Critical thinking: Go beyond the solution-oriented mindset

Andrei Dobra
Apr 30, 2017 · 3 min read
Learn how to solve puzzles

“I possess a solution-oriented mindset” is a phrase that I’ve seen all around the web as something that looks good on someone’s resume. Unfortunately, it’s become so prevalent that it’s lost its meaning and just takes up space.

You can apply the same quality to practically every living creature on Earth. The essential survival instinct more or less encapsulates the solution-oriented mindset. To survive, you need to find ways of dealing with problems, whether they’re found by humans in the workplace or by sloths in trees.

Exercise critical thinking so that it becomes second nature

While most people won’t just sit idly by when faced with a challenge, to truly gain an edge we must exercise our critical thinking and look for ways of becoming as efficient as possible.

A key aspect of critical thinking is asking the right questions and then refining the queries until they lead to a good solution.

I am opposed to handing people a problem to solve in an empty room or with a whiteboard. No one knows everything, so why not use the knowledge scattered online to see if someone has encountered the same problem and what solutions may solve it.

In every interview I have gone through, I mentioned my Google skills, much to the surprise of my interviewers. Knowing how to search and then how to examine possible answers can help you stand out from the rest. Don’t bang your head on the wall by yourself. Remember, it’s about working smarter, not harder.

Don’t settle for applying solutions, understand them

A prime example of this workflow happened to me when I was tasked with editing a 300-page user guide. It had been generated by another application and it had quite a few artifacts related to section and page breaks, not to mention layout issues.

While I would certainly be able to go through the document page by page, I started examining possible solutions using the Find & Replace feature. While quite a lot of answers are online, not everything worked as intended or had surprising side-effects.

However, once I started getting the hang of the syntax used by Word for Find & Replace, I was able to define a query that resolved almost every problem with that document. In the end, it took about one hour of intense googling and troubleshooting, but it saved me and my team a lot of time.

Be disruptive and imaginative

It’s easy to fall into a routine, especially if your activity doesn’t stimulate your brain. However, this shouldn’t be an excuse to not look at things from another perspective. Maybe you can find a more efficient way of doing something, maybe you can automate some tasks, maybe you can incorporate some solutions to create something specific to your role.

Knowing is half the battle, but this also incorporates knowing how to search for more information.

Don’t settle into the “this is how it’s always been done” but, at the same time, don’t try to reinvent the wheel. Just develop and apply your critical thinking skills.

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