Thursday, 7 April 2011

Training Problem Solving Ability

The ability to solve problems is highly prized. As Jose Silva used to reason,"If IQ is a measure of how effectively we solve problems, then by increasing our abilities to solve problems, we raise our IQ."

Ironically, training problem solving abilities is not a complex process. It is in fact rather simple: Use your problem-solving abilities on a regular basis. Give it a good workout.

So, the question is: How?

I recommend Winsight article 55:

That describes the windtunnel process, which is a process whereby a person is given a question or problem and probed to provide nonstop solutions to it for 11 minutes or even more. This is done by torrential talking, but I suspect it can be done by writing as well, though that would be much slower and require more time.

The idea is that we all have the solutions to our problems within us, which is a Socratic proposition. By asking the right questions, and by probing our minds beyond the scope of our usual thought processes, we can discover new solutions. Over time, doing this also expands our natural ability to process problems quickly.

The key is continue to drain out our normal range of responses to a problem as quickly as possible, hence the "torrential" solutions to the problem that we are required to push out of our minds. The out-loud description serves as further behavioural reinforcement.

Here are some hints for facilitating the process:

1. Maintain a sense of curiosity about what solutions might arise from your own mind throughout.
2. Keep talking even if you think it does not make sense - do not edit.
3. If you find that you have a lot to say about a subject, then extend the length of time you are required to talk. There should be pressure on you to grasp for more than your usual capacity.

Negotiating Positions

Source/copyright: Wikimedia

Negotiating a contract or even in daily business interactions, we often run into problems because of a lack of clarity and integrity within ourselves. When we face others, there is a discomfort in expressing certain things. What these "certain things" are will of course vary from person to person. However, the sources of this discomfort tend to be the same:

1.) Fear of rejection/disapproval/judgment. "What will they think of me?"
2.) Fear for survival. "What if I lose my job?"
3.) Fear of loss of control. "What will happen if I lose their support?"

To start with, the important thing is coming to a point of clarity within ourselves about who we are and who we choose to be. Of course, this is a work in progress, and perfect congruence is always tricky. Nonetheless, some forethought about who we want to be within a certain environment such as work or play will go far in helping us avoid these situations.

The following questions need to be considered:

- Who am I in this context?
- Who do I want to be perceived as?
- What are my values relative to this situation and how do they impact my actions?
- How should I act in order to be in line with this image?
- Are these actions in integrity with who I really am?

Clearly, there is a lot of depth in terms of how much we want to flesh this out. It is impacted by culture and mental conditioning.

When we have the identity established, then we have the basis for negotation. It determines what we negotiate and how we negotiate.

Negotiation tactics are usually fairly straightforward. I recommend a simple question: "Which is the line I can hold?"

This question is more profound than it seems. It basically introduces the concept of boundaries into a relationship. Being able to define boundaries verbally and in writing in a polite and non-confrontational manner is the main skill which is going to drive negotiations forward. Without those boundaries, the probability of resentment, dissatisfaction and conflict increase exponentially, because one of the parties feels cheated or taken advantage of. Thus, drawing boundaries is not just for ourselves, but also for the benefit of others.

There are many ways to express these boundaries and colouring them.


Opening/setting the stage

"Thank you for agreeing to spend time with me. I want this meeting to be of benefit to both of us and hope you feel the same way." (This looks like an ordinary opening, but it establishes your position to the other party as an equal and is extremely useful for balancing an apparent inequality of position and gaining respect. It also sets a cordial but businesslike boundary.)

Requesting clarification/responding to a challenge

"Help me understand what you mean when you say..." (This looks innocuous, but it is a very effective method of neutralising a combative situation. Back in my boarding school days, one of my fellow House Captains had a very straightforward way of dealing with those who challenged his authority or talked back to him. He would look them in the eye perfectly calmly and say,"What are you trying to say?" I haven't seen that line fail yet.)

Calling in an external force/buying time

"I appreciate your honesty and feedback. I need to confer with ... before I come to a commitment that I can make with integrity. Will it be all right to get back to you by ...?" (This line should be used with integrity. You may beat a strategic retreat, but do it with dignity. You can also say that something needs to happen before you have enough information. Again, honesty is crucial here, and I do not recommend manipulation, but that is a reflection of my own values.)

Straightforward boundary drawing

"I hear what you are saying and I am taking it into consideration. I still don't feel fully comfortable with it somehow and would like to get back to you on whether it is a yes or no." (Again, it buys time. Eventually, however, you need to get back. If it is a "yes", in most cases it is not a problem. "No" is trickier. See next line.)

"Thank you for being patient with me. It appears that this is not a fit for where I am going at the moment. However, I want to thank you for your time and input in helping me reach this level of clarity." (Do it strongly but respectfully.)

Of course, there are many ways to do it. Everyone will have their own way of doing it. However, these are some basic tools.