By Stephanie Brewer

Most of us have seen a detective in action on TV or in a movie. Watching the detective solve the crime by finding one clue at a time is part of what keeps the audience engaged, waiting to learn the answer to ‘Who Dunnit?’  Thinking like a detective can help us solve real-life problems too.

Strategic thinking is the ability to understand an issue and how that issue is connected to both small and large goals.By learning to find clues about how the issue and our decisions affect other people, we can create solutions that provide the best outcomes for most of the stakeholders (the other people or groups involved) both now and in the future. The ability to see a problem and think of options to solve the problem often distinguishes people who can be leaders from those who need to follow direction from others. Are you familiar with the detective stories featuring Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson? Holmes was always the leader, mentally ahead of his sidekick, Dr. Watson, because he was busy finding clues and thinking about all possible options to help solve the crime.

You can put a little Sherlock Holmes in your life to discover more solutions to everyday challenges or to guide a group project. When you apply some simple, strategic thinking concepts to your thought process, you’ll discover more choices and likely, better ones!

Below are some steps to help you expand your options.

  1. UNDERSTAND. Take time to observe, study, research and understand as much about a situation or problem as you can. Consider all the available information by asking yourself, “Who? What? When? Where? Why? And How?”
  2. THINK. Make time to think quietly about what you have learned. Ask questions and talk with different people about the situation to expand your perspectives on the issues. Listen and think about what people tell you. Use this information to identify the problem that needs a solution.
  3. EXPLORE. Start by gathering every possible solution– even if it seems an unlikely choice. Gather a group of people who are impartial, or at least represent different viewpoints and are willing to be non-judgmental. Talk with these people to develop even more solution ideas. At this stage, more is better. You can narrow the ideas to the best ones as you proceed.
  4. CONSIDER.Think about the outcomes (what will happen next) as a result of each decision option you have discovered. How would each option affect the other people involved with the situation?
  5. PLAN. Identify the best possible solution and make an action plan that breaks the goal into small steps. Make sure you assign the steps to someone (even if that’s YOU) and understand what resources and time needed to accomplish each step.

Keep these five steps in mind when solving your next challenging puzzle. When you learn to think like a detective, you’ll discover new and better solutions and with practice, you’ll become a more successful problem-solver. You might even give Sherlock Holmes some competition!