Solve Problems Like a Detective

detective in hat

In CLIFF DIVER, Detective Emilia Cruz starts piecing together a police investigation by using a timeline. Emilia’s love of timelines will be an element of her crime-solving skills in every book in the Emilia Cruz mystery series. It’s her go-to problem-solving device and the best way she knows to start organizing the many disparate threads running through every case.

Off the pages of a mystery series and into real life, however, a timeline is a better planning device than a decision-making tool, in my view. Alone, it can’t help you narrow down solutions or predict consequences.  But pair it with one of the tools below and you have a powerful way to resolve issues:

Pros and Cons

I once bought paper pre-printed with two columns, one reading PRO and the other reading CON. I actually pulled it out when a friend could not choose between a new job that was a risk and the current, safe, job where he felt stale. We literally brainstormed both sides of going vs staying. It was a simple exercise but helped him see solutions through a non-emotional lens.

Plot the pros and cons on a timeline to know the time frame each will require. In my friend’s case he took the higher risk job because when he counted up all the pros of the new opportunity, they far outweighed not only the cons, but the limited pros of staying where he was.

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Action items

For years when I felt blue, worried, or stuck, I’d make a list of what was going wrong on the left side of a legal pad. On the right side I’d list all possible action items for changing the situation and achieving a solution.  I’d timeline the actions to see how long they’d take or if I could do them immediately, in the next few days or in the distant future. Inevitably I’d find something I could do to improve the situation and know when I could do it.

Maybe the list won’t make the problem completely go away but the exercise always leaves me with a feeling of greater control and that is half the battle.

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Linear Thinking

A lot of problems feel bigger than they are because we are afraid of unknown consequences. So diagram the linear logic thread and figure out what and when some of those consequences might be/take place. It’s a basic “this action will lead to this outcome” exercise. But in order to work you have to be both realistic and honest.

For example, when we lived in Mexico, friends rarely paid their gardener on time. He stopped showing up and they attributed it to “typical” laziness. A more honest, linear thinking mindset might have recognized that if they wanted a nice yard, they’d have to hire someone, and pay for the work on time. The gardener could not afford transportation to get there on Thursday when he wasn’t paid for his work on Monday, even if they were prepared to pay him for both days on Thursday.

These problem solving ideas are likely to make their way into the investigations in the Emilia Cruz mystery series. But will they help her find a solution to her problems with Kurt Rucker? She might have to deal with corrupt politicians, dirty cops, and drug cartels in Acapulco, but Kurt is without a doubt her biggest challenge!

 What’s the cost of being an honest cop in Acapulco?

Cover of Cliff Diver

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