What are problem solving techniques?

Dealing with difficult problems is not easy, but not necessarily painful. For this, only a correct way of thinking and an established process are needed. Fortunately, there are a lot of problem solving techniques that help solve any problems that you may encounter at work and everyday life.

When you face a difficult task, where do you begin and what methods of solving problems can you use?

Here are several techniques and tips for solving problems that will allow you to solve any problem with the confidence of a professional.

How many stages can the process of solving the problem be broken down?

At the core of solving problems is a process consisting of four stages. You may remember these stages from the basics of the scientific technique.

  • You need to determine the issue. What did cause it? How do you understand that it exists at all?
  • Then you determine the possible solutions to the problem. What ideas come to your mind?
  • Then you need to evaluate the solution options and pick the most successful from them. Which option fits best? What’s the easiest? What kind of preference?
  • Finally, apply the selected option. Did it solve the issue? Is it worth to try another way?

When using problem solving techniques, some variations of these four stages will always serve as a foundation for you. So, before solving the problem, try to fully understand it.

Creative ways to solve problems

Every day many specialists face the need to find creative solutions to problems. Often, they neglect the creative approach and grab the first idea that comes to mind.

At first glance, you might think that the so-called unconscious competence is inherent in outstanding practices: they give the impression of people who are capable of creating by their whims. However, most of them, although unconsciously, apply the methods and techniques described here.

A magic wand for generating ideas does not exist but there are many methods that can help any specialist become a creative person. Such techniques, coupled with knowledge and understanding of the creative process will allow you to significantly develop your creative abilities and find creative solutions to your problems.

Instead of blindly copying all the creative techniques offered here, try to better understand the process that is behind them. This will allow you to understand how specific the technique is for your current task, if it fits you personally and, most importantly, if it will bring the desired result.

Note that any stimulating creative technique must meet one or more of the following criteria:
  • To facilitate the temporary cessation of critical analysis
  • To stimulate the generation of many ideas
  • To allow you to focus on the details of the situation or problems
  • To help combine heterogeneous elements
  • To structure or organize the collection of information, developing ideas and assessing the situation
  • To support creative thinking
  • To prevent anxiety
  • To provide additional time for creativity

How to solve problems

Be creative. You probably expected that there would be non-standard solutions listed for brainstorming. Not really.

In fact, the creative problem solving (CPS) is a process described by Alex Faickney Osborn and Sidney Parnes, who is considered the creator of the traditional brainstorming.

The process of creative solution of problems formulated by them focuses on several points:
  • Divide the formation of ideas and their estimation. When brainstorming, take the time to fix all the ideas. Generate as many ideas as possible. Do not rate or estimate by the value until you have completed the brainstorming session.
  • Evaluation will spoil everything. Nothing affects the creative ideas more destructive than their evaluation. Wait until the end of the brainstorming process before you begin to judge.
  • Reformulate the problems into questions. To encourage the group to creative solutions will be easier if the problem appears in the form of a question suggesting a non-standard response.
  • The “yes and” option will help develop the idea. Here is one of the main rules of improvisation: any idea can be ruined by the “but” word (for example, “this is good, but I believe it’s better...”). Avoid it completely. Instead, supplement what was said earlier, starting with the words “yes, and”, so that the team continues to generate and develop ideas.

When brainstorming, start generating ideas, asking questions and relying on existing ideas. All assessments and judgments can be made later.

Psychological advice on problem solving

If you look at the past of methods of solving problems in psychology, we will find a lot of unusual ideas that may well prove useful.

Use your experience

In 1911, Edward Thorndike, an American psychologist, notices how cats try to get out of the cage into which he put them. Based on this experiment, Thorndike worked on his own law of effect, which is this: if you have succeeded in something by trying and mistaking, then if the same problem arises, you are likely to perform the actions that led you to success for the first time.

Experience from the past can make it clearer for you to see how you can solve the problem that you’re facing now, so remember it and try to explore.

Interference for reproductive thinking

Thorndike’s ideas were picked up and developed by Gestalt psychologists who said that problems can be solved with the help of reproductive thinking. It has nothing to do with sex – its meaning is that the reproduction of previous experiences can help in solving the current issue.

Gestalt psychology is interesting in how its adherents view the obstacles to solving problems. Here’re two of them:
  • Are you obsessed? This means that you are stuck with a decision that worked well before but has nothing to do with the current problem. Maybe you are so obsessed with the technique or idea that you apply them, even if they do not work?
  • Do you think about alternatives? There’s a cognitive distortion, which is called functional fixity. It can ruin all your creativity, forcing you to see only the traditional functions of the object. For instance, when cutting a piece of paper in half you only have a ruler, the functional fixity will not let you get distracted from the idea that you can only measure objects with a ruler.

Do not look for standard solutions (experience of the past) or any preconceived notions about how to use this tool.

Other tools to solve problems

The model of productive thinking by Tim Hurson is presented in the book called Think Better. He is a writer and guru of creative thinking, who offered a 6-stage model for creative problem solving. Stages of the productive thinking model are as follows:

  • Ask what’s going on. Identify the problem, its influence on the company, and then your ideas for the future.
  • Ask what success means. Determine how the solution should work, what resources are needed for it, what its scale is, and what values it supports.
  • Ask what the matter is. Write as many questions as possible, the answers to which will solve the issue.
  • Find answers. Reply to the questions from the third stage.
  • Formulate the solution. Estimate valuable ideas according to the elements of the second stage. Choose the solution.
  • Choose the resources. Determine which staff and resources are needed to implement the solution.

Ishikawa chart for cause analysis

The most significant in determining the issue is to study the possible cause of its occurrence. You have to ask questions such as when and where this happens, how this happens, who this happens to, and why this occurring.

Get to the original cause using the Ishikawa diagram (also called a cause-effect diagram and a fish bone diagram).

In the right part of the diagram, there is a consequence, using it as the formulation of the problem. Then there is a list of all possible reasons on the left, grouping them into larger categories. The diagram of results resembles a fish skeleton.

To find a solution, use the analogy

Analogies are another useful tool. Thinking by analogy applies infofrom one field to solve an issue in another. The bottom line is that we find a way to solve the current problem, using for this purpose the solution of another problem. But be careful because it is not easy for beginners to work with analogies, you need to get used to.

A sample: a doctor treats a patient with an inoperable tumor. To remove the tumor, the doctor can apply radiation therapy, but it will also destroy healthy tissues.

Two researchers, Guick and Holyoke, noted that it was much easier for people to decide what to do if they read a story about a general who needs to capture a royal fortress, but at the same time try to avoid mines that will detonate if a large army. The general sends small detachments of soldiers along various streets, so that the army gathers near the building at one time and storms it with all the might.

In “The Architecture of Abundance” book by Lenedra J. Carroll describes a problem solving method consisting of questions and answers.

In short, if you have an issue, ask a question about it and find 12 ways to solve the issue. Then you can take one of these options, make a question out of it and come up with another 12 alternatives. Continue doing the same until the solution is completely ready and it can be used

Begin applying the techniques right now

Hopefully, these problem solving techniques will be useful to you and your imagination will take a gush of variants of solutions to various problems.

If this happens, then you have four statements that you can use, having encountered another problem:
  • Do not start with attempting to deal with the problem. First try to understand its cause.
  • Ask questions – they will help find solutions to the problem.
  • Remember how the previous problems were solved – this can help solve the current one.
  • Before trying to solve the problem, get rid of prejudiced reasoning and past experience.

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