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Why confidence is critical to problem solving

Burkhardt Prigge, Kepner-Tregoe

Whether you are an astronaut in space, a leader in business, an athlete on the field – greatness is demonstrated by turning problems into opportunity and confidently overcoming adversity. It doesn’t matter what the problem is, how much knowledge or how many skills you have, confidence is the key to achieving the results you desire. Confidence is what gives you the strength and motivation to turn the potential of your situation into results through action.

When it comes to problem-solving, confidence is the differentiating trait that separates participants, followers and observers from true leaders able to step-forward and take control of situations and guide others to favorable outcomes. Confidence enables you to:

  1. Identify when a problem exists – Confidence in your abilities enables you to look around and be aware of subtleties and changes in the environment, leveraging instincts to augment your senses.
  2. Evaluate relevant information – Problem situations are often complex and involve potentially overwhelming amounts of information. Confidence in your understanding enables you to distinguish important signals from noise in the environment in order to focus on the information that is really important and actionable
  3. Assess alternatives and impacts – With confidence in your skills comes an understanding that no choice will ever be ideal (there are always trade-offs) but some sort of choice will need to be made.
  4. Act decisively – Others will look to those showing confidence in problem situations. The ability to lead others begins with the confidence to lead yourself.
  5. Re-assess the situation – Confidence should not be confused with arrogance. Problem situations are always evolving and sustainable success is rooted in being aware of the impacts of actions on your environment and learning from your success and failures.


If you are looking to up-level your problem-solving abilities, consider steps to increase confidence in yourself and your team. Confidence isn’t something humans are born with – you acquire it as you go through life and each day presents opportunities to improve. Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to increase your problem-solving confidence:

  • Acquiring knowledge and training: general knowledge and universal skills (such as critical thinking, decision making and root cause analysis) are a good way to develop a problem-solving foundation. You may not know how to solve a specific problem, but having an approach to solving problems in general is a good start.
  • Gaining new experiences: Wisdom comes from experience and having been through situations before. Although each situation may be different, having a breadth of experiences to relate to and understanding the impacts of different actions leads to a greater chance of success.
  • Adopt processes and protocols: Not everything needs to be figured out “on the fly”. Processes, protocols and refined sequences of activities are effective tools for dealing with routine activities or problems previously encountered – enabling creative problem solving to be focused on new and difficult problems.
  • Deliberate practice and simulation: Great problem solvers understand the value of running through simulations and rehearsing different situations and responses to develop a sense of cognitive muscle memory. When similar situations are encountered in real-life, they often describe their responses as being ‘instinctual’.
  • Empowering yourself and others to take risks: Confidence to succeed is accompanied by an acceptance of imperfection and occasional failure. To achieve greatness, a problem solver must learn to thrive and encourage in an environment of calmness in uncertainty.

Consider the problems you encounter in your personal and professional life and how confident you feel in trying to solve them. Everyone has a problem-solver hidden inside them ready to be unleashed on the world. Have you found yours?

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