Problems can also be opportunities: they allow you to see things differently and do things in a different way: perhaps to make a fresh start. This article takes you through the steps in problem solving and its importance.
Solving problems involves both analytical and creative skills. Which particular skills are needed will vary, depending on the problem and your role.
Analytical and critical thinking skills help you to evaluate a problem and make decisions. A logical and methodical approach is best in some circumstances: for example, you will need to be able to draw on your academic or subject knowledge to identify solutions of a practical or technical nature.In other situations, using creativity or lateral thinking will be necessary to come up with ideas for resolving the problem and finding fresh approaches.
It is true that some people relate more easily than do others to number series questions, verbal analogies, logic games, and reading passages that present an argument. We all have unique talents. Still, it is a fact that for most jobs today, critical thinking skills—including analytical and logical reasoning—are essential. The good news is that these skills can be developed with practice. Learn by doing. It is an old lesson, tried and tested.
Most problem-solving skills are developed through everyday life and experience. However, the following interests and activities may be useful in demonstrating a high level of these skills:
- ‘Mind games’ such as cryptic crosswords, Sudoku, chess, bridge, etc;
- Computer games – the best of these can involve strategic planning, critical and statistical analysis and assessing the pros and cons of different courses of action;
- ‘Practical’ interests such as programming, computer repairs or car maintenance;
- Working with sound or lighting equipment for a band, event or show;
- Academic study: evaluating different sources of information for essays, designing and constructing a project; setting up a lab experiment.
There are several stages to solving a problem:
1) Evaluating the problem
- Clarifying the nature of a problem
- Formulating questions
- Gathering information systematically
- Organising data
- Condensing and summarising information
- Defining the desired objective
2) Managing the problem
- Using the information gathered effectively
- Breaking down a problem into smaller, more manageable, parts
- Using techniques such as brainstorming and lateral thinking to consider options
- Analysing these options in greater depth
- Identifying steps that can be taken to achieve the objective
- Deciding between the different possible options and the action to be taken
- Deciding on further information to be gathered before taking action
- Deciding on resources (time, funding, staff etc) to be allocated to this problem
4) Resolving the problem
- Implementing action
- Providing information to stakeholders/people affected; delegating tasks
- Reviewing progress
5) Examining the results
- Monitoring the outcome of the action taken
- Reviewing the problem and problem-solving process to avoid similar situations in future