“Problems are only opportunities in work clothes.” – Henry J. Kaiser (1882-1967)

According to an article in the MIT Sloan Management Review (covered in a recent issue of  Executive Leadership), good problem solvers use different parts of their brains to solve different types of problems.

Essentially, there are three very different ways to make a big decision or plan a project:

1. Think first — for situations that have clear issues and reliable data. An example might be when you are trying to select one phone
service over another.

2. See first — if you need a creative solution for something you have an instinct for. The most likely example would be when you want to develop a new marketing promotion for an existing market.

3. Do first — when the challenge you face is new and complex and you sense that no amount of analyzing or visualizing is going to give you a sure answer.

The same article suggests that the think-first approach would work best for science, planning, programming, and data manipulation; the see-first method for art and brainstorming; and the do-first tack for
developing skills and starting new ventures.

In past ETR messages, I’ve voiced my preference for the “do-first” approach to starting a new business or business product. This perspective helps me understand why.

It also makes it clear that other business and personal challenges demand different approaches — and it suggests that there may be, in
fact, three types of leaders: the think-first guy who might run your operations, the see-first guy who might be in charge of marketing, and the do-first guy who might be in charge of new projects.

Having said all that, I need to point out the obvious: Most difficult decisions are neither wholly one thing nor wholly another and require a bit of thinking, seeing, and doing. Still, what you do most of in the beginning will have a great effect on the progress you are likely to make.

Take a look at your monthly task list. How many of your challenges would be better done by seeing first? How many by exercising your imagination? And how many by just getting something going?

Indicate next to each item some specific directive that relates to one of these approaches.

If, for example, the challenge is to get a stalled renewal campaign going, you might schedule a conference call to figure out a definite deadline for completion and responsibilities for each contributor.

If the task is to review a legal document, you might schedule a half-hour to write and then think about the critical questions of concern: “What do I want from this?” “What should I be worried about?” And so on.

And if the task is something like coming up with a new promotion, you might schedule a half-hour to look at past promotions of a similar, but not identical, nature.

If you practice these approaches now and repeat them for a while, they’ll become habitual and you’ll have made yourself a stronger, more well-rounded businessperson.