Problem-Solving-101-No8This post marks the eighth lesson of the Problem Solving course. So far I walked you through the UPEC process and described how this process is a cycle in which you can refine the single blocks if you don’t find the right solution in the first run.

So eventually you will get to an actually working solution. I want to emphasize that these runs involve actual action (Execute).

When you are fixing a broken lamp you won’t strategize much, you would probably immediately change something and then turn the switch on and off after each modification until you found the problem. So basically each try is one quick UPEC cycle. It is quick because it is easy for you to keep track of the different options and outcomes you tested. A game changer is realizing that you can follow the same testing strategy “in real life”.



In real life?

I cannot speak for generations before me – all my working live computers already existed – but I noticed a tendency of many (including me) to treat much in life, i.e. all the things that really matter to us as if they were not real. As if was just a computer game we can play when we want, and pause it when we don’t. So often we pause and wait for some scripted magical intervention to happen.

But fact is that we can test almost everything when we are not sure what the right solution is. To be able to do so we need to acknowledge that we are not perfect and that we don’t know everything, not even about ourselves. Therefore, it is okay to test and improve. Let me give you some examples.

If you ever looked for a new job, how often have you deliberately

  • changed the style and content of your resume or your cover letter
  • applied for all sorts of different job levels or job types
  • tried different methods to contact the recruiter/HR department
  • tested different interview strategies?

Have you ever experimented with changing the subject lines, send times, the style or the formatting of emails you send to clients?

Let’s say you think you are paying too much for a recurring service like Internet, phone, TV, etc. Have you ever called the hotline several times to test out which strategy works for lowering the price?

Have you ever tested a diet, a workout program, productivity tool or similar which didn’t work for you? In these cases, did you follow the suggested procedures completely and for at least three weeks? Have you determined why these methods didn’t work and then deliberately chosen other methods that suited you better?

Have you ever thoroughly experienced different types of food, movie or book genres by actually eating, watching or reading beyond your believed comfort zone?

Have you ever tried to brush you teeth with the other hand?

If you never tried the last one, do it tonight. I found it way more uncomfortable than I had expected. Although this is just a fun exercise, you may just as unexpectedly discover an unknown taste for certain foods, movies or books. These can be a great addition to your life and all you have to do is allowing yourself to test them. We all have certain internal scripts for different areas that prevent us from trying new things. We are often not aware that these scripts even exist. For some reason, I never tested Indian food until a business trip to India made me realize my mistake. Not that I genuinely loved the food surprised me, but that somehow I never considered trying it before.

Let’s take a look at the costly recurring payments for your cable/phone/Internet service. At most hotlines, I get a different person every single time I call. So what is there to lose? Why not test some negotiation strategies? Just the lessons learned are a great reward.

But especially when it comes to client and job questions, that is where for most of us the willingness to experiment ends. Of course, because we don’t want to lose clients or our jobs. Or in the case of a job search, we don’t want to jeopardize getting the job by running experiments.
However, experimenting may just exactly be what will eventually get us the dream job or happier clients .

The only way such tests will work is when you follow all steps of the UPEC cycle or any other systematic method. Obviously you need to know why and what you are testing. You also need to keep track of the outcomes and check whether your goals were achieved. But most of all, and this is where most hesitate, we need to test in big enough numbers to obtain a clear result. Sample size is clearly very important. Often one shot at something is enough for us to declare the outcome a rule.

If we had done so when we tested whether crawling or walking was a better mode of movement, we likely be still on all fours.

Think about that.

The Problem Solving Series

So far these lessons of the Problem Solving 101 course have been published: