A GIS degree is technical and often attracts like-minded people. Schools do a great job of teaching those aspects of GIS including giving practical experience in GIS software applications like ESRI’s ArcGIS. However there are a lot of skills critical to a successful career in GIS that are not taught during the degree program, and that is what this blog series is designed to address.
Critical GIS Skill #4: Become a problem solver
In more technical fields like GIS, problems are often looked at as roadblocks, with the phrase “I can’t because…” muttered frequently. But the proficient GIS professional knows that problems are nothing more than opportunities to try a different strategy. Problems are a time for you as a GIS professional to shine for your agency by thinking creatively…by thinking outside the box. It’s a chance to tap into different skills. Anyone can improve their problem solving skills.
Here are some steps you can take to do just that.
Reframe the Problem: Too many people “freeze” when they encounter problems or feverously try to avoid them. Welcome problems. Sometimes something just as simple as looking at a problem as an opportunity can get you thinking creatively. The higher up in an agency you go, the more critical your problems solving skills will be to your career success. Welcome problems.
“Most people spend more time and energy going around problems than in trying to solve them.” – Henry Ford
Ask Questions: Remain objective when problems arise. Ask insightful questions. Try to get to the heart of the problem. Think beyond a quick resolution, but ask different questions than you may have in the past.
Don’t Settle: Don’t settle for the first or easy answer to the problem. Continue asking questions and digging deeper into the problem until you have options for solutions. Options allow you to select the best solution for your problem.
Brainstorm: When you are stuck on a problem, bring a few skilled people together and brainstorm possible solutions. Get a diverse group of people to avoid tunnel thinking. Often a group of people can come with more creative resolutions to a problem quicker than flying solo.
List Potential Obstacles: Before starting a project, brainstorm possible obstacles you may encounter. Then think through possible solutions ahead of time. How can you mitigate or at least be prepared for those obstacles? The better prepared you are for possible obstacles, the quicker you can address them and move forward.
There are different types of thinking skills that enable strong problem solving. They include:
Analytical Thinking: Analytical thinking applies logic and knowledge to solving problems by looking at data and facts.
Divergent Thinking: Divergent thinking solves problems by breaking it apart and exploring it’s components.
Critical Thinking: Creative thinking solves problems by analyzing and evaluating the problem.
Creative Thinking: Creative thinking generates new solutions by making unusual connections and links and breaking from established thoughts, theories, rules and procedures.
Strong problem solving skills can really set your career apart from the masses of GIS personnel. Welcome problems. Remember, problems are an opportunity to try a different strategy. With each problem successfully addressed, your skills grow that much deeper and you become that much more valuable in your position. Begin applying these steps and watch your career accelerate. Stay tuned for more critical skills your GIS degree didn’t teach you. Add your thoughts and ideas below for the critical skills you believe your degree didn’t teach you.