Problem Solving: Do You Understand the Relativity of the Problem?
Albert Einstein was once asked how he went about solving his problems. He replied, “If I had only one hour, I’d spend the first 50 minutes defining the problem and the last 10 minutes solving it.” I don’t know if this story is true or not, because I have heard the same story about a lumberjack, who, when asked how he would go about felling a tree in one hour reply, “I’d spend the first 50 minutes sharpening my ax and the last 10 minutes felling the tree.” The point of these stories is that the key to solving any problem is to accurately define the problem.
In your practice, you will have many opportunities to solve problems. The key factor in properly solving problems is to precisely define the problem in the first place. You don’t want to waste your time solving the wrong problem. You need to determine if your practice problem is a procedural, staffing, relationship, perceptional, attitudinal, or something entirely different. You also need to determine if the problem is acute or chronic, the severity of the problem, and if it is a narrowly focused problem or a systemic one. Determining the type and size of the problem will help in you to put the problem into perspective.
The problem with problems is that they are problems and not “issues”. Problems need to be resolved and not just discussed. You must take action to solve a problem. Often, just taking a step back to gain perspective on your practice problems will help you to find realistic solutions to your problems.
Keep in mind that even after you have accurately defined the problem, your solutions will often be based on prior experiences or knowledge. When you are struggling to find a solution to a problem, careful analysis will often reveal a lot of moving pieces to the problem. You may need to take an entirely different approach to solve the problem then your first attempt to solve the problem.
When searching for a solution to a problem, make sure that you are focusing on the cause of the problem, not just the symptoms of the problem. Just as any good doctor looks to determine the cause of the pain, which is a symptom, and doesn’t just treat the symptom, which is pain. Problem resolution requires that you determine and solve the cause of the problem. For example, if you continue to have a high staff turnover, even though you know that your compensation and benefit package is competitive with your peers, you may think that increasing your staff’s compensation will solve the problem. When it doesn’t reduce your staff turnover, increasing the wages you pay won’t solve the problem, because you haven’t found the cause of the high turnover. Perhaps your staff is looking for more approval from you. Are you stingy with praised for a job well done? Maybe you are so focused on money, or the lack there of, that your staff is concerned that your clinic will not survive; so they are constantly looking for a more secure position elsewhere. The point is, not determining the cause of the problem, will not enable you find a solution to solve the problem.
You want to become proactive in problem solving and not be forced into a constant mode of reacting to problems. The reactive problem solver is constantly in a panic mode, applying short term fixes to ongoing problems. This band-aid approach to problem solving will become detrimental in the long run. The proactive problem solver is constantly keeping one eye open for potential problems and tries to nip them in the bud. Asking questions about potential problems, looking at situations from varying perspectives, gathering data, looking for patterns, and taking responsibility for the overall operation of your practice or clinic will help you to avoid many problems by handling situations as the arise.
Finally, realize that some problems cannot be solved, they can only be mitigated. Sometime you just have to manage the problem, admit that it a dilemma, and move on. Don’t waste your valuable time trying to solve a problem beyond your control. Control what you can, and accept that which is beyond your control.
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