If you have a challenging problem to solve, approaching it in a methodical and structured way can make you more efficient and effective in your search for a solution.
Today’s post is by Mike Lynn, thoughtLEADERS Principal.
Brazilians have a Portuguese idiom that we should have in English…”Descascar o abacaxi”, which literally means “to peel a pineapple.” It’s commonly used as a way to express “to tackle a big problem.”
Too often, we get overwhelmed and daunted by tough, thorny problems put before us. Without a sharp tool and a proven approach, we see that pineapple and wonder how we will get at the fruit inside.
If desperate, we might try to messily smash it open or scrape up our hands trying (and usually failing) to peel the rough, prickly skin. Good luck. Hint one: You need something sharp. Hint two: cutting (not peeling) a pineapple requires following a precise proven pineapple paring process – a let’s call it “5P.”
Problem-solving is similar. The sharp instrument is your brain. Wise Brazilians and wise problem-solvers have to be able to take a step back from the mess and frustration of pineapple smashing or hand scraping to recognize that there has to be a better way.
If you lack this problem-solving sharpness, you’ll repeatedly end up wasting lots of time, going down bad analytical paths, spinning your wheels, “boiling the ocean.” and never getting to any solutions.
Sharpen your machete mind, and prepare to face that pineapple with the power of “5P” – five steps to problem solving.
Beginnings and endings
Start with two good precise cuts – hold the top of the pineapple as a handle, and chop off the bottom, then chop off the top. In problem-solving, you can’t proceed until you have defined what you are trying to do and know where you are at as you start. The “end points” of pineapples and problems are the first access points to getting inside.
Discrete skin slices
With level surfaces on each end (i.e., a clearly defined problem), you can slice away the skin, one section at a time. In problem-solving, it’s essential to “pare away” the different options before you to get at the interior of a problem. Take the time to remove the outer layers slice by slice. In problem-solving terms, you might use logic maps to create a clear set of discrete options that will define the actual “shape” of the problem underneath its tough, prickly skin.
Eyes on the prize
With the ends addressed and the true shape of the problem now revealed, certain attributes of the pineapple stand out as impeding ultimate enjoyment of the fruit. All across the exterior skinless surface are “eyes” that poke out, and will detract from the eating experience.
In problem-solving, it’s critical to focus on those elements of the problem that will have the most impact on the end result, which means applying 80/20 hypothesis thinking. Just like the careful diagonal cutting required to connect the dots and remove the eyes of a pineapple, hypothesis thinking is both a science and an art that takes experience to do well. But when successful, the result is a spiral-shaped pineapple fruit (or a well-honed hypothesis solution) that is ready to be cut up.
Slice and dice
With the hard to eat stalk, base, skin and eyes removed, almost everything left is yummy, juicy fruit. It’s the resolution of your problem, but you can’t eat it in one bite. Like a pineapple, you must slice into the problem with careful analysis…from bigger pieces to smaller slices and methodical chunks, depending on the end-intended serving need.
Sometimes you might need rings, sometimes long slices, sometimes diced tiny pieces. In pineapples and analysis, do the slicing that is appropriate – be efficient and focused. Piece by piece you can cut it up into usable/servable pieces.
Your analysis and your cutting will also remove the waste, which in the case of the actual fruit is a narrow core that you can discard. In problem-solving analysis, only focus on the details that are important for your hypothesis – put wasteful work and time aside.
Ready to serve
Unless you just wanted straight pineapple (or straight analytical details), you’ll probably be putting your slices/pieces into a recipe or onto a dish to be eaten. All of the best problem-solving hypotheses and analysis are meaningless unless you can bring those findings to your stakeholder audiences and “serve” them in a way that they are ready to consume.
If you focused on the results that were most impactful, and “sliced” your analysis in a way that was most useful for the communication of the solution, your audience will receive your pineapple problem output with appreciation and satisfaction, and perceive you as an expert pineapple peeler.
Brazilians know that there is nothing like a well prepared pineapple. It doesn’t happen from smashing or bare-handed peeling. It takes a sharp tool and a proven process. Next time you face a problem, sharpen your mind and get ready to apply the “5P” five step problem-solving approach, and enjoy the fruits of your labors.
Mike Lynn is an expert on problem solving. As a principal at thoughtLEADERS, he regularly teaches executives and elite consultants on problem solving tools and techniques. He’s the primary architect of a thoughtLEADERS course on Structured Problem Solving and he’s turned this skill into a simple process anyone can immediately apply.
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