Problem-solving at NC State

Brigadier General Jennings talks about problem-solving skills--especially the importance of defining the problem--that he learned as an NC State student, and he reflects on how that affected his professional, personal and military careers.

Interview on 2015-03-27

Transcript

00:00:00.000 I think the biggest thing I learned when I was a student here that served me my whole life, both professionally and personally, is the problem-solving process.
00:00:12.793 We had that in Physics, I remember, 101, and I tell people what's so key about that, it's the first step of the problem-solving process that most people do not accomplish, and the first step is to define the problem.
00:00:31.066 I don't know how many times - I mean I spent another twenty-three years in the Army after I came back and graduated - how many times we would be working on something and you would spend sometimes days, weeks, solving something that was not the problem.
00:00:52.149 So I always tell people, when-. I mean we would be in meetings and, as I got a little more rank and could enforce these things,
00:01:01.692 typically what happens, the senior person says what they're going to say, what they want you to do, and people rush out to go, and I say, "Okay, everybody stop. Take a deep breath. What did he say?
00:01:17.040 Let's define the problem," because it's so easy to just see what you think was the problem
00:01:28.069 and that may not be actually what the problem is, but once you define the problem then you can start working on the other elements to solve the problem.
00:01:39.191 You can solve a problem that was not the problem, that that person didn't bring forward, so that's why I say in a lot of cases just take your time.
00:01:48.279 It works in your personal life or it can work professionally: what is the problem? Sometimes people oversimplify or they miss what is really the problem and try to go straight to solving something else.