When I was in college, first as a history student and then as a graduate student studying counseling, I don’t remember being introduced to the importance of problem-solving. I’m sure the subject was probably mentioned more than once, but I wasn’t paying attention.
Well, I’m paying attention now! And hopefully the kids we work with are paying attention, too. So, why is problem-solving one of the most crucial skills we teach our Lead2Play youth?
- Every day, you face problems that need solving.
Maybe you’re trying to improve your grades, or find a part-time job, or figure out how to get a date with that person you like. Maybe you need to figure out how to eat better or find more time to spend with your family. Whether the issue is big or small, we all set goals for ourselves and strive to achieve them. But the path to achievement is seldom smooth. Problems crop up. Do you hide from the problem and hope it goes away? Do you waiver between choosing one solution over another? Do you get stressed or invigorated when faced with a problem?
Problem-solving is like any skill. The more we do it, the better we get at it—as long as we’ve been given the tools that help us do it in the first place. For example, I always felt much more confident about my decisions on the basketball court than I did about my decisions off the court. Yes, I had a natural ability. But I also had years and years of coaching and experience. What I didn’t have was a lot of life experience—and certainly not life experience in solving problems. As I moved from adolescence into young adulthood, several of my decisions lacked understanding of the pro’s and con’s, the values involved, and the problem-solving process that is essential to informed decision-making.
At Lead2Play, we not only teach youth the skill of problem-solving, we give them plenty of problems to solve! This skill will serve them well as they transition into college, the workforce, family and community life.
- Problem-solving affects our mindset.
It’s important to realize that being a problem solver isn’t just an ability—it’s a whole mind-set. It’s a mind-set that sees problems as opportunities. The bigger the problem, the bigger the opportunity! It’s also a mind-set that drives people to bring out the best in themselves and shape the world in a positive way. Rather than accepting the status quo, true problem solvers are constantly trying to proactively shape their environment. Imagine how different our world would be if leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Eleanor Roosevelt, and John F. Kennedy lacked this attitude.
At Lead2Play, we believe our approach to play, physical activity and sport can solve some pretty big problems—problems like childhood obesity, bullying, incivility, and the lack of genuine leadership opportunities for youth. Yes, we are about seeing problems as opportunities to use our passions and innovation skills to make the word a better place, and make ourselves better human beings.
- Problem-solving helps teams build synergy.
At Lead2Play, we empower youth through the efforts of working together. Teamwork, or synergy, is an essential ingredient for success. In my work over the years with small and medium size organizations, the problems that occurred were almost always the result of a breakdown in cooperation.
The movie Rocky contains a memorable line that perfectly sums up how we at Lead2Play employ the power of teamwork and synergy. In the movie, the boxer Rocky Balboa describes the relationship that exists between himself and his girlfriend, whose personality is so different from his. “I’ve got gaps, she’s got gaps,” says Rocky. “Together, we’ve got no gaps.”
Synergy is the dual responsibility of the youth who form our Youth Leadership Teams and their adult Leadership Coach. Synergy and teamwork doesn’t just happen. It’s a process. You have to get there by celebrating individual as well team contributions.
- Problem-solving fosters creativity.
Each of us is more creative than we realize. but we put constraints on ourselves that prevent us from harnessing that inventiveness. Steve Jobs declared: “Creativity is just connecting things.” He meant that the freshest ideas are usually just new combinations of stuff that already exists. Under Jobs’ leadership, for example, Apple didn’t invent MP3 players or tablet computers—they just made them better with features that were new to the category. The Wright brothers were bicycle manufacturers who dreamed of flight. Their first airplane looked a lot like a flying bicycle. Gutenberg applied his knowledge of wine presses to a printing machine able to mass-produce words, not wine. Street performers Daniel Gauthier and Guy Laliberte turned their knowledge of the circus, gymnastics and theatre into a splendid new category of entertainment: Cirque du Soleil.
At Lead2Play, we want youth to use their creativity and connection to solve problems and serve others.
If I could go back in time, there are many things I would do differently. Paying attention to the importance of learning and applying problem-solving skills would definitely be one of them. Fortunately, the kids at Lead2Play won’t have to say the same.