I have tried throughout my career to be a problem solver. But I have learned that there are many barriers to being a good problem solver. Over the course of those years, I have developed a quick list of stages to tell where you are with one of your problems you are trying to solve.

In general people with problems fall into one of these categories.

1. People who don’t know they even have a problem to solve.

Like AA says admitting you have a problem is the first step. The same is true for solving business problems. If you manage to convince yourself that what you are seeing is not really a problem. then you cannot ever hope to solve it.

To avoid this trap you have to be a little paranoid I guess. Don’t accept the first answer that “this is no big deal” keep digging. Keep watching. It might not be. But make double sure.

2. People Who have a Problem but don’t know what it is.

In this stage, you have figured out that you do have some sort of problem. Maybe sales are declining. Maybe people are leaving. You are experiencing pain, but have no idea why.

In this stage, you may be tempted to jump on an easy answer. Take the first action that pops into your mind.

But to really get out of this phase you have to take the time to really dig in and find the root cause.

Figure out what broke. Where did the sales go? Are people spending less? Moving to a competitor? Really disappointed with your latest product?

You have to understand the “why” first to really understand what your problem is.

3. People Who have a problem, know what it is, but don’t have any ideas on how to fix it.

Most people don’t get stuck here. Usually, if you have a good idea of the problem and what caused it, the ideas on how to fix it will flow naturally.

However if you find yourself out of ideas, something that happens often when trying to fix or recreate bugs on a computer system. The way out of this stage is to always get other peoples eyes on the problem.

Maybe they have seen it before and know the solution already. Maybe explaining again out loud will spur some new ideas in yourself. Maybe they have a part of the answer and you have a part of the answer and only by talking to each other and combining ideas can you really solve the problem all the way.

4. People Who have a problem, know what it is, and know how to fix, and want someone else to do it.

To be transparent, this is my least favorite phase to get stuck in. I hate seeing people get here. You have ALL OF THE ANSWER, you just delegate solving your problem to someone else. “yep, now I just need someone in IT to do X” or “if they would only change X policy my company would be in really good shape again”

This is the ultimate trap. You think you are done, or that you are blocked, or that you don’t have permission.

Let me be clear no one ANYWHERE is sitting around twiddling their thumbs thinking, “man I don’t have enough things on my list, I wish someone else would give me more to do for them”. NOBODY THINKS THAT.

You are the person that cares, you are the person that knows. And the way out of this is to understand you are the person who has to solve it. It is on you.

AND the other people you were planning on waiting for, will be glad that you took it off their plate and did it yourself. You will learn stuff and grow if you venture outside your comfort area.

Exit this stage by taking the initiative, and not accepting no or waiting for someone else.

5. People who solve problems.

This is the best stage. If you can get here you have won this round. You had a problem. You didn’t ignore it or talk yourself out of it. You really dug in to figure out what was really going on, you came up with an answer and a plan. And then most importantly you implemented that plan and made it happen.

You made the world better. Congrats. Now, Let’s do it again tomorrow.

You are a problem solver. And everyone is glad you are.