Recent business research has focused not on problem solving skills but on problem finding skills. Having problem finding skills means finding problems before they become major hindrances to a business.
How does one become a problem finder? It’s about more than just a set of skills, but a whole different outlook, one that takes curiosity as its starting point, a willingness to ask questions and to learn more both about what you do know and what you don’t know.
Problem finding requires an active mind, one that is never satisfied with conventional answers, one that is always looking at things in a new way. It is a mind that is always willing to question, no matter what level of expertise a person has attained. And it is a mind that never just defers to authority. These are tendencies that go against the psychological grain in many ways. Research has shown that people are unwilling to part with their existing beliefs. But in order to have a problem-finding mentality, you must be willing to do just that — to look at things in a new way and always question your beliefs and assumptions.
A problem finder is always looking to learn new things in order to get a new perspective on what he or she already knows. Problem finders are never satisfied with the status quo, but are always looking for new ideas and experiences. It is this learning new things that keeps the mind sharp, able to see problems develop. Indeed, research has shown that when the mind encounters new images it becomes more stimulated than by familiar ones.
Problem finders also look at the big picture. They recognize that any problem is never an isolated event but often part of a larger, systemic condition that gave rise to it. They look at the more basic organizational situation that may have led to the conditions that allowed such a problem to occur. Problem finders dig beneath the surface and look at hidden connections and deeper meanings.
And problem finders also have a healthy sense of paranoia. They realize that in any organization problems exist, and that this is not a problem in itself. They know that these problems are not always readily apparent, but are there nonetheless. So, they know they are fallible as well, and know they need to watch themselves and their organizations, to stay alert, and to understand that finding problems is an ongoing activity.
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