Sunday, June 17, 2018
Business

How to be a problem solver at work

Most days, real estate agents storm into Ron Shuffield's office with problems. They might have a closing that's about to blow apart or a commission in dispute. They lay out all the obstacles and argue that there is no possible resolution.

"I tell them to stop, listen a little longer, learn all the pieces and focus on a solution," said Shuffield, CEO of Esslinger-Wooten-Maxwell Realtors.

With the recession and cutbacks, it has become easy to be a workplace whiner or someone who points out roadblocks. What's more difficult is being the person who calmly puts on his or her problem-solving cap and bring ideas and solutions.

"Companies are dying to have people play these roles," said Dwayne Spradlin, CEO of InnoCentive, a Massachusetts crowd-sourcing company that helps businesses identify problems and connects them to solvers all over the world.

Being viewed as a problem solver can put a career on the fast track and can even lead to better work-life balance. Problem-solving ability ranks high as a desirable trait for job candidates, and it should become even more in demand from all level of employees. "It's a key skill workers of the future will need to tackle the technology and global changes that lie ahead," said Sayed Sadjady, talent management and organizational design leader with PwC's advisory practice in New York City.

With a little effort and some know-how, you can become a problem solver.

Here's how:

Define the problem. Before jumping in with a quick and easy solution, become better at asking the right questions so that you tackle the right problems, Spradlin said. Recently, a manufacturer hired Spradlin's InnoCentive to help find the right lubricant that would work for its machinery. But by asking questions, he learned that rather than finding a new lubricant, the company actually needed a new way to make its product. "It takes asking lots of question and brutal introspection to understand what the real problem is and why it hasn't been resolved," Spradlin said. "A better-defined problem is already closer to a solution."

Think bigger. Craig Robins, a Miami real estate developer, has built projects that have been on the forefront of neighborhood turnarounds. As a pioneer in redevelopment, Robins has encountered all kinds of difficult situations. But he has become a problem solver by "getting out of the box and not being consumed by conventional thinking or process." Robins now has an ambitious plan to turn Miami's urban Design District into a super-high-end retail destination. He has partnered with a Paris investment fund that owns high-end brands to make it happen.

"Usually, innovative solutions involve collaboration," Robins said. Most important, though: "It takes looking at things differently and perseverance to come up with a solution that's better than what's currently contemplated."

Examine a failure. When faced with a challenge, be the person who does his or her homework. Learn the history of problem-solving efforts and what went wrong with already-attempted solutions. Shuffield encourages real estate agents to come to the negotiating table prepared for possible problems to crop up and with research on previous solutions that have been successful. By doing that, he said, you can enter a situation with a problem-solving mind-set. "You are prepared to take charge of the situation. People want to do business with you."

Practice makes perfect. Get into the habit of always bringing at least one solution idea for every problem you identify. Experts say a problem solver practices this skill on and off the clock. It often starts with deconstructing the challenge, creating a road map of the steps needed to get the desired result and brainstorming for ways to remove each roadblock. Lisa Palley, publicist for the Miami Book Fair International, says she was taught problem-solving at a young age and practices it regularly as she tries to arrange media interviews for overscheduled book authors: "I was taught not to get hysterical or respond immediately, but to step back, deconstruct the problem, spend time with it and the answer will come to me."

Use your subconscious. C. James Jensen, author of Beyond the Power of Your Subconscious Mind, said people become problem solvers when they learn to walk away from a difficult situation rather than "worry a problem to death." Rather than getting frustrated and giving up, "tell yourself, 'I can solve the problem; I just need time away from it,' " Jensen said. Then, get your conscious mind busy elsewhere with leisure and relaxation. Almost always, he says, a solution will come to you.

Resist starting from scratch. Sadjady of PwC says technology and the Web make it easier to research, connect with others, and learn what solutions others are using to tackle similar problems. Then creatively apply it to your situation or build on it. "It's going to become more important to find interesting solutions without reinventing the wheel," Sadjady said. "There's a lot of knowledge out there beyond your organization's borders."

Consider a team approach. In big, global companies, expect to see more reliance on team-based problem solving to stay innovative. "A lot of issues in business need to be addressed and managed by groups," Sadjady said. In those scenarios, a problem solver also has to be a good collaborator and willing to share the risks and rewards, he says.

