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What do you do when nothing is working? – Problem solving

Posted Jan 16 2013 5:00am

When the old solutions do not work – then what?

Looking for solutions Solving problems is a high priority item for business. Those companies that get good at this survive, companies who keep trying the same thing over and over even when it does not work eventually fail. Unfortunately government has the luxury of repeating solutions that do not work.

How about you? When your best effort to solve your problem has not worked what things might you try?

It surprises many of us that there is a relatively simple standardized process for solving problems. This procedure is not a onetime find a solution but a continuous feedback loop that works for companies, governments and dare I say families and individuals.

1. Gather information

What exactly is the problem? Are there other ways of looking at this? If you define the problem as someone else’s behavior you are at an impasse. If you define the problem as your response to their behavior then lots more options open up to you

2. Whenever possible get outside expert advice

Look for the person that might have the most information and the best insight into your problem. If it is a money problem consider advice from a financial adviser or tax person. For mental health problems or relationships consider at least one visit with a counselor or therapist to see how they might be able to help you.

For a family problem try to get information and insight from other members of the family. This does not mean that you need to agree with them or do what they tell you but it is beneficial if you can get their insight. Asking them and then really listening to their opinion is a long way from what most of us do, which is ask and then argue with them. That old Yes but, and No but, game will kill the value of any advice you might receive.

3. Generate a list of possible solution

Akin to brainstorming the goal of this process is to get a list of all possible solutions. They do not have to be realistic solutions. The wilder the better. It is a lot easier to take a wild suggestion and tame it down then to take a timid suggestion and breathe life into it.

4. Evaluate that list.

Combine ideas where possible, modify the outlandish ones to make them practical or find ways to make the more creative ones work. The ones that will not work do they suggest an alternative that might work?

Which potential solution has the best chance of success?

5. Implement this solution

This requires a plan for implementing the solution. Who will do what when? How will we know if the solution has been implemented? 

Give it a fair trial. Decide at the outset how long you will give this solution. How will you know if it is working? Just saying you will do it and then, “there, we did it” are not enough. How will you genuinely know if the things you did improved the situation?

Make sure you actually do the work required.

6. Evaluate your progress

Has our efforts to change things made a difference? Has there been enough change to justify your efforts? Do we really think that if you keep on in this direction things will get better? Should you change and try idea number two?

7. Continue to modify the things you are doing based on the evaluation and improvement until you can see a significant improvement in the problem.

So a brief practical example of this approach. The family finds that they are behind on the bills the credit card is maxed out and the cell phones and cable are about to be turned off. After a lot of arguing and yelling they decide to sit down and talk this over.

Some ideas are developed. They consider bankruptcy. Mom suggests she could get a job, dad could get a part-time job or they could try cutting the bills. The kids scream they will just die if they don’t have phones.

The decision for now is that they will make up a list of how much they are spending, on what and look for things they can change.

They talk to a bookkeeper and the helpful man at the credit union. They make up that list of bills and payments and see just what dad is making every week. On paper it just does not add up. Bankruptcy will not work, it would cost some money and even after they file, dad will still not be making enough to pay all the currently monthly bills.

Dad could get some overtime. Mom offers to look for a job. They try this solution.

A month later things are not much better. Dad has not been getting that much overtime. Mom has not found work and the cable and cell phones, they are now turned off. Additionally mom has had to pay for babysitting for the little one so she can look for work.

The revised solution? One of the older ones will watch the little one, saving the baby’s sitting money. Mom will try an employment service at the college where she was taking a night class and dad offers to give up his Saturday golf game until they are back on track. The oldest asks that when mom gets a job could she have first chance for a phone since she is doing the baby sitting.

Each moth as they go along they find the things they can’t pay for, well they are getting by without them so they can come off the budget. Mom begins to work and eventually things stabilize.

Here comes the critical part. They can now revert to their old pattern of spending more than they have until they get in trouble again or they can adopt some new habits and start paying that credit card debt off and having something left over. It will be interesting to see what they do.

Now I gave you an example of a financial problem but this problem solving approach can be used for most any problem including relational ones. It just needs some adjusting to make it work on some problems.

So have you used this method or something like it to solve problems? Care to share what worked and what didn’t?

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia    

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page . For information about my other writing work beyond this blog there is also a Facebook authors page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com


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