3 Ways To Actively Solve Problems, Not React to Them

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When I used to teach freshman comp to first-year art school students, the most often asked question I'd get is:

Why do I have to learn critical thinking and writing?

I'd go on to explain that everyone, didn't matter if they're writers or artists or designers, had to learn how to critically think through problems. They have to learn to define the problem and articulate their solutions. Even if its in a five-paragraph essay.

Critical thinking plays a crucial role in design and entrepreneurism. It can define the pace of a project, keep the team on schedule. Critical thinking shouldn't be overlooked. So when we recently came across Design Strategies Founder Paul Schoemaker's secrets of critical thinkers, we immediately saw several real-life examples that we wanted to share with you.

Break From the Pack, Be A Maverick

Scheomaker warns that incremental thinking can plague a business. He suggests breaking from the pack, bucking conventional wisdom. He also suggests seeking out mavericks, those folks who think outside the box, even if you disagree with them. They'll reframe your thinking, he says.

While Shoeomaker doesn't say it, entrepreneurs should be mavericks themselves. Think outside the box and don't hesitate to grab at opportunities. Or as Robert Scoble recently put it, 'Entrepreneurs have to be crazy.'

Consider Steve Jobs. It goes without saying that he truly an innovator. He took on opportunities that others failed to take. Consider what Jobs did when he encountered Xerox's mouse and personal computer. Jobs saw what Xerox had developed and couldn't believe that the company wasn't doing anything with the technology. He snatched up an opportunity they missed, thinking through the concept and improving upon it. He did what Xerox hadn't. He was inspired by what had come before and innovated upon it.

Agree to Disagree

Scheomaker sees nothing wrong with a good debate, saying it can lead to even greater insights. We agree. There's no need to put away the boxing gloves. Be willing to fight for your ideas if it's something you believe in, something you're passionate about. Don't be afraid to stand your ground. After all, argument is a sign of passion and sound ideas will survive the fight.

Take for instance Box.com's Aaron Levie. He disagreed with investor Mark Cuban over offering a free gigabyte of space online as way to combat the Google Drive scare in 2005. But Cuban didn't like the idea, thinking it was risky because the company would need more VC funding to subsidize it. But Aaron stood his ground, leading to both men to go their separate ways. In the end, Aaron's then-novel idea is now the standard for cloud services, even the recently launched Google Drive.

Catch Your Breath and Ask 'Why?'

Sometimes solving a problem takes slowing down, catching your breath. Talking a step back, as Schoemaker suggests, and asking how else can the problem be defined. But we'd also add that you start with asking why. Simon Sinek tackles this issue in his book "The Power of Why." Why does the problem exist?

Asking why from the start can also help prevent problems. Most designers and entrepreneurs tell others the ins and outs of their products then expect people to pay for it. It doesn't work this way. Simon says every inspiring leader, from Martin Luther King Jr. to Apple, start with asking "why" first before doing anything.

Next time you come across a problem, fight it out, look at it from many different angles, go outside the box and take a step back every now and then. By doing so, you'll be looking critically at the problem, acting to solve it rather than reacting to it.

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