Problem solving refers to the process where an individual has to work through details so as to achieve a solution towards a problem. Notably, problem solving can involve systematic or mathematical operations; thus, it can be used in gauging an individual’s critical thinking skills. Excellent problem-solving skills can positively impact a person’s career. In the academic environment, good problem-solving skills play a significant role in students’ success. People encounter different types of problems in their workplaces and even at home. Whether solving an external or internal problem for a customer, the problems an individual might encounter can be large or small, easy or difficult, simple or complex. It is fundamental to look for ways to solve these problems. For this reason, being a confident problem solver is significant for a person’s success. However, much confidence comes from using effective procedures and processes when approaching a problem. Thus, problem-solving skills are vital in academics, workplaces, and in dealing with everyday encounters.
Problem solving requires two types of mental skills, that is, creative and analytical (Isaksen et al., 2011). Analytical or logical thinking includes such skills as comparing, ordering, evaluating, selecting, and contrasting. Besides, it offers a consistent framework for problem solving and assists in selecting the best alternative from the available ones. In most instances, analytical thinking dominates, especially in addressing closed problems. In this case, many possible problems ought to be identified and analyzed so as to find the real cause. Creative thinking is considered a divergent process, which involves the use of imaginations to create a broad range of different ideas for solutions. Creative thinking requires an individual to look beyond the obvious, thus creating ideas that might at first seem unrealistic or lack logical connection with the problem being solved.
Creative thinking skills are divided into numerous elements. One of them is fluency, which produces many ideas. The second element is flexibility, which provides a broad range of ideas, and, lastly, elaboration, which develops ideas (Isaksen et al., 2011). Notably, effective problem solving requires a controlled mixture of creative and analytical thinking. Left-brain thinking is said to be more analytical and logical. Further, it is predominantly verbal. In turn, right-brain thinking is linked to impressionistic relationships and feelings. Besides, it is also said to be more holistic.
1. Problem Definition
The process of problem solving follows a sequence of steps. The first step is problem definition (Isaksen et al., 2011). An individual should first identify the problem to be solved. One has to make decisions concerning what he/she wants to achieve and write it down as well. In most cases, people keep the problems in their mind as a vague idea. As a result, they end up getting lost in the problem they are trying to solve. Writing down the problem helps the solver think over it repeatedly. After writing down the problem, it is significant to recheck if a person is solving the right problem. It is not advisable to take sides while solving problems. In most cases, people use an immediate solution in defining a problem without rechecking whether they are answering the right problem.
Identifying a problem allows an individual to deal with the symptoms and the real problem itself (Isaksen et al., 2011). For instance, in case the performance in the department an individual works for is substandard, one might think that the problem is with the workers submitting work. However, after looking deeper into the problem, the issue could be due to an unreasonable workload and lack of training. Tools such as cause analysis, appreciation, and the five whys help individuals in asking the correct answers and working to uncover the problem by monitoring whatever is happening. At this stage, the issue has to be examined from different perspectives. When an individual commits himself too early, it is possible to end up with a problem statement in the form of a solution. For instance, considering the following problem statement, there has to be a proper way of disciplining individuals who do substandard work. However, this does not offer a solution to discover the real causes of under-performance (Robson, 2002).
2. Problem Analysis
The second step is analyzing the problem. This entails checking where the problem lies, considering the current solution, and the reasons for the problem. For instance, what could be the possible advantages of a process, product, or service? Understanding the origin of the problem and the way it fits in with the current developments and its current environment can be substantial in checking whether a solution will work or not. Correspondingly, it is essential to have criteria for evaluating any new solutions by analyzing whether they will work or not. The process of problem solving ensures that the situation at hand is properly assessed and checks if there are any changes needed (Robson, 2002). After the investigation, it is significant to step back and reconfirm if the problem definition is still valid. After the inquiry, people tend to discover that the problem they were to answer is different from the way it was initially interpreted.
3. Generating Possible Solutions
After identifying the real issue to be solved and investigating the climate in which it fits, the next step is creating options. Ideally, this stage calls for much concentration to generate as many solutions as possible (Robson, 2002). However, they should not be evaluated. When properly evaluated, an idea that could have been gotten rid of immediately could develop into a splendid solution. Thus, at this stage, it is not recommended to pre-judge any potential solutions. Rather, all ideas should be treated as new ideas.
4. Analyzing Solutions
In this section, an individual should investigate the factors concerning the potential solutions. Here, it is important to note down the bad and good points. In addition, it is also vital to write down other things that appear to be relevant to the solutions. During this stage, it is not advisable to evaluate solutions since an individual might fail to note down the right points because of the notion that they might not work. However, it is possible to find out that after writing down the benefits the solutions may display unique advantages. On discovering this, one might choose to put the necessary efforts into developing an idea that will possibly work.
