Problem Solving

During the onset of the pandemic and throughout our ensuing “lockdown”, puzzle making was “all the rage”. I found myself engaging in the craze, challenging myself to 1000-piece puzzles (vs the easier 500 pieces and 300-piece ones that I love). I even set up a Puzzles During COVID Facebook page. It was fun to seeing people locally and from other states post their completed works of art. I also enjoyed swapping puzzles with friends, (via leaving them on each other’s doorsteps since we couldn’t see each other). I like the challenge of “puzzling”, figuring out where each piece goes (in the spirit of honesty, I do sometimes get frustrated and have to walk away). On occasion I can talk my family into helping me. Sometimes they “leave it to me” but other times they will contribute. Regardless who’s contributed, I especially love the feeling of solving the puzzle, putting in that final piece, and admiring the finished product. My habit is to let the completed puzzle sit on the table overnight and into the next day before I break it up and place it back in the box. I like to savor it.

I have begun to notice that the same “puzzle solving” skill is similar to the “problem solving” skill. It seems to require the same ability to put “pieces” together. Some problems can be as small as finding a mutual meeting time for a small group of people. Other times, they can be larger, like how to fix the education system. And then of course there are a million other ones in between and all along the continuum. What I’ve also realized is that even if the problems are small ones, if there are a lot of them, they pile up and begin to feel very heavy. It can become overwhelming. But with just like dumping out a new 1000-piece puzzle, it’s all possible when we take it piece by piece.

Word on the street is there is no shortage of problems. They are everywhere, nationally, statewide, local communities, and more than likely even in our own homes within our family structures and among our friend circles. If you stop too long and take it all in, it can feel daunting. And as often as I (we?) try, it’s typically ineffective to wish them away.

I imagine some of you reading this blog have a reputation of being a “fixer”. You have proven to be someone who can resolve missteps, stand in the gap, sort through the muck, and come out with solutions. That conjures up the image of that shell game. Moving all the different pieces around, trying to find the one that holds the nut (or whatever is hidden underneath).

Like all of you, problems find their way to my email inbox too. In the last couple of weeks, I’ve been tempted and started to feel frustrated, overwhelmed, tired, irritated whenever someone would bring a problem to me. I don’t like feeling any of those things. Plus, there are times that I don’t necessarily have an answer or solution. So, here’s what I’ve started doing in an effort to avoid those unwanted feelings. For the last several weeks when problems are brought to my attention, I’ve begun to communicate something like this. “Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I see the issue you are raising. Can we work together to figure out how to problem solve this?” Or even “Hmm. That is a problem, lets see if we can problem solve this together.” That has seemed to work! Not only does it validate the problem, but it also encourages collegiality and collaboration to work it out. It has helped to alleviate some of the stress I was feeling to have to be the “fixer”. Carrying the “weight” all by myself. This way it isn’t all on me to resolve, others can contribute, and it builds a sense of community when we all work together. In one particular case, as I am mentoring a young, new employee, it also helps this person to build their confidence, learn to assert themselves more and grow professionally. I like helping others develop their potential.

My encouragement for this next month as we begin preparing for a new school year, attending professional development sessions, and thinking through schedules, and plans for back to school, that as problems arise, and they will, that we don’t let them take us down. Let’s take them piece by piece, working together with those around you to solve the puzzle. Think about how beautiful it can be as it all comes together.