People solve hard problems only with great problem solving power. This power is determined by four factors:

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Capability

Your problem solving capability depends on the behaviors you bring to the problem, the methodology you use to organize your approach, the accumulated skill of past success, and your raw horsepower. 

  • Your behaviors determine whether you will guess or instead rigorously investigate the problem to root cause. Your power increases as you consistently adopt useful behaviors. 
  • Your proficiency with using the most appropriate method will keep you on task, and allow you to leverage the talents of others.
  • Your past success will help you to solve hard problems faster, because you will have built familiarity with what it takes to solve hard problems. 
  • Your raw horsepower is your innate smarts, talent, and other unteachable skills. While your talent determines your problem solving potential, you won't achieve it without working on the other above factors.

Time

Your efforts have the highest likelihood of success when you devote sufficient time and focus to solving the hard problem. Problem solving is a highly cerebral activity and requires focus. If solving a hard problem is a side project, you are far less likely to be successful. 

Will

Your willpower to succeed is what allows you to overcome the inevitable obstacles and roadblocks that emerge when solving a hard problem. It is driven by two core things:

  1. The belief you can succeed. Those who are confident that they can succeed will push through; those who are not will allow themselves to be overcome by roadblocks. This belief is built through repeated success. 
  2. Personal drive. This is affected by the sense of reward you get from succeeding. This is strongest when it is intrinsic and internal, rather than external. Having a strong peer community which values and encourages great problem solving success will boost this intrinsic motivation.

Resistance

Your problem solving power will be limited by organizational resistance to change or to having the problem solved. This resistance wastes time and makes it harder to do the work required to solve the hard problem. Resistance can be active or passive and flow from your organization's design and its improvement systems. 

Learn more about organizational resistance with our work on Destroying Opportunity, coming soon.

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