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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Problem-Solvers - The world's most attractive employers and what they want

In my previous article, The world's most attractive employers and what they look for in our kids, I listed the competencies that the top 10 companies require from new graduate job seekers.  High on the list and present in almost every company was Problem-Solver.

Your child does not need to be a genius to be a good problem-solver.  Problem-solving can be a process.  There are countless interview questions designed to assess our children's problem-solving skills.  Ultimately, they all look for one thing.  I often hear an interviewer explain that they are not looking for a "right" answer.  In most cases, the facts are irrelevant.  What the interview wants to know is whether our daughters and sons have a method or analytical approach to problem solving and can be creative about it. Preparing our children with a methodology should take care of this question easily enough.  Actually, many college students can and do learn about this in their senior year and fake it in the interview with a reasonable hope of successfully fooling the interviewer.   But there is another aspect of problem solving beyond the hypothetical world of "what if" questions like, "What if you had to move the great pyramid from Egypt to Arkansas, how would you do it?"  Questions like this look for methodology, however a question such as, "Give me an example of your problem solving skills." is geared towards results.  It is fine if our kids can come up with innovative solutions to problems but in the corporate world it will be the person who carries it through that gets the promotion.  Wouldn't it be great if our kids could learn how to approach problems logically, analytically and consistently and then build in a habit of following through?  They might find that this methodology is more than just a means to get a job but a tool that they can use every day.

Here is a method I like.  It is fairly simple and therefore easy enough to explain to a 6 year old.  It also includes the key element of execution at the end.  Too often, recognizing the problem and coming up with a solution is where the process ends.  We should teach our children to take that final step and implement their ideas.  Certainly there is a risk of failure but that should be part of the lesson as well.  Making mistakes is all part of the process of improvement.

  1. State the problem - stating the problem obviously means identifying the problem first.  Using the 5 "Whys" approach is another easy method to teach.  Start with whatever is going wrong and ask "Why?".  To whatever the answer is, ask "Why?" again and continue through another three "Whys" until you have an idea of the basic cause of whatever is broken.  That is the problem now state it.
  2. What are the possible solutions - or in other words, brainstorm.  There are a thousand and one methods for brainstorming and they can all work.  The basic idea here is to come up with a lot of different solutions that our kids can then choose from.
  3. What will happen if I try each one (positive and negative consequences) - choose the more promising solutions from the list and imagine how they would work or not work.
  4. Pick one to try first and do it - self explanatory?  If it doesn't work try another one.
Having a method or framework to fall back on will make it easier for a child to tackle an otherwise intimidating challenge.  The other added benefit to teaching our kids problem-solving methods early on will be the increase in self confidence they gain from being able to... well, solve their own problems.

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