The graduation season is quickly passing, and new team members will be joining many organizations around the world. Exciting times ahead, as careers develop and opportunities unfold! The community manager at Webucator contacted me about their initiative to engage various people asking them to highlight what they believe is the most marketable skill for a new graduate. I am joining in, and my answer is: Problem Solving.
Why Problem Solving?
No matter your degree. No matter your career. No matter your job. You can be a problem solver. Organizations value people who can solve problems effectively, especially when it is done without a lot of drama. There is a method to solving problems, and it will vary between different people. Different ways can create different solutions. In the end, if a problem is solved well, then the solution worked.
“The highest levels of performance come to people who are centered, intuitive, creative, and reflective – people who know to see a problem as an opportunity.” – Deepak Chopra
Without drama means you worked well with others to produce a solution. Collaborating to solve problems is a trait that strengthens relationships. Strong relationships produce results without drama.
Simply stated, solving problems makes your space in the world better than before.
5 Key Elements of Problem Solving
On to the act of problem solving. Even though there isn’t just one process to solve problems, there are certain elements to consider and develop as you enhance this skill.
1 – Absorb Information.
When problems arise, soaking in a lot of information is as essential as is assessing a situation. Both are intertwined. Context is vital. To gain context, information is necessary. The best information is:
- Tangible – The information has facts, figures, and real value to the problem at hand.
- Focused – Although things can be learned from a broad view or other industries, the information collected and reviewed needs to be relevant to the problem.
The key skill is to take in a lot of relevant information quickly, gaining added intelligence to the situation being confronted.
“It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.” – Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes
2 – Critical Thinking.
Information isn’t all that helpful unless it can be evaluated into relevant, understandable, and actionable steps. Absorbed information needs to be converted into analyzed information. Your work need to be concentrated on evaluating the collected information and developing findings and considerations from it.
“The most serious mistakes are not being made as a result of wrong answers. The truly dangerous thing is asking the wrong questions.” – Peter Drucker
3 – Open to possibilities.
An open mind is a mind open to options. Most importantly, an open mind means you are open to growth. This isn’t about exploring and documenting endless options. Being growth-oriented and open to possibilities means you will look for creative and innovative ways to solve problems.
“I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” – Abraham Maslow
4 – Scenario Thinking.
A key part of putting together options is to think through how the selected options may play through. Being able to connect the dots of how an option may unfold is what scenario thinking will do. Doing this will expose issues with a proposed solution or, if selected, identify areas to carefully watch during implementation. Scenario planning brings a crispness to the solution.
“No problem can stand the assault of sustained thinking.” – Voltaire
5 – Decision Making.
Ultimately, a decision needs to be made. Getting to a decision point is critical. Getting to a decision with a consensus or collaborative effort is also critical. The point is to develop your skills at getting to a decision and then making it.
“Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Most Marketable Skill: Problem Solving
There are no shortage of problems. There is a shortage of reasonable people coming together to solve current and long-term problems. By solving problems, you become a leader of solutions. Be a solution leader.
- If you want to gain more responsibility early and often, then be good at solving problems.
- If you want to grow in your career, then excel at solving problems.
- If you want to gain momentum in the marketplace, then solve customer problems innovatively.
- If you want to make your organization and community better, then solve bigger problems in long-lasting ways.
- If you want to leave at the end of the day feeling good and with a sense of accomplishment, then solve problems productively and collaboratively.
What do you think will be a good marketable skill for new graduates? How will you support others in the development of this skill? Join in!
Join the Conversation
Most Marketable Skill: Problem Solving
Problem-solving is a critical leadership skill and one that most definitely can be learned.
When I present my workshop on Problem-Solving and Decision Making I always spend a great deal of time on defining the problem. Many of us spin our wheels generating solutions that do not address our real issues and concerns.
Taking time to really understand the actual problem can save a lot of time and help create real solutions.
Thanks Jon! Great post!
Excellent point, Terri. We need to get the problem definition right and the framing of the challenge right. By doing this, we can solve the problem in more creative and engaging ways. Thanks for the solid add! Jon
It always surprised me when people I thought were very capable would bring every problem my way to solve. Slowly, over time, they’d learn to not only bring recommendations but to implement them and bring me the roadblocks. Problem solving is key to success but still many very capable professionals look up the chain of command instead of empowering themselves to figure it out. Great breakdown here of what it takes.
