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May 1, 2024

How to Solve Impossible Problems

Sponsored Content provided by Jordan Cain - Chief Operating Officer , APPROVE

What makes problem-solving hard?

The human brain finds comfort in the familiar – familiar ideas, familiar behavioral patterns, and familiar beliefs. Over time, our brains continue to strengthen conviction and routines by shortening our neural pathways. 

In fact, our brains even use cognitive biases to allow us to think quickly and efficiently. This change-resistance triggers our survival instincts in times of uncertainty: highly effective when running from bears, less effective when solving business issues.

Because resolving impossible problems involves thinking or acting in a way you haven’t before, finding ways to encourage and embrace change is key.
Here’s how. 
 
1. Change your perspective. Before diving into solutions, reframe the problem through a technique experts call "Framestorming." 
 
The goal is to wildly stretch the confines of the issue at hand, turning it upside down and inside out, exploring all potential angles, and challenging any assumptions you've held. 
 
Zoom out and approach your issue from all angles – customer mindset, market trends, value proposition, competitors, diversification – anything you can think of. Picking up the problem and looking at it from all sides allows the team to think more holistically and solve more effectively. 

2. Change your mind. If you or your group are stuck, start by asking “What else could be true here?” Then ask it repeatedly throughout the solving process. 

For example, let's say your online sales are down by 10%. You're wracking your brain to understand why customers are no longer interested in the product. You pause and ask, “What else could be true here?” 

Maybe it's seasonality. Maybe there's a functional issue with your website. Maybe a poor review has surfaced online. Exploring all potential options removes the narrow thinking that causes us to stay stuck. 

Here's another approach to changing your mind: When individuals are locking horns on an issue, ask them to pause and take on the opposing position. The goal isn't to change anyone’s mind, but to allow the brain to get comfortable with challenging assumptions and thinking more creatively. 

3. Change your approach. Raise your hand if your business has been stuck on an unsolvable problem, only to spend meeting after meeting talking in circles about potential solutions. 

It's common, and it makes sense. Everyone wants to solve the issue, but our minds are trained to revert to the familiar. If your group is having trouble thinking outside of the box or dreaming bigger, it may be time to facilitate a brainstorming session. 

The key is to access the part of our brains that allow us to think expansively, which means removing boundaries and fear of failure. Studies show that gameplay can be a powerful option in these situations. 

Try this: 

  • Give every member of the team a stack of Post-its. Clearly frame the problem and remove any barriers, real or perceived (time, money, resources, access). The group has five minutes to produce as many solutions as possible. When time is up, everyone shares their ideas, groups like thoughts, and decides on next steps. 
  • If your team is having trouble with groupthink, use the "one walks in” method. Clearly frame the problem and have individuals stand outside the room. One by one, they come in and share one potential solution. Alternatively, have each entering individual build upon the idea shared by the previous person. 
These sessions only work if you allow space for all ideas. Don't limit your humans with “yes, but...;” instead, leave space to explore as many options as possible. 

4. Change your audience. Bring in outsiders to shake up entrenched perspectives. If you're solving a sales problem, bring in a product mind. If you're solving a finance issue, bring in a marketer.

Their role isn't to have an answer or to offer expertise– it's to ask great questions. 

In one of my previous roles, the Account Management team would frequently get stuck on customers who were no longer seeing value. The team felt like they had tried everything, and we were stuck. The problem felt impossible. 

Enter Alex from BD. A quick thinker who dreams up wild ideas, Alex would stoke the fire, uncover opportunity, and excite the team by asking “What if this were possible?” Don't underestimate the energizing force of someone from another team or company.

5. Change your environment. When all else fails, get out of the office. Move your body. Have walking 1-1s or take a small group to meet outside. Schedule a team lunch. A change in scenery breathes life into stale discussions and disrupts circular thinking. 

The point is, challenging our brains to think differently requires a real effort to embrace change. No matter how you do it, making space to think bigger and explore issues together is the key to unlocking the kind of creativity and perspective required to solve an impossible problem. 

References: 
Why Do Humans Resist Change? | Psychology Today
The Neuroscience of Change: Why Changing Course is Painful for the Brain (welldoing.org)
Why You Should Framestorm Before You Brainstorm
 
About APPROVE: 
APPROVE is an award-winning fintech startup and one of Wilmington's fastest-growing SaaS companies. You can learn more about working with us at https://www.approvepayments.com/careers.
 

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