Feeling Stuck When Solving a Complex Problem?


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When we are working on a complex problem and are stuck, one the best ways to find inspiration to unstuck ourselves is to move away from our regular environment where we got stuck to a different novel environment.

Here is a great post from IDEO university that talks about an activity that could help us find inspiration outside our context – https://www.ideou.com/blogs/inspiration/an-activity-to-help-you-find-inspiration-outside-your-context.

The post talks about a three-step process:

Step 1: Start with Emotions

Step 2: Identify Analogous Experiences

Step 3: Reflect and Connect

This is one way to find inspiration. We could also find inspiration to solve a complex problem when we are stuck by

Strength of Constraints:

Creating artificial boundaries or constraints. When done well, constraints help us restrict our thinking to a very small and specific area which helps us make choices and avoid overwhelm, which is typically the reason why we feel stuck in the first place. When done wrong, constraints increase our overwhelm and make us feel even more stuck than when we started.

This is where the role of a good coach or a facilitator is so crucial. One doesn’t need to hire an external coach or a facilitator but someone on the team needs to play the role of a coach or a facilitator. This could be the manager/leader or someone who has been trained in the process of facilitation and coaching.

Convergent and Divergent Thinking:

We usually think in one of the following ways – Convergent or divergent.

Convergent thinking is when we are choosing between options, drilling down for information and delving deep into the root of a problem.

Divergent thinking is when we are creating new options, we are looking at a wide variety of topics and trying to relate each one of those to the topic that we are working on, etc.

One way to get unstuck is to realise which form of thinking were we doing when we got stuck and try the other form of thinking. When we get stuck while engaging in convergent thinking, try divergent thinking and vice versa. I have seen this work really well for me and for the teams that I have facilitated with.

The Power of Randomness:

One other technique that I have seen work really well is the power of randomness. You pick something completely random and see if you can relate it to the problem that you are trying to solve. If you can, keep going to explore if you are able to find a creative solution to your satisfaction. If not, pick something else at random and continue the exercise. You will be surprised to see the kind of creativity that this unleashes and how quickly you will get unstuck and get a move on.

The Power of a Break:

This is such a simple thing to do but is so powerful. This gives your sub-conscious mind time to process all the information that it has available without being forced to come to a conclusion or an idea. This works really best when combined with any of the above techniques. So, when you feel stuck, it is best to take a break and post that use any of the above techniques to really find a creative solution to the problem that you are attempting to solve.

In Conclusion:

These are just a few ways that I have seen people (including myself) get unstuck while trying to solve a complex problem. There are many different ways that we can approach this. It doesn’t matter what technique you use, the most important thing to do in this situation is to remember and know that continuing to do what you were doing when you got stuck, will not help you get unstuck. You need to try something different.

Do share with us if you have found some technique or tip that has worked really well for you, when you were feeling stuck. We could learn from each other here.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Mukesh Gupta
I currently work for SAP as Customer advocate. In this capacity, I am responsible to ensure that the voice of the customer is being heard and play the bridge between customers and SAP. Prior to joining SAP, I have worked with different organizations serving in different functions like customer service, logistics, production planning & sales, marketing and business development functions. I was also the founder-CEO of a start-up called "Innovative Enterprises". The venture was in the retail & distribution business. I blog at http://rmukeshgupta.com.


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