If you’re not good at solving problems in the bindery and printing business, you won’t get much work done. After all, there are hundreds of changing variables in our work, each of which can impact the other in a positive or negative way. In other words, thousands of things can go wrong.
Some problems are just a pain-in-the-neck: the paper delivery is two hours late for a job to be printed and delivered tomorrow morning. OK, you just work late. Others are monumental and very difficult. Low humidity is contributing to static problems and you can only run your folding machine at 2500 sheets an hour instead of 15,000. Nothing seems to help and there is no simple answer to get the job out the door on time. Your customer doesn’t care, especially if it’s a simple job you run on a regular basis.
Albert Einstein reportedly said that “problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them.” But that’s exactly what most of us will do when faced with a problem; we remain in our regular, comfortable, job-oriented way of thinking (whatever that happens to be.)
Einstein’s point is that we should interrupt our regular pattern of thought and approach the problem in different ways. Psychologists quoted in the Indianapolis Star some years ago give this advice:
Remain optimistic. Know that you can find a solution and don't become overwhelmed by the situation. Good problem-solvers are not necessarily smarter or more educated than other people, but they have learned how to deal with adversity.
Don’t magnify the problem. Instead, view it realistically and without emotion. Working in a pressure-cooker environment (such as a busy print shop or post-press operation) is often very emotional, especially when things go wrong. It can be very hard to avoid emotion, yet it’s critical to avoid distorted, emotional thinking when trying to view the situation logically.
Redefine it. Break it into parts if it's complicated and solve the parts individually. Ask all the “why, which, who, when and what-if” questions you can think of. You will never be able to solve a problem if you don’t have a good understanding and thorough definition of the problem at hand.
Think of someone you know who is good at solving problems. Think of what that person would do in the same situation. Detach yourself so you can come up with more solutions. Read about problem-solvers in other totally unrelated industries. It’s easy to get stuck inside the box of industry-think and customary practices. Think "outside the box."
Find a quiet time and place to think where you are free from distraction. A long walk or drive may help you solve part of the problem or all of it. Some successful problem-solvers say a solution comes to them after sleeping, in the middle of the night, or in a dream. Don't ignore it if it happens to you. Your unconscious mind works 24-7 even as your conscious mind rests for the night.
Challenge assumptions. Don't be limited by pre-determined numbers or types of solutions. Question all assumptions.
Be courageous. It could be that the solution to the problem is not one that you will like. If there is no other solution, face it and go on. Self-pity only complicates the situation further.
Solving problems in the bindery or printing business (and life in general) is more than a matter of reaching back to our experience. Yes, our experience serves us well in most of our daily work and it keeps us from having to re-solve a problem every time it appears. That’s why experience has such value in business and why the experienced problem-solver gets paid more.
Yet no matter how much experience, knowledge and skill we have, we will routinely face problems that we can’t easily solve. In times like that it’s important to step out of our comfort zone and practice some new problem-solving habits. This may all sound a little Zen-like, but so what? Don’t knock it until you try it.