“In every problem, there is a solution.” In fact, there can be more than one solution to a specific problem. Finding the fastest way to resolve the problem is the goal. Whether you’re facing a problem at your workplace or at home, whatever the problem may be, problem solving strategies can help you find the solution to your problem.
There are several problem solving strategies that were developed through extensive researches. These were tested and proven to work on some people. Even if you are experiencing the same problem as the other person is having, a solution that may work for you is not guaranteed to work for her.
This is because people have different perspective, emotions and they react on things differently. It’s the same with the problem solving strategies. Some strategies may be applicable to you and some are not. Since there are several of these, you’ll surely find a technique that will work on you.
Here are some of the strategies that you can try to solve your problems.
Ask for advice.
People have different opinions and ways on solving problems. Talking to other people, especially those who have experienced the same problem in the past will open your mind to other possibilities that you haven’t thought of before. You’ll learn the things that worked for them and from these you might be able to find something that will work for you.
Break big problems.
Sometimes, a problem may seem too big that you just feel like giving up. However, there may be little problems that make up that problem that’s why it appears to be that big. Breaking the problem into smaller issues and facing these one by one can help you resolve that big problem.
Write the problem.
Get a paper or notebook and write your problem. Think of a possible solution and write it down. Always keep your note with you so anytime an idea would pop-up in your head, you can write this immediately on your notes. Sometimes, solutions just come to your mind when least expected or when you’re not even thinking of it. Check on your notes and see which of the solutions written is more likely to solve the problem.
Keep trying different problem solving strategies until you find which works for you.
Problem Solving Strategies
The good news is that there are literally hundreds of problem solving strategies that you can employ. The trick is to find the strategies that work for you and are the most effective. Not every strategywill work for everybody and some will not be appropriate to every situation.
A good rule of thumb is to find those strategies that best fit your personality. Do you learn visually or through reading? Are you a man of action or a thinker? Do you like strategizing and brainstorming or do you like finding quick and dirty answers? Do you like complexity or do you want simplicity? There are approaches that take advantage of all of these personality traits and more.
The best way to find the way to approach problem solving that will work for you or your organization is to research. The more you know, the better you will do and the more fun you will have. A final thought: the best problem-solving strategy for you is probably the one that you will have the most fun with. If you are having fun, you will be more likely to throw yourself at the problem and actually solve it.
So review the list of problem solving strategies below, find which one sounds good for you and give it a test. Don’t be afraid to try to more than one strategy, to combine strategies and tailor them to your needs. If you do that, you’ve learned the basics of solving problems. The more you are willing to explore and innovate, the better you will do.
Popular Problem Solving Strategies
Trial and Error
Trial and Error is also known the scientific or experimental method is the simplest and most basic problem solving method. You simply keep trying new approaches until something succeeds. The problem is that this can take a long time and it can be very expensive. The big advantage to this method is that you can learn a lot from it.
Most scientific advances and great inventions were achieved through this method. The disadvantage is that it can take a long time and you may not achieve the results you want. It can also be expensive and confusing. Some tools such as computer simulations make this easier but not foolproof. In most cases, you will simply not have enough time to employ the trial and error method.
Abstraction is also known as simulation. In this method, you create a model of the situation and test out a solution before applying it in real life. An example of this would be an investor testing a new trading strategy in a simulator before investing real money.This can save time, money and resources. The danger here is that the abstraction or simulation may not be relevant to real life. This only works if you can figure out every potential risk.
Unfortunately, many philosophers and scientists believe that it is impossible. Unexpected events called black swans can occur and affect any scenario. To be successful at abstraction, you will have to have a lot of information and a means of creating scenarios that are as close to real life as possible.
Hypothesis testing is sometimes called statistical hypothesis testing. This method uses a formal model of testing and statistics. It is scientific because it is quantifiable or verifiable. An example of this would be a factory that occasionally removes an item from the production line and sends it to be examined or tested for flaws.
In this method, thinkers will work out a hypothesis and go out and try to test it. A chemist might devise a new formula then go into the laboratory and try to create it and see what its effects are. This can be thought of as a more advanced and sophisticated take on trial and error.
This can also be called pure creativity. A person or a group sits down and tries to think up a solution to a problem. This method is often used in the advertising industry and in marketing. For example, a group of advertising people might sit down and try to think up a new slogan for a brand of cookies. Brainstorming is fun but you will have to have some method of testing your hypotheses. You will also need a lot of information about the problem to be truly effective.
A popular method of this is for a group of people to get together in a conference room and think about a problem. Then voice solutions and examine them. A group of salesmen might get together and try to figure out why a certain product is not moving. They might invite others such as engineers, marketers, advertising people or lawyers to join them in an attempt to identify a problem.
