Be A Better Problem Solver in 6 Steps

Mark Arnold
Be A Better Problem Solver in 6 Steps

If you're able to, think back to a time pre-the-current-crisis, when some within your organization (just like any organization) were no doubt bothered about this or that change, this or that problem, or whatever else.

I mean, it almost seems like a different era, doesn't it? Maybe even epoch? (Geologists, please don't get upset with me; I'm using those terms colloquially, not technically.)

Times sure have changed. Gosh, I sound like everyone's parents.

And along with those changes come myriad opportunities.

Opportunities to pivot, to grow, to thrive.

[bctt tweet="Along with changes, come opportunities. Opportunities to pivot, to grow, to thrive. #leadership #creditunions #management #futureofwork @jmarkarnold" username="mattmonge"]

be a better problem solver

People just like you have a chance to make a serious difference by solving problems, by adapting, and by serving others in a multitude of different ways.

Folks who are able to solve problems and help others do the same are absolutely indispensable on teams and within organizations, especially in today's world.

Here's how you can grow and improve in that crucial skill set.


Brainstorming is one of the most underrated aspects of high-performing teams; and it's one that requires both a healthy cultural context, as well as people who have, in a sense, trained themselves to engage in the activity together.

It requires a healthy culture because if you really expect teammates to begin throwing out ideas en masse, it has to feel safe for them to do so. That requires a foundation of real-deal humanness and trust — two things we start with in our culture work with clients, whether we do that work in-person or via our virtual package.


Questions are great because they nudge us toward divergent thinking, whereas statements are better for closing up shop and going home for the day.

For getting better at problem-solving, though, we need to improve our divergent thinking. That's the sort of thinking that opens up lines of thought in our minds.

The reason that matters is because when that happens — when we utilize divergent thinking consistently— it helps train our minds to be more creative, as Runco points out in his International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences piece, "Creativity Training."

When we do that, our minds do the coolest things. Don't worry, we won't get into metacognition here; but trust me on this, your mind's powerful, and if you give it a little bit of time and space to do its thing, as well as the proper mental framework, you'll be amazed at what it can do.


I know, I know. Confusing. But hold on.

Often, I've seen folks conflate "problem-solving" with "coming up with ideas for stuff."

The latter looks something like this: A person or group of people sit around talking about wanting big ideas. Or something. The problem is that there's nothing guiding that thinking. There is no direction for all that brainpower. It's sort of like aimless wandering.

Mental meandering, if you will. Clueless cogitating. Deliberative dawdling. Roaming rumination. Haphazard hypothesizing.

The best problem-solvers aren't sitting around just thinking up random ideas about...nothing. Their ideation is focused on particular problems. That aforementioned brainstorming is a means to a particular end.

What problem are you trying to solve?

What's your purpose? What obstacles or problems stand in the way of your team/organization fulfilling it?

What issues or problems do you see in your town or community? How can you help solve them?

Start there.

[bctt tweet="Problem solve with a purpose. #leadership #innovation #futureofwork" username="mattmonge"]


Make yourself ship, as Seth Godin likes to say.

Fight the very real urge that a thing be perfect before you let the world see it. Make yourself solve problems, and give yourself some pressure to do it.

One of my grad school professors had us watch and analyze Apollo 13. Talk about a nightmare scenario from a problem-solving perspective.

There are some powerful scenes in the film, and if you think about them from a leadership and problem-solving perspective, and if you really try to put yourself in those moments, it's downright terrifying. I mean really, truly, terrifying.

You saw it all there, didn't you?

There were the "It-can't-be-dones" and the "woe-is-mes" and the "sit-silently-and-hope-no-one-calls-on-mes" and a few others you all recognize.

And the pressure. Oh, the pressure. But then came more...

Now...the above video likely did one of two things to you.

It either (1) paralyzed you with fear and made you nearly want to vomit in a potted plant; or it (2) pumped you up, motivated you, and made you want to go take on the world. (And yes, I'm engaging in a bit of hyperbole here on both ends of that spectrum.) That initial, visceral reaction probably gives you a little insight into your "right-now" gut impulse toward big-time problem-solving.

The thing is, you can learn to love this stuff. You really can. How? I'm glad you asked.

learn to love problem solving


We practice things we want to get better at, no? So why not this?

Whether it's a big, organizational strategy thing or any of the more rapid-fire tactical issues that pop up, you can get better at it. You can do that via a plethora of methods, but a couple I use in tadem a lot are learning to (1) employ reframing in order to (2) deploy more rapid cognition techniques.

Time and space won't permit us to dive deep into either of those here, but I'm certain I'll go into those at some point, either here, at my personal blog, or perhaps on IGTV or YouTube.

Additionally, though, you can give yourself problems to solve. Make yourself solve things. And they don't have to be work-related. They don't even have to make sense all the time. Mix it up. Make your mind work.

As silly as it may sound to many of you, I do this all the time. It's a habit for me. It's a regular part of my self-development. God gave me a brain that (sometimes) works; it's on me to push it to its limits and use it to serve as many as I possibly can.


One example I've picked up along the way for those who want to work on their problem solving and creative thinking:

Find two objects. Doesn't matter what they are. Next, figure out a way to use them together for something or in some way.

Now, I'm guessing some of you are already having questions pop up in your mind like, "Wait, are you supposed to..." That's your brain trying to revert back to its normal, preconceived, pre-trodden neural pathways.

Don't. Do. It.

Find two objects. Then find a way to use them together. No, you don't have to use them in the same way they're designed to be used. No, I don't care if you take the objects apart. Heck, I think it'd be cool if you did. MacGyver the heck out of 'em.

(Quick side note. For any of you who used to watch The A-Team, do you remember what the best part of nearly every episode was? Yep. Watching them create some crazy contraption and/or perpetrate some preposterous plot towards the end of the hour.

Why? Because it was insanely creative. B.A. was always welding something to something else (Because he was putting two objects together that weren't originally together. Sound familiar?). And then there was 'ol Hannibal with his signature line at the end.

The point is to get your mind to think about things differently, and to force it to come up with solutions to problems on a regular basis.

Speaking of thinking differently...


Think outside...your bubble?

(Now please don't misunderstand me here. I'm not saying you shouldn't avail yourself of the many fantastic resources out there from within your particular industry. For example, I've been connected with Randy and the CUInsight crew for years on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram; and now I'm digging The CUInsight Experience Podcast. Be sure to check them out if you haven't already.)

What I mean is that if you want to become increasingly good at thinking through and solving problems, you've got to get better at thinking differently. There's not really a way around this.

If you continue to think the same way and fill your mind with exclusively the same inputs, it stands to reason that you'll likely produce the same or similar outputs, right?

So push yourself to read other books, articles, and websites than the ones you're currently reading. Find new and interesting people with whom to connect on social media, and try to think of different industries that may have some interesting tangential connection with yours. Or perhaps better yet, maybe it doesn't have any connection at all.


What can you do to be a better problem solver? Well, it will sound overly simplistic, but here goes.

Find problems and solve them.

People who do that are the folks who quickly become invaluable to teams and organizations.

Let us know in the comments about problems you're facing, and what you're working on to solve them!

Mark Arnold
Founder and CEO