The 5 rules for solving any problem.


Way back when I was doing hands-on PC hardware support, I learned to watch other people fix PC issues, and found several truisms that translate pretty well to other situations. I’ve found that if you follow these five rules, you can do a pretty good job of getting by.

1. Believe everybody.
What they’re telling you is the absolute truth…..from their point of view. It doesn’t matter that they’re dead wrong, or that they’re looking at symptoms, not causes, or that it may not have been ‘working fine until you touched it’…. They’re telling the truth. They can’t see it any other way, and if you go about trying to prove them wrong, you’ll end up with an unsolved problem, AND an angry customer. Believe everything they say, because their perception is your reality.

2. Trust nobody.
Wait….doesn’t this fly right in the face of rule #1? Yes it does…but it’s essential for finding the REAL cause of the problem. You’ve got to be discreet about doing so, but you need to challenge all the information that the person is giving you – because it may be wrong, incomplete, or just plain not relevant…..but then again, it might give you a clue about how to solve the issue. So, listen and believe, but only so far. As Reagan used to say, Trust, but Verify.

3. Draw a picture before you start.
Have you ever been working on a computer, car or household repair, only to find yourself saying…”now, what did I just do?” You need to know the baseline of any situation before you start, just in case you need to go back to the beginning. If you don’t, you may find yourself chasing new problems that you’ve introduced – and it’s helpful to know what things looked like before you showed up.

4. Change one thing at a time.
This goes hand in hand with #3. You never want to introduce new problems in to a situation, especially one that isn’t working. Problems are difficult enough to solve without causing new ones…..and it’s highly likely that you’ll get the blame for the original problem by the time you’re done, if you cause new ones. Changing one thing at a time is a good way to make sure that you aren’t making the situation worse. Think long and hard before going down a second path – sometimes, it’s best to go back to the beginning so that you know you’re only changing one thing, not several.

5. Know when to say when.
When you’re knee deep in trying to fix something, it’s difficult for many to give up on trying to solve it. Nobody likes to say that they can’t fix something, especially after they’ve been asked, but some times, it’s the best action you can take. If it’s clearly beyond your capability to solve, don’t be afraid to say so, and get the right help to fix the problem. Some times, it’s cheaper, faster and better to seek professional help. Around the house, it’s rumored that I can fix anything, but the reality is that sometimes, I fix it with a check. There are people who are better AND faster than I am at fixing some problems, and at that point, it’s best to call them in.

If you follow these five rules, you’ll find it easier to solve problems, or at least less frustrating to deal with them. It’s fun and rewarding to solve a problem that has stumped others, but sometimes its best to use a little less pride, and a little more process.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

What do YOU have to say?

One thought on “The 5 rules for solving any problem.

  1. Excellent advice! Heed Rule # 3 – document each technical troubleshooting step, one step at a time. Test each step as you proceed – revert back as needed.

    Lack of documentation is a surefire sink-or-swim I.T. troubleshooting method.