Going forward, Spradlin suggests we will see even more job descriptions entirely focused on problem solving with titles such as strategists, innovators and special project team leaders. But he asserts anyone can learn to adopt a problem-solving mind-set: "It takes an individual that says, 'Here is the problem. We have options. Let me run with them and create a path forward.' All that takes is courage, clear thinking and relationship-management skills."

Comments
Your barista is a robot. Should it be friendly?

Your barista is a robot. Should it be friendly?

SAN FRANCISCO - The cold, steely arm of Fernando the Barista swirled the foam of my matcha latte, set it down gently, and waved goodbye from inside a glass case. San Francisco, 2018. Where you can get robot pizza and robot salad, and now, a robot mat...
Published: 06/16/18
Extending Albert Whitted’s runway could help Innovation District take off

Extending Albert Whitted’s runway could help Innovation District take off

ST. PETERSBURG — Albert Whitted Airport wants to extend its main runway. But what would benefit the airport could also benefit the St. Pete Innovation District.Moving the runway would ease building restrictions around the airport, allowing the Univer...
Published: 06/15/18
Updated: 06/16/18
Florida’s unemployment rate drops to 3.8 percent

Florida’s unemployment rate drops to 3.8 percent

Just when it seemed like Florida’s unemployment rate couldn’t get lower, it did. According to the state figures out Friday, Florida’s jobless rate dipped to a near 18-year low of 3.8 percent in May after holding steady at 3.9 percen...
Published: 06/15/18
St. Petersburg home becomes finalist in HGTV contest

St. Petersburg home becomes finalist in HGTV contest

ST. PETERSBURG — A house in St. Petersburg’s Old Northeast is a finalist in HGTV’s Ultimate House Hunt contest. Built in 2007 in the Mission Revival style, the 4,000-square-foot home a block from Coffee Pot Bayou is among 12 nationwide in the "curb a...
Published: 06/15/18
Florida’s first not-for-profit coding school is opening in St. Petersburg

Florida’s first not-for-profit coding school is opening in St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG — Filling in a hole that was left by The Iron Yard’s exodus last year, a new computer coding school will open its doors to its first class in downtown St. Petersburg on July 23.The Academy at Suncoast Developers Guild will operate thro...
Published: 06/15/18
Tampa-based Robbins Property Associates pays $43-million for Boynton Beach apartment community

Tampa-based Robbins Property Associates pays $43-million for Boynton Beach apartment community

Tampa-based Robbins Property Associates, has bought Aventine at Boyton Beach, a 216-unit apartment community, for $43 million.Aventine, garden-style apartments that are 95 percent occupied, will be renovated and renamed "Verona at Boynton Beach."It i...
Published: 06/15/18
Florida craft beer guild: Big Beer is pushing us out of Publix

Florida craft beer guild: Big Beer is pushing us out of Publix

The national battle between Big Beer and local craft breweries is playing out on the shelves of your neighborhood Publix — and some favorite Florida brewmakers are losing.The guild that represents Florida brewers says at least 12 small breweries have...
Published: 06/15/18
Accused of racial profiling, Lowe’s ends policy of checking customer receipts as they leave

Accused of racial profiling, Lowe’s ends policy of checking customer receipts as they leave

Memorial Day weekend was supposed to bring three productive days of home improvement for Will Mega, a dean at a North Philadelphia charter school.He’d go to two Lowe’s locations near his home in Philadelphia’s Wynnefield neighborhood for a grill and ...
Published: 06/15/18
McDonald’s to test alternatives to plastic straws in U.S.

McDonald’s to test alternatives to plastic straws in U.S.

NEW YORK — McDonald’s said Friday it will switch to paper straws at all its locations in the United Kingdom and Ireland, and test an alternative to plastic ones in some of its U.S. restaurants later this year.The burger chain and other fast-food comp...
Published: 06/15/18
Strange brew? Tampa Bay group hopes to grow hops and medical marijuana in the same spot

Strange brew? Tampa Bay group hopes to grow hops and medical marijuana in the same spot

ST. PETERSBURG --- Among topics that stir passionate interest, two that rank high are medical marijuana and craft beers.A group of Tampa Bay entrepreneurs has ambitious plans to profit from both.They are leasing a vast warehouse space in St. Petersbu...
Published: 06/15/18