Problem Solving the Minimalist Way

For the past few months a former colleague of mine (we’ll call her Chelsea) has worked feverishly day and night to research and select a new software package for her employer. The list of must-haves for this software solution extended the length of my arm and getting one that filled the bill was going to cost that same arm and possibly a leg too. During this process, I was invited to “give my opinion” on some of the options being considered. I’m not an IT consultant, though I once played one in another job. No…I’m just a girl who can’t say no to her friends (but trust me, I’m working on it!).

“You know how things work,” Angie said, on one of the many occasions I protested my involvement in this project. “She trusts your judgment and knows that you won’t let her get ripped off.”

Maybe I do have a reputation for finding the most cost-effective solution. Okay, I’ll take that 🙂

Working with Chelsea, I started thinking about how having a minimalist point of view can save you from making costly mistakes. Chelsea is not a minimalist. She’s young and unfortunately part of a generation that thinks the best technology is the newest technology. I don’t think it ever occurred to her to learn to use the software that was already in place before launching into a massive upgrade. Nor do I think she started with the most fundamental of all questions: what problem am I trying to solve? Instead, Chelsea started her search for a software solution by asking everyone in her company for their opinion.

Imagine this scenario – you’re thinking about buying a vehicle. You want something reliable that gets you back and forth from work. You’re going to be the only driver but instead of finding a car that works for you, you decide (why, I don’t know) to ask your neighbors what they want in your car. Jill thinks it should have a GPS, for sure. Bob insists that you need 4WD for the snow. Susy has heated leather seats so she’s convinced you should have them too. And Bill..well, Bill won’t drive anything that isn’t made in America. In trying to find the right car that fits the needs of Jill, Bob, Susy, and Bill you end up with a $549 car payment. If you aren’t already miserable when you drive off the lot, you certainly will be when have to take an extra job to pay for your neighbors’ car.

My point – it’s great to be democratic and inclusive EXCEPT when the solution doesn’t even apply to the people being asked.

Whether you’re choosing a software solution for your employer or a better way to get to work, the key to success lies in simplicity.

  • Know the problem you’re trying to solve and don’t create a problem where one doesn’t exist. It’s easy to buy a solution to almost any problem, real or imagined, and there are way too many folks out there whose job it is to capitalize on your indecisiveness and sell you the next best thing. If you don’t know what you actually need, you’ll be suckered every time.
  • Once you know your real need, ask yourself if something you already have can solve for that need. In Chelsea’s case that might have been just some additional training or another staff member to help with data entry.
  • If you don’t have a solution at hand, make a list of possible alternatives, starting with the simplest. If you need to get to work, do you really need a car? Is there a local bus in your area? Can you carpool or even telecommute?

Solving problems on your own is called being resourceful and resourcefulness is the greatest of all superpowers. Resourcefulness is also the epitome of minimalism. When you learn to trust yourself and solve problems in the most basic manner, you can survive almost anywhere and with next to nothing. But best of all, you’ll be happy doing it, since there’s nothing quite as empowering as independence.