5. Selecting the Best Solutions
In this section, the problem solver looks through numerous influencing factors for every solution. Therefore, he/she may decide to keep some solutions and to disregard others. The solver has to look at the problem as a whole and use his/her judgment by choosing the right solution. In the innovation toolbox, an individual can vote using either ‘yes’ or ‘no’ depending on how great the idea is. Sometimes, simple figures and facts dictate the ideas that will work and the ones that will not. In other situations, intuitions and feelings decide. Through voting for solutions, one will end up with numerous options. One can also vote repeatedly so as to refine the shortlist. Thus, individuals will obtain either one or numerous solutions. At other times, people may lack viable solutions. Then, it is advisable to repeat the solution sections in an effort to discover more potential solutions. Alternatively, one might re-evaluate the problem since at other times it might be difficult to find a solution because the problem definition is self –contradictory or not well defined.
6. Planning the Next Course of Action
This is the section where individuals have to write down what they intend to do next. Now that the problem solver has a potential solution or solutions, he/she can decide how to make the solutions work. This means individuals will be doing various things at different times in future and then confirm that they have been carried out according to the plan. Notably, this stage demonstrates that valuable thinking used in solving the problem becomes a reality. This is considered a logical step to resolve the problems physically.
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Problem Solving Skills in Academics
Problem-solving skills are a significant factor in academic success. Caregivers and parents should ensure their children’s success by teaching and modeling practical problem-solving skills at home. Helping a child learn how to solve a problem is a critical skill, especially for school readiness. Caregivers and parents are kids’ first and most important teachers. Thus, modeling excellent problem-solving skills is very significant. Children learn best by watching their caregivers and parents handling certain situations, responding and solving problems (Kallet, 2014). If a parent solves a problem by yelling, hitting, throwing things, or using other unacceptable strategies, a child will do the same thing.
Often, adults prevent their children from witnessing any form of disagreement or conflict. However, it is of much significance for a child to see an adult negotiate any differences, compromise, and resolve conflicts. Thus, it is essential that children learn how to negotiate differences in a constructive way and see how it can be successfully carried out. If caregivers and parents handle the situations privately, as mentioned earlier, then there will be no example for children to learn from. Children get to be assertive verbally, especially when they see or listen to their parents resolve conflicts. The use of role-playing and puppets helps children learn how people feel in certain situations.
Understanding Complexity of a Problem
When a problem is not complex, solving it becomes easy. When it requires a formal approach, it signifies that the issue is complex. However, there are various tools available in solving this tangled mess. These tools help an individual in creating a visual representation of the situation at hand. Therefore, it is easy to understand whatever is going on. In this respect, affinity diagrams are considered an effective tool for organizing several different pieces of information into common themes (Kallet, 2014). The cause and effect diagram is another standard tool. In generating viable solutions, it is important to have a solid understanding of whatever could be causing the problem. Using the example of substandard work mentioned earlier, the cause and effect diagram could highlight lack of training as the primary cause of the problem. The tool would also stress other possible causes such as a technology-related problem and work overload.
In case a problem occurs within a business process, a flowchart, system diagram, and lane diagram will help to see how different inputs and activities can fit together. Notably, this assists an individual in identifying a missing element that could be causing the problem. In most instances, what seems a single problem can turn out to be significant problems. With the examples mentioned earlier, the lack of sufficient skills can cause poor work. However, excessive workloads can also be a major contributor. The drilling technique, in its turn, helps in splitting problems into smaller parts and solving them appropriately.
Barriers to Problem Solving Skills
Several things deter an individual from finding a satisfactory solution to a problem. In some instances, the barriers are caused by cognitive blocks, that is, how an individual thinks or feels. It can also be due to physical and social blocks. Every individual has cognitive blocks and diverse types at different intensities (Zhou, 2017). Notably, this influences the barriers people encounter. To overcome these obstacles, it is essential to be aware of several barriers and the impact they have on problem solving. The common barriers in problem solving include cognitive blocks, which impede ones’ ability to solve problems correctly. These can be emotional, expressive, intellectual, cultural, perceptual, and environmental. The most common cognitive blocks are a mental set, unnecessary constraints, irrelevant information, functional fixedness, and confirmation bias.
Notably, confirmation bias occurs when the approach to problem solving is taken to confirm a preconceived solution. On the other hand, the mental set comes from reusing anything that has been successful from the past instead of assessing and evaluating the problem (Zhou, 2017). Unnecessary constraints are associated with links to solving problems using the previous experience that worked in a given situation and trying to resolve the same approach in the current situation. Further, irrelevant information is caused by individuals diverging from the problem and shifting to other topics they feel are related or perhaps presenting too much information. However, the barriers can easily be removed by being aware of the drawbacks of problem solving and training how to use problem-solving skills and techniques correctly.
It is significant to learn problem-solving skills. Parents, businesspersons, students and even state leaders encounter problems in their daily lives. As a result, these problems need solving. Problems could vary from saving the company, ending the financial crisis to any problem encountered in class or efforts to keep a job. Whether the issue is big or small, each person has set goals and faces challenges in achieving them and striving to overcome the obstacles on the way. However, no matter how hard a problem might be, there is always an easy way to arrive at satisfying solutions as there exists a fundamental and universal approach to solving problems. What people need to do is to learn the skills of solving problems. In this respect, it is important to realize that the problem solving process has several essential steps and there are always certain barriers in solving problems.