possible problems and solutions into four scenarios that I call the Problem-Solution Matrix (see header graphic).
It strips down and organizes all of the possible problems and solutions into four scenarios.
To visualize we’ll use a 2×2 matrix, with SOLUTIONS on the Y-axis and PROBLEMS on the X-axis. Let’s look at each of the four quadrants:
In Quadrant 3, we have an OLD problem that can be solved using an OLD solution.
An example of this is when a company launches a new product and they need to quickly build awareness of brand X and its benefits. Brand awareness is an old problem and can be solved using a number of old solutions such as sales calls or advertising.
In Quadrant 2, we have an OLD problem that must be solved using a NEW solution.
An example of this is similar to the brand awareness problem we just discussed. Except in this case, the marketing team for Brand Y didn’t have a budget to hire a sales force or buy traditional media for advertising, so they needed to come up with a new solution to their old problem. They decided to try social media, posting videos that they made in house.
Remember that a new solution doesn’t need to be new-to-the-world.
Remember that a new solution doesn’t need to be new-to-the-world—maybe it’s just new to you, your team, your company or your industry. In fact, many “new” solutions are just borrowed or transferred from somewhere else, sometimes called lateral thinking.
In Quadrant 4, we have a NEW problem that can be solved using an OLD solution.
It’s important that a new problem is clearly articulated and validated. An example of this is entire populations of people needing to cover their noses and mouths to avoid spreading a new virus. Fortunately, there are several old solutions to this new problem—surgical masks, respirators, and even silk scarves.
Finally, in Quadrant 1, we have a NEW problem that must be solved using a NEW solution.
This is the most difficult scenario because we need to first articulate and validate the problem, then ensure that the known or old solutions won’t work, and finally borrow or generate new solutions that might work. An example of this is the original iPhone, a new solution that solved a new problem people didn’t even know they had!
This system speeds your decision making.
While this approach may not magically give you the right answer every time, it helps you quickly narrow your options, points you in the right direction, and speeds your decision making.
Now it’s your turn. Please send me an email with the tips and tricks you use to solve problems and we may include them in a future post.
Watch the Navigating the Problem-Solution Matrix video.
Author & Graphic: Joe Shields