The Five Basic Steps in Problem Solving

We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.”
This quote by Albert Einstein is not new a new phrase in the world of critical thinking and problem solving. Everyone experiences problems from time to time. Some of our problems are big and complicated, while others may be more easily solved. It would be wonderful to have the ability to solve all problems efficiently and in a timely fashion without difficulty, unfortunately though there is no one way in which all problems can be solved.

Imagine a situation where you are going to an important job interview appointment and you find out that your car has a mechanical problem. How would you solve this problem?

You will find out that people perceive and react to this problem in different ways. While some will concentrate on fixing the vehicle first, others would first telephone to cancel/postpone the appointment. Some would leave their vehicle and try to get a lift or borrow someone’s vehicle. You will find some saying that they would never face this kind of problem as they are never late and maintain their vehicle regularly. Some would say that they would quickly telephone and meanwhile check for the problem in the vehicle and if it is a minor one repair it Yet some may abandon the vehicle as well as the appointment and go back home. We find that some naturally look for alternative resources, some are effective planners, and some leave a problem as such.

The Five Basic Steps in Problem Solving

Norman Vincent Peale, the author of the bestseller, The Power of Positive Thinking had said that how you think about a problem is more important than the problem itself. So always think positively. We have to accept that problems are a part of our lives. We also need to understand that the solution for a problem lies more within us than in external sources. Such an outlook is based on the conviction that an analytic mind and perseverance can help in overcoming problems

Problem solving requires two distinct types of mental skills: analytical and creative. Analytical thinking includes skills such as ordering, comparing, contrasting, evaluating and selecting. It helps to select the best alternative from those available by narrowing down the range of possibilities. Creative thinking, on the other hand, uses the imagination to create a large range of ideas for solutions. It requires us to look beyond the obvious, creating ideas which may, at first, seem unrealistic or have no logical connection with the problem.

5 Basic steps in problem solving

The ability to solve problems is a skill, and just like any other skill, the more you practice, the better you get. So how exactly do you practice problem solving? Learning about different problem solving strategies and when to use them will give you a good start. Problem solving is a process. Most strategies provide steps that help you identify the problem and choose the best solution.

Five basic steps in problem solving as given by Beecroft, Duffy, and Moran (2003). They are:

  1. Defining the problem;
  2. Generating alternatives;
  3. Evaluating and selecting alternatives;
  4. Implementing solutions; and
  5. Getting feedback.

Defining the Problem

A problem exists when an obstacle prevents you from reaching an objective. Obviously, before any action can be taken to solve a problem, you need to recognize that a problem exists, and to diagnose the situation so that focus is on the problem, not just its symptoms. Avoid making snap judgments based on a few symptoms but look for root causes whenever possible.

The best way to identify the root cause of the problem is to ask questions and gather   information .How did this problem start? When did this problem start? Is it a problem I have faced before and such questions. If you have a vague problem, investigating facts is more productive than guessing a solution.

Generate Alternative Solutions

Once the problem has been identified and its causes determined, you will need to develop possible solutions to the problem. Brainstorm, read, research, think, ask questions, discuss. Look for ideas and solutions. Learn as much as you can about the problem. Avoid selecting one solution until several alternatives have been proposed.

Evaluate and Select an Alternative

Once you have collected the facts and data, you can come up with several potential options. Review the good and the bad of each option. Prospective solutions