How a desire for problem-solving allows you to make the most of what you have

The rescue of a soccer team from the Tham Luang Caves, otherwise known as the Thai Cave Rescue, caught people’s attention around the world.

After football practice one afternoon in 2018, the Wild Boars football team raced to the Tham Luang caves on their bicycles. It was one of the team’s favourite haunts. But a sudden storm caused the narrow passageways in the cave system to flood, trapping the boys and their Assistant Coach inside.

After realising what had happened, their Coach called the authorities to help to rescue the team.

They spent nine days in the cave with little food or light until they were discovered. The Assistant Coach didn’t know if they would be rescued but, he chose to teach them meditation techniques to help them stay calm and use as little air as possible.

Imagine if the rescuers had refused to help because all they knew was that thirteen people had entered the cave system and not come out. Their assignment was unclear, with only limited information and direction available. They had to devise a plan using their creativity and resourcefulness.

They created structure and gained the data and other information needed to solve how to rescue the team.

Rescuers initially wanted to keep the group supplied underground until the end of the rainy season – which would have taken months. But with the forecast of heavy rains, and the risk of water levels rising, an operation was launched to bring them out.

Because the rescuers had a clear desire for problem-solving, they were able to make the most of the available options. They didn’t waste time on wishful thinking. The team was 1 kilometre below the surface and 2.4 kilometres inside the tunnel system. They discarded options that weren’t practical like drilling rescue tunnels or teaching boys, who had been starved for nine days, how to dive.

Rescuers built their confidence by practising parts of their plan with the local swimming club. Then, in turn, members of the trapped team were placed in a semi-conscious state to prevent them from panicking and attached to a diver who guided them through the water for three hours. When they came across dry sections of tunnel, they had to be dragged on a stretcher, taking another three to five hours. It took three days to get everyone out once the rescue started.

The rescuers had to pump out 1 billion litres of water, traverse extremely narrow passages, and contend with strong currents and poor diving visibility, all while the soccer team was running out of oxygen.

As Theodore Roosevelt said, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”

It’s the same as being a resourceful handyman, using the tools in your toolbox to build something remarkable from the materials you have.

A clear desire for problem-solving enables you to boldly move forwards to uncover data and information that’s not obvious, adapt and utilise what is available to reach an outcome.

However, people with a mild or very mild desire for problem-solving tend to perform best when work is structured and routine and can struggle to create and draw conclusions when there are high levels of ambiguity.

If a person like this had led the Thai cave rescue, they would have focused on the negative rather than how to achieve a positive outcome, been overwhelmed by their anxiety and the size of the problem and lacked confidence in the ability of the rescue team to find a solution.

Now it’s not likely you’ll be asked to undertake the equivalent of a Thai cave rescue at work, but you’ll likely be faced with an ambiguous problem to solve at some stage.

To develop your desire to solve problems, you can:

  • Develop your ability to take courageous actions by focusing on comparing the impact if the problem was solved against doing nothing and then keep asking yourself what that would mean for you and others. I’m sure the rescuers focused on what would happen either way and how that would have impacted the boys, their families, the community and themselves. Focus on creating as many positive ripples as possible to give yourself more reasons to act with courage.
  • Focus on being more curious and asking more questions.
  • Be assertive and clear with your intentions so people don’t get upset with you asking so many questions.

After all, who wants to be like an animal caught in a car’s headlights on a country road?

These tips will help stop you from getting caught up on the size of the problem, the lack of information, and the feelings that can go with that and develop a greater desire to solve problems.

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