Free your mind

I mentioned in a previous post that your best is normally good enough to handle most situations you encounter.

In a different post, I stated that the way in which we handle and present problems to our superiors is rife with opportunity, and a little peril.

I provided a basic 1.0.1 framework to help you start thinking about a problem, and I mentioned that agile thinkers who apply aptitude, energy, attitude and experience to solution-finding are most likely to be successful.

But what happens, in practical terms, when the problem is so far outside your experience that your aptitude, attitude and energy won't carry the day?

Here are some devices I have used in the past - let me know how they work for you, or, if you have further methods not discussed here, please share them!

1) Write the problem down, and prepare to present it to your boss. Often, the act of writing it down puts you into a frame of mind where the solution presents itself as you write. If not, at least you have made the problem easier to share.

2) Sometimes you don't have time to write. A professor in MIT famously used a teddy bear in his undergraduate lab. If a student had a question for the professor, he or she had to tell it to the bear first. This had 2 advantages - it encouraged students to frame their questions accurately, and, often, as they told the bear the problem, they suddenly saw the resolution in what they already knew.

3) If the preceding steps have not revealed a resolution, pretend to be someone else. Choose some of the most powerful individuals you know, and imagine that the problem was theirs. What approach might they take that you wouldn't? What would happen if you took that approach?

4) If you have difficulty pretending to be someone else, a slightly more pragmatic approach is to list all of the blockers that you are aware of, and to pretend that each one, in turn, does not exist. How does this advance your thinking? 

5) Collect a bunch of people (these could include externals) together who have skills within the problem domain. Depending on how thorny the issue is, consider bringing them together for one or more "blast days", where you all concentrate your collective energy on blasting through the blockers.

If you do all of the above, but it does not work, you should be in a position to explain the issue to your superiors in an actionable way.  They can then apply their skills and experience to resolve the problem with you.