Problem Solving

The NHL has finished its season and the Chicago Blackhawks have again won the Stanley Cup.  One reason they have won three in the past six years is winger Patrick Kane.

I noticed a commentary about Patrick recently and it said that when he first came to the NHL he was a very good passer but he did not shoot enough.  That tendency made defending easier.  Once he developed the ability to shoot he became a formidable problem for defenders.  More possibilities to defend.

Life is a bit like that.

When finding ways to move ahead, it is likely that having more options will enhance your chances.  With Kane adding a shoot option increased the decision-making load for a defender and that reduces their chance of successfully defending.

Add skills.  Nothing is so trivial that it cannot provide an advantage.  Steve Jobs’ course in calligraphy made a substantial contribution to the success of the Apple II.  Until then few people had considered fonts to be important.

The world is your adversary.  Learn some skills that can help you succeed.

On the other side of the situation you are the defender.  Solving multidimensional, complicated problems is not possible from a single opening position.  There must be candidate decisions with at least a second layer of solution.  Like the defenceman against Kane.  Take away shot and rely on your partner to deal with pass.  Or take away pass and rely on the goalie to deal with shot.

It is as if you can make the problems appear single file.  You do that by ignoring the least critical variables.

Take exam writing and the order of the questions.  You are looking for the most marks.  Approaching the exam in numerical order is a poor tactic.  Proper management says do the questions you know how to do first.  After all, how big a deal would it be to run out of time with a question undone if that question was one you could not do anyway.

With other kinds of problems develop candidate answers as soon you know what you know and you know generally what you don’t know.  The idea is to treat the candidate solutions as both possible solutions and ways to learn more.  The beginning point is likely less than half of all the things that would be helpful to know.  There is no perfect, so the only question is when do you start with an imperfect approach.  Sometimes you find that the problem is not a problem at all.

Problem solving is a necessary skill.  It will never be complete but you can take heart in this thought.

You don’t drown by falling in the water; you drown by staying there.  – Edwin Louis Cole

Work at solving your problems.  Adversity builds both you skill and your character.  Use it to your advantage.


Don Shaughnessy is a retired partner in an international public accounting firm and is now with The Protectors Group, a large personal insurance, employee benefits and investment agency in Peterborough Ontario.

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