Sometimes, getting somebody outside of the area of expertise or unfamiliar with the problem or basic issues to join the brainstorming is a good way to identify problems or solutions the group cannot see. There is also quite a bit of research that indicates most brainstorming practices are ineffective.
This means to look and see if somebody has come up with a solution. For example, you might check to see if somebody else has had the same computer problem you are having and see how they solved it. The advantage to this is that it is often cheap and very effective.
The disadvantage is that you will have to find somebody that has successfully dealt with the situation that you are facing. The Internet is often a great tool for doing this; websites, message boards, forums, etc. often contain a wealth of information if you know where to look. Mentors and contacts in your field can help you find analogies that can help you with your problem.
Analysis (Divide and Conquer)
This technique simply means to break a problem down into smaller less complex parts and try to solve them individually. A team trying to solve a computer glitch might assign one person to examine the software and see if it is the cause and another to examine the hardware.
A third person might take a look at the network to see if the problem originated there. A fourth person might check to see if operator error is somehow involved. This method works great when teams are involved, particularly teams that don’t work well together. The advantage to this is that it lets you contain problems and separate different causes.
Lateral Thinking or Critical Thinking
This is actually a kind of brainstorming in which you try to take an indirect or unusual approach. An example of this might be somebody who tries to see if there was an outside cause to a system failure. Critical thinkers often examine situations in an attempt to spot patterns. This can be called deductive reasoning. Detectives such as Sherlock Holmes often employ it.
A detective will examine a group of suspects and ask who has something to gain by the murder, who had the means to commit it and who has an alibi. This thinking is very random and it works best in a situation where knowledge is limited or time is of the essence. It is not very scientific or specific. It works best for creative and highly intelligent people.
Means Ends Analysis
This simply means that you test the results at every step of the process. A detective investigating a crime will test out every hypothesis. She would check every suspect’s alibi, have all possible evidence tested for DNA and other connections to the suspects and investigate possible theories of the crime. She would rule them out as she was going. So she’d be using means end analysis or a version of it. The advantage to this is that you can use it as you are going. The disadvantage is that it requires time and might miss answers.
Under this method, all possible solutions are explored. It is used in some areas of science such as physics or astrophysics and in finance. A trader might run every possible scenario of a potential trading strategy in a simulator before using it. This is actually a sort of formalized trial and error. This method can only be used in situations where you have a lot of time and data. It works great in situation where simulators are used.
Method of Focal Objects
This is a variation of analogy in which you look for an unrelated or seemingly unrelated analogy that might provide an answer. For example, scientific research done in an unrelated field or methods used in another business. A car dealership might look to some of the methods used in large retailers to improve its sales. A newspaper publisher might try to copy some of Google’s marketing strategies.
This is a method in which a problem is transformed into another easier scenario to solve the problem. For example, a financial engineer might try to convert a trading scenario or problem into a mathematical problem to identify problems with it. Statistical information is often used to determine risk in the insurance industry.
Many businesses use a variation of this when they try to convert sales figures or other data into mathematical formulas. The drawback to this is that the formulas get simplified and complex factors that can skew the equations are ignored. This method only works when all or most of the information about a scenario are known. If the statistics are unreliable or incomplete, the formula may not work or be applicable. Outside factors can throw the figures off as well.
Believe it or not, research is a basic problem solving technique. In many cases, you can solve a problem by looking into it and gathering data about it. You can often identify technical flaws in machinery or equipment by reading technical manuals. Problems with business strategies can often be identified by reading books or the business press. Simply gathering knowledge often leads to answers particularly if you find an example of a similar problem.
Root Cause Analysis
This simply means that you try to find the underlying cause of the problem. A doctor trying to diagnose a condition may do blood work and other tests and utilize scans to see what is causing a symptom. He or she may test to see if the person has an infection or an allergy. In many cases, identifying the root cause can solve the problem and give you the means to prevent future problems. When dealing with a persistent problem, this is one of the most effective methods.
This method simply means verifying that the problem cannot be solved or practically solved. For example, you could prove that repairing the system will cost more than replacing it. You could also prove that the system will keep failing. Many problem solving methods reject this kind of thinking and operate on the assumption that all problems can be solved.
As you can see, problem solving is a complex process in which there are often no real answers. One thing that all problem solving methods have in common is that they all require imagination, hard work and determination. In many cases, somebody that keeps trying will solve the problem sooner or later after investing a lot of sweat and equity. So don’t give up, keep trying and you will solve most problems sooner or later.