Great insights, Alli. Problem solving and ownership are skills we need to continue to embrace and use throughout our career. We all have the capability; we just need to tap into our problem solving mindset and bring solutions forward! Thanks. Jon
Yes! Leaders are problem solvers, and teach and inspire others to solve problems and take new approaches. Excellent post.
Brilliant post Jon!
This post actually ties in beautifully with the one Alli Polin recently published on Leadership and Perceptions – Quality versus Quantity. I left a comment of an example from nursing in health care that can also be used in your post. I won’t repeat the story so here’s the link to her post so you can read my comment:
I love how you began with Be a Problem Solver and quote by Colin Powell. For some reason, it seems there is this misconception that if a problem exists, this is ‘bad’ and we need to avoid problems at all costs. The reality is that no matter where we work and what is going on, life consists of many problems that need to be solved each and every day. It’s unavoidable!
“The problem is not that there are problems. The problem is expecting otherwise and thinking that having problems is a problem.” ~Theodore Rubin
Healthcare is a prime example of this quote. It’s entirely based on identifying and solving problems for patients in order to save their lives, improve their heath, and improve their overall quality of life. To have a problem in healthcare is…well…it’s expected! That’s what brings a person into the healthcare system so healthcare providers aren’t fighting the facts (generally speaking) that they exist to find solutions and SOLVE PROBLEMS.
In the example I provided, there were a few critical communications issues that created the bigger problem of unsafe nursing practices that ultimately put the residents (patients) and the facility at risk. It was first on the part of administration. They were not matching the acuity level of new residents needs to staffing needs. They were placing residents with higher levels of acuity that requires more time to perform more difficult procedures, more meds, and more time to deliver and not increasing staff numbers to compensate for it.
The 2nd part of the problem was on the part of the nursing staff. As a licensed healthcare professional, we are trained (meaning..it’s DRILLED into us) that it is up to us to protect our OWN nursing licenses by making sure we do several things: i.e. not working beyond scope of practice (in healthcare this is critical. If you are a nurse, you can’t perform the duties of a doctor unless you have a training, license, certification to do so….the same with caregivers…they can’t pass narcotics to the patients…a licensed nurse must perform this duty)
At any time a nurse feels that he or she cannot perform her duties safely or asked to do anything that would compromise their own license legally and/or puts the health and welfare of patients at risk in any way. It is the nurses DUTY to communicate through proper channels and ADDRESS the issue PROMPTLY.
Had the regular nursing staff spoke up as soon as they knew they could not adequately perform ALL assigned duties for each resident on shift within required time periods, it was supposed to be reported so acuity levels could be reassessed and staff numbers increased to accommodate.
Now this brings up your point about drama. One of the biggest factors that contribute to unnecessary drama is avoidance. Failing to communicate facts and needs. Avoidance turns molehill problems into giant mountains that become much more challenging to solve the more time things are left unresolved.
In this particular case, it resulted in the termination of a nurses employment. Fortunately, none of the residents (patients) died due to negligence or because some weren’t given their prescribed meds, etc.
Loved your list! Thanks for sharing Jon.
Thanks for sharing your experiences, Samantha. Very valuable! Your comment here and on Alli’s blog are very relevant. You’re right. Part of the drama can be avoiding problems all together. This is a good approach at all and provides an opportunity for someone to step up and address it. Doing this will produce many great lessons and leave the situation in better shape than before. This is more than a skill; it is a responsibility!
Your insights and experiences are appreciated as it brings the conversation to a new level of reality and insights. Thank you! Jon
Change it up. Problem solving is laden with negativity and lack of creativity. The capacity to identifying strengths and ‘what works’ -then generating solutions lends to creative thinking and new ideas. That is a marketable skill that relatively few possess.
Thank you, Cheryl, for your added insights. Creative thinking is an important skill, intertwined through many other skills. I believe the same would be true for problem solving. There are big and smaller problems, and creativity, collaboration, and much more need to be brought into the process. Grateful for the conversation! Jon