Problem solving is for everyday life, too!

There are so many reasons to work at McKinsey. You can learn from smart people, explore a variety of different industries and functions, and receive excellent professional training. I understood and expected these experiences when joining McKinsey, but what surprised me is that the skills gained at work have substantially driven my personal growth as well.  Specifically, three behaviors I’ve picked up along the way—a can-do attitude, structured thinking, and mindful communication—have really helped me make sound decisions and build better relationships.

First, I’ve realized that having a can-do attitude is a great start to any challenge. For example, my mother recently asked me whether we should sell the family apartment in Hong Kong. Without any experience in real estate, my initial reaction was one of bewilderment. However, I quickly realized that like any other problem, common sense goes a long way, and that I did have the critical thinking skills to put together a coherent analysis.

I drew an issue tree to structure the decision-making process for whether I should apply to business school

Second, adding structure to my thoughts almost always bring additional clarity, and the tools we use to problem solve at McKinsey are versatile and applicable to all types of issues. One decision I’ve been struggling with is whether to apply to business school. I found myself easily swayed by others’ opinions, and so I decided to draw an issue tree (please see picture). An issue tree is a tool we use to structure problem solving, and it breaks the problem down into mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive components. Putting together an issue tree helped me realize which specific matters are at stake and identify areas where I need to do a bit more research.

Third, practicing mindful communication has helped me become a better friend. At McKinsey, we’re taught the iceberg metaphor, which is used to illustrate that people’s words or actions may be influenced by dynamics that are not immediately visible. It’s encouraged me to dig deeper when having a difficult conversation. The person in front of me may be saying something or behaving in a certain way that confuses me, but instead of getting frustrated, I try to push myself to understand his or her underlying thoughts, feelings, and beliefs at that point in time. Remembering the iceberg metaphor has helped me become a more understanding person, and probably saved me from a few interpersonal conflicts.

Looking back at my McKinsey experience, I feel grateful and empowered to have learned these life lessons. Problem solving can be for everyday life, too!