Make Problem Solving your Superpower

Every few years a new term comes around to describe an ideal employee. 

We used to be Rockstars! Now we’re Superheroes!

Regardless of what we’re calling it these days, there are certain habits you can develop that will make you stand out in your job. 

At this point in my career I’ve had dozens of jobs. I’ve been a barista, book editor, bowling alley attendant, reporter, marketer, product manager, executive. 

No matter what job it was, there is one skill that has proved useful: Problem solving. 

When I say “problem solving” I mean it in the most basic, literal sense of the word. You have a problem and you try to solve it.

Most people think they’re doing this. But you’d be amazed at how many times people think think they’re problem solving when in fact they’re just emailing you to ask you to solve the problem for them. 

That’s not problem solving. That’s asking for help. 

And the thing about asking someone for help is you’ve now taken your problem and made it someone else’s. 

That’s not to say you shouldn’t ask for help. Quite the opposite. But before you ask for help, try this: Try asking yourself “why?”

Why is this problem occurring?

Think about it for a moment. Come up with a potential solution and try it. If that doesn’t work, ask yourself why not and try again. 

Don’t do this endlessly but I guarantee you that if you ask “why” five times and really try to figure out your problem three things will happen.

One, you might solve your problem. 

Two, you’ll develop a better understanding of the problem.

And three, if you can’t solve it, you’ll be better able to describe the problem and find the right person to help you.

If you get in the habit of asking yourself “why?” and trying to solve a problem on your own you will quickly distinguish yourself as a problem solver.

Conversely, people take notice when you come to them with a problem you should have been able to solve yourself. 

Getting in the habit of problem solving will serve you throughout your career. You’ll learn more, get more done, and earn the respect of your peers and managers.  

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Gregory Rutty is CEO of Perfect Loop

This post originally appeared on Perfect Loop's Career Coach blog