Two problems are better than one: Problem-solving like a pro

Problem-solving like a pro

Problem-solving is a skill that can be applied in many ways. There are numerous ways to approach a problem. You could use thinking techniques to generate creative solutions, you could look for positive exceptions or you could try to figure out how other industries tackled similar situations. But have you ever considered looking for yet another problem to combine with yours?

A few weeks ago I wrote about looking for solutions in different industries. Connecting professions can lead to wonderful initiatives. I described how knowledge from the airline industry can improve surgeries, how astronomers are helping the steel industry and how hospitals are modelling their customer service to that of luxury hotels. This week I’d like to address a different way of looking beyond the borders of your own industry. I’d like to show you how combining problems can lead to solutions.

Speaking Exchange

Problems can sometimes be great for creating win-win situations. In January I already wrote about the inspiring example of the Speaking Exchange. The people of the CNA Language School combined two problems to create a win-win scenario. Students who wanted to improve their English were introduced to lonely elderly in retirement homes in the US. By connecting the students and the elderly via video-chat, two things were accomplished: the students had native English speakers to talk to and could practise their pronunciation, while the residents of the retirement home now had regular conversations with youngsters and thus felt less lonely.

The initiators of the Speaking Exchange knew that connecting two different groups of people who both face a problem can lead to a wonderful situation. If you manage to identify two target groups who can help each other out, you might be able to solve two problems in a cheaper, more effective and much more satisfying way than you ever imagined.

All generations in one house

The people of CNA aren’t the only ones who have battled loneliness among senior citizens by connecting the challenge to a different problem. In Deventer (the Netherlands), a nursing home decided to help out penniless students who have difficulty ‘surviving’ financially. In exchange for help with cooking, grocery shopping and teaching the elderly residents how to use a computer, six students get to live in the retirement home for free. The idea is remarkably similar to the ‘mehrgenerationenhäuser’ in Germany, where both senior citizens and families with young children live in the same building. Where pensioners are often in need of social contact, young families are often struggling with high rental fees and expensive day-care. The mehrgenerationenhaus tackles all these issues in one go.

Social enterprises Granny’s Finest and Oopoeh addressed yet other problems while battling loneliness among the elderly. By now, you might conclude that only loneliness among the elderly can be tackled by adding a different problem. Luckily this is not the case.

Unusual taxi drivers

If you’ve ever visited Amsterdam, you might have noticed that many taxi drivers are not particularly polite – to put it mildly. To make matters worse, taxi drivers seem to have a tendency to speed and are not too keen on driving safely. Taxi Electric wants to improve the Amsterdam taxi scene. Not just by driving electric cars, but also by hiring drivers who are polite to customers and careful in traffic. But where do you find such employees? Luckily for Taxi Electric, there is a rather large group of people available who meet these criteria: job-seekers over the age of 50! Because of their age, they have trouble finding a job. Also because of their age (and experience) they are often very polite and calm. By hiring older people (often with a background in healthcare or education) the taxi company both tackles her own challenges and those of the senior job-seekers.

Autistic testers

As you might know, there is a serious shortage of IT specialists in the software market. At the same time, there are many people with autism who have trouble finding a job. Software-testing company Specialisterren recognised the opportunity. The company sees people with autism as the ultimate software testers: they are highly focussed and tend to have an eye for detail. Nowadays Specialisterren is no longer the only software company who specifically looks for people with autism to hire. German software giant SAP has announced it will hire hundreds of people with autism in the coming years.

Who might be your unlikely problem-solving companions?

Whatever your problem is, there might be a group of people out there who can solve it while simultaneously tackling their own challenges. An opportunity to create a problem-solving win-win. Ask yourself: what do I need to tackle this problem… and who would be more than willing to help me do this?

Flickr Creative Commons Image via Tom.

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