Here are strategies you can use to see problems from many different perspectives and master what is the most important step in problem solving: clearly defining the problem in the first place!
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How to Solve a Problem as Would Einstein

Einstein is quoted as having said that if he had one hour to save the world he would spend fifty-five minutes defining the problem and only five minutes finding the solution. This quote does illustrate an important point: before jumping right into solving a problem, we should step back and invest time and effort to improve our understanding of it. Here are strategies you can use to see problems from many different perspectives and master what is the most important step in problem solving: clearly defining the problem in the first place!

Albert Einstein

1. Rephrase the Problem. When a Toyota executive asked employees to brainstorm "ways to increase their productivity", all he got back were blank stares. When he rephrased his request as "ways to make their jobs easier", he could barely keep up with the amount of suggestions. Words carry strong implicit meaning and, as such, play a major role in how we perceive a problem.

In the example above, "be productive" might seem like a sacrifice you’re doing for the company, while "make your job easier" may be more like something you’re doing for your own benefit, but from which the company also benefits. In the end, the problem is still the same, but the feelings — and the points of view — associated with each of them are vastly different.

• Play freely with the problem statement, rewording it several times. For a methodical approach, take single words and substitute variations.

• "Increase sales"? Try replacing "increase" with "attract", "develop", "extend", "repeat" and see how your perception of the problem changes. A rich vocabulary plays an important role here, so you may want to use a thesaurus or develop your vocabulary.

2. Expose and Challenge Assumptions. Every problem - no matter how apparently simple it may be - comes with a long list of assumptions attached. Many of these assumptions may be inaccurate and could make your problem statement inadequate or even misguided.

• The first step to get rid of bad assumptions is to make them explicit. Write a list and expose as many assumptions as you can - especially those that may seem the most obvious and "untouchable". That, in itself, brings more clarity to the problem at hand. Essentially, you need to learn how to think like a philosopher.

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