A man thinking with illustrated arrows coming from his head. To illustrate problem solving.

You’ve probably never heard of the Village of Warner. Living in Toronto, neither had I. It was my recent attempt to solve a really annoying phone problem that lead me to discover there really is a Village of Warner, population 400. Warner is 300 kilometers south of Calgary, Alberta, close to the Montana border.

 

Here’s how it happened.

 

The other day my home phone began ringing and ringing, without stop. Each time I picked it up; there was this unmistakable sound of a fax machine trying to send a fax. As you can imagine, this incessant ringing began to drive me crazy! Anxious to solve this problem, I called my phone service provider. But the support person’s suggestion to block the caller didn’t work! The phone just kept ringing. I called the phone company again. This time, the person on the help line was able to figure out that the call was coming from the Village of Warner. He even provided me with the originating number. I thought, “Success at last.”

 

I called the number right away. Anything to stop that incessant ringing! But all I got was voice mail. I wasn’t to be deterred. Knowing you can find almost anything on the Internet, I googled the Village of Warner. Yes, I did find a “contact us” phone number on the town’s website. But it was the same number I had already called.

 

Time to get more creative! I had to find a phone number for someone who worked in an official capacity for the Village of Warner. Among the private businesses listed on the Village of Warner’s website was the Warner Volunteer Fire Department and Ambulance Service with the phone number for “Fire Chief Rick.” I was sure that someone who worked in an official municipal capacity — as fire chief, for the Village of Warner — would know whom I might contact.

 

Fire Chief Rick was quite surprised to hear from some woman in Toronto (population 2.5 million), explaining that the Village of Warner kept repeatedly trying to send a fax. And this was making her very irritated. Bless Fire Chief Rick! He helped me solve the problem. He gave me the cell number of the person whose name was listed under “contact us” on the town’s website. She was out walking her dog when I reached her. Thankfully, she immediately offered to help me, when I explained what had been happening.

 

Apparently, Kim had programmed the wrong area code, which was only one digit different from mine, into the fax machine. Instead of dialing the local bank, the Village of Warner’s fax machine kept autodialling my number. She assured me that my number would be deleted shortly. Indeed, it was! Grateful for his help, I called Fire Chief Rick to thank him for saving me from going mad. His kindness did not stop there. He invited me to stop by Warner if ever I was in the neighborhood.

 

As funny as this problem (and its solution) turned out to be, it highlights a situation with which we are regularly confronted, in both our personal and business lives. We all encounter problems, big and small, pretty much every day. And in business, it’s vital to be a savvy problem solver. Otherwise, nothing changes, evolves, or grows. You just stay the same. So how do you become a good problem solver? Here are three steps for problem solving success.

 

Three Keys to Good Problem Solving:

 

1/ Take A Deep Breath: Take a step back from your problem. If you go at it when you’re upset or frustrated, without first calming down and thinking hard about the problem, chances are you’ll be sorry. Be sure you truly understand the root of the problem, before you act. Sometimes a problem, such as having employees who are unmotivated, may have its source in something that is not immediately obvious.

 

2/ Take The Long View: Be tenacious. Don’t expect to instantly solve your problem. Often problem solving requires coming up with a number of possible approaches, and considering which will work best in your specific situation — or by process of elimination as you try various alternatives. Persistence and time are your allies.

 

3/ Have A Good Laugh: Keep your sense of humor throughout the process. In most instances, problems are not life shattering. They’re simply obstacles to achieving a goal. If you maintain a sense of humor, it makes the problem solving less tedious.

 

Karl Popper, a 20th century philosopher, once stated “all life is problem solving.” What is equally important is the ability to solve a problem without putting something you value at risk. For example, whether personal or business, relationships may succeed or fail because of our problem solving abilities. So consider trying out the above three keys to solving a problem, be it big or small. And be sure to have Fire Chief Rick on your speed dial!

 

If you have questions about problem solving in business, contact me at The Language Lab. We’d love to hear your business problem solving success story.

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