Want To Be A Kick-Ass Problem Solver? Nine Lessons I’ve Learned Watching Murder Mysteries

Posted by on Feb 16, 2020 in Problem Solving | 0 comments


My wife and I recently cancelled our TV cable subscription and began streaming our television programs.  In addition to all the local and national stations, ESPN, etc. we also get to watch some of the old favorite shows like Cheers, Mash, Seinfeld, and Columbo.  For those of you not familiar with the show, Columbo was a homicide detective that worked for the L.A. police department and was played by Peter Faulk.  In the show, Lt. Columbo has the uncanny ability to solve the most sinister murders by reconstructing the evidence using some basic principles that I think are beneficial to any person trying to solve a problem.  Here are the principles and traits he exhibits that I think will help any problem solver to be more successful in solving problems.

  1. Perseverance – Problem solving, like solving a murder, takes perseverance.  You have to take the time to understand everything that has occurred and what’s currently happening.
  2. Going to Gemba – In every show you see Columbo going back to the scene of the crime over and over again looking for any clue that may give him a lead.  He reconstructs how the murder was committed at the crime site and makes sure everything fits his theory.
  3. Asking Questions – Columbo drives suspects crazy by relentlessly asking them one question after another.  He shows up at all times of the day, at their homes, offices or recreational activities.  He’s always has another question that he needs answered.
  4. Don’t Overlook the Obvious –  Pay attention to the details.  It’s usually understanding the details that allows Columbo to determine exactly how the murder occurred.  As a problem solver make sure you look and observe the condition of the 6Ms (Man, Machines, Material, Method, Measurement, and Mother Nature).
  5. Following Leads – Each clue is an opportunity to uncover the root cause.  Take the time to investigate them thoroughly.  What data or evidence do you have?  Where is the data telling you to look next?
  6. Make Sense of The Situation – Making sure everything makes sense and you can explain it.  If you can’t explain something it means you don’t understand it well enough.
  7. Don’t Jump to Conclusions – Don’t start down the wrong path based on hear-say, opinions, etc.  Stay on track and keep focused.
  8. Attitude – Have a process that you go through each and every time and don’t deviate.  Ever watch a good golf putter and the process they go through.  Knowing you can solve a problem is like knowing you can sink a putt.  You have to believe in yourself and follow your process.
  9. Think – Take the time to think things through in your mind.  What makes sense and what doesn’t?  What additional information do you need?  Do you have the right data?  Where is the best place to get that information?

As I watch Lt. Columbo conduct his investigation,  I’m sometimes amazed at how he assembles the pieces of the puzzle together, but then again it is a TV murder mystery.  However the traits he exhibits are those that we can all benefit from.

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