What I Learnt About Problem Solving From Einstein

I’ve been a part of the corporate world for 4–5 years now. Enough to observe closely how situations are handled and their repercussions. The corporate world’s inability to prioritize has led to the advent of 1 term — fire fighting. Up to 70% of employees’ time at work is spent fire fighting. Thus they spend more than 6 hours out of 9–10 in a day grappling with problems which should not exist. What a waste of productivity! Imagine what organizations can achieve if hundreds (or thousands) of employees get these 6 hours daily (or 30 hours weekly) to work on something constructive!

The concept of problem solving in most companies today is flawed. “If it isn’t urgent, worry about it later,” is the mantra. Eventually, the ignored problem becomes so massive that it calls for — you guessed it — fire fighting. This behavior is so deeply entrenched in most organizations that it has become a culture.

Many of you may be nodding while reading this. But how should we combat it? Well, here are 3 quotes from Albert Einstein. 3 principles which can help you revamp the way your team functions and addresses problems and bring in good culture in your teams and organizations:

1. It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.

We don’t want a problem to stay around for long; we want to get rid of it as soon as possible. Hence most of us jump into resolution mode immediately. Each person — to shine brighter in front of his boss — becomes an expert on solving it. The meeting room echoes with dialogues like “listen to me”, “I know what to do” and “this is how we’ll do it”. But these employees fail to realize that the proposed resolutions are merely quick fixes. The problem will rear its ugly head again. So what should employees do? Well, read on.

2. If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.

This is arguably the best piece of advice Albert Einstein has given us. The more time one spends understanding a problem, the more effective the resolution. Techniques like 5 Whys and Fishbone allow people to get to the root cause of the problem, and take corrective measures to ensure it never occurs again. Ask Paul O’Neill who turned an ailing Alcoa into one of corporate America’s heavyweights by simply addressing one core problem — worker safety. Don’t look for solutions immediately; take time to comprehend the gravity of the issue at hand. Keep redefining the problem until you get to the root cause. The solutions you and your team devise will actually save you and your team a lot of fire fighting. And for all you know, the resolutions may open up new business avenues for you.

3. Logic will get you from point A to point B. Imagination will take you everywhere.

Edward de Bono points out in Lateral Thinking that too often we spend time measuring how right or wrong a solution is. But you can’t dig a hole at a different location by digging the same one deeper. Be prepared to consider all options, no matter how relevant or irrelevant they are to the current scenario. And this concept isn’t only applicable to problem solving. It can be used in designing, engineering and all other fields.

I have been in the corporate world long enough to admit that these concepts are not easily accepted. Most employees immediately jump into the fire and end up running in circles. However, when my team has implemented these concepts, they have served us well. Can you think of some other concepts which will help?

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