TIB #40: How “Rubber Ducking” helps you solve problems and increase your confidence

Today, I’ll share with you a simple, but powerful method called “Rubber Ducking” to help you solve any type of problem you come across in business or in life. It has its origins in software development as a way to help debug problems in software code (see: Rubber Ducking).

Problem-solving is pretty much synonymous with entrepreneurship. “Rubber Ducking” has been invaluable for me in running my business and dealing with personal challenges.

Unfortunately, many people approach each new problem or challenge as a unique new thing. That turns each new challenge into a new monster to deal with. Rubber Ducking will not turn each challenge into something simple, but it does help to have a standard approach to the problems you encounter.

Problem-solving through Rubber Ducking reduces stress and boosts confidence

Not having a method to tackle problems or challenges leaves you vulnerable to:

  • Increased stress and anxiety
  • Reduced focus (problems distract you from what you feel you should be doing)
  • Delays and lost time

Fortunately, my method is easy to understand and apply. It will not prevent any future struggles, but it will help find solutions with clarity and focus. It also provides piece of mind, knowing you have a method to throw at any challenge coming your way.

You can this on your own or with another person. If you’re alone, prompt yourself these questions and talk to a rubber duck (or any other inanimate object).

Better yet, if you have someone else around, ask that person to be your rubber duck and have him or her ask you these (or similar) questions:

1 “What’s the problem”

Deceptively simple question, I know. But do start here!

Answer it by talking out loud. Share any thoughts and feelings. Basically think out loud in real-time.

It allows you to vent a little first, getting rid of any frustration or emotion and then describe the problem in increasing detail.

If you feel you’re done talking, but the problem is not entirely clear yet (to you or your stand-in rubber duck), ask yourself: “And what else?

2 “What’s the challenge in this for you?”

This question helps to focus on the specific challenge that this brings up for you. The “for you” part is therefore important!

It is unlikely that you have run into a problem that has not existed ever before. So, focussing on why this is a challenge for you helps you reflect on what you bring to this challenge.

Alternative wording is of course permitted, such as “What is the tricky part of this situation for you?”

By honing in on the challenge, you will start to see what’s standing in your way.

3 “So you mean [recap]?”

Finally, clarify the exact problem, by reflecting back your understanding of the problem after hearing it.

If you’re doing this alone, you may feel very self-aware. I get it, you are talking out loud, to a rubber duck and having a conversation with yourself.

But it is important to actually put it all into spoken (or written) words. The act of articulation adds details to an otherwise vague problem.

If you are being someone else’s rubber duck, ask them “Let me make sure I’m on the same page here. You’re saying that [restate the problem]. Is that right?”

This ensures that you fully understand the issue. It gives the other person an opportunity to clarify or correct any misunderstandings if you are acting as their rubber duck.

Ok, so now what?

This three-step process can be repeated several times over, to dig deeper into a challenge.

Notice how you are focussing on figuring out the problem exactly. You are not rushing to a solution. That is the power of this method, because the problem you first experience is rarely the real problem.

This method helps you dig deeper and while you do, solutions will start to present themselves.

Rubber ducking can be a fun, quirky way to coach yourself or someone else through a challenge. So next time your friend, family member, or colleague needs a little guidance, offer to be their rubber duck and see where the conversation takes you. You might just be surprised at the solutions you come up with together!