Life is full of problems and challenges. Most people become proficient at working through small issues or at least skirting them. But those who are exceptionally good at solving problems have a distinct advantage on the path to success. They often become leaders among their peers. The bigger the problems they can solve, the more they achieve and the more respect they earn.

It's true some people are natural problem solvers, but most anyone can sharpen their problem-solving skills with a little effort. Here are eight skills practiced problem solvers use regularly.

1. Remain objective.

Often problems occur because people are unaware of what's actually happening with the process. They get focused on a particular method or goal and then they unintentionally ignore what may be obvious warning signs. Great problem solvers approach each new problem as though it were brand new. That way they can apply a specific solution to the problem instead of a fix that may go only partway.

2. List all the obstacles.

Rarely are problems isolated. Certain fixes can trigger unwanted chain reactions in other processes or departments. Great problem solvers take a high-level view of the issues involved and jot down a list of all the potential factors that could get in the way of a solution. Then they can approach the issue in a comprehensive manner with a higher degree of success.

3. Identify the opportunity.

So many times great opportunities are wrapped up inside simple problems. The problem at hand may be symptomatic of bigger problems with your systems or perhaps your industry. Great problem solvers are also great opportunists. Before you try and fix a problem, assess the external factors and consider a future that doesn't require those choke points. You may discover an exciting new business model.

4. Break down silos.

You don't have to be in a big company to suffer from poor communication. Even just two people in a department or company can each be personally productive yet totally oblivious to the activities of the other. Great problem solvers are also great facilitators. They use their communication skills to help others share information so all bases are covered. They then encourage people to work together outside their respective roles so the sum is greater than the parts.

5. Translate research into creative action.

In this data-driven world, people sometimes get lost in the numbers and anecdotes. Data and precedent are important but at some point you just have to take action. Great problem solvers understand that if the solutions always existed in the past, then problems wouldn't occur to begin with. Get enough research to understand the issues and then engage your creativity to find new ways to better solve old issues.

6. Reverse engineer.

Many problems can't be solved in a linear manner. Great problem solvers have the vision to picture the ideal working scenario and then construct the methodology that will achieve the desired effect. Of course they also have to effectively articulate that vision to those who understand how to physically implement the solution.

7. Enlist open-minded people.

When tackling a big problem many people just grab anyone available with two hands and a brain. Unfortunately, closed-minded team members may not only delay the solution, they may also instigate a bigger problem than the one you are trying to solve. Great problem solvers know the best results come from groups of open-minded people. Your problem-solving team must be willing to get outside of the box and uncomfortable. Ultimately this approach will reveal creative new solutions and processes.

8. Cast ego aside.

Often great solutions to problems are ignored because a leader wants the solution to be his or her idea. Great problem solvers get joy from solving the problem. They are happy to give the credit to anyone who resolves an issue and moves everyone forward. They have no concern about getting the credit because in business there is no shortage of new problems to solve.

Published on: Sep 3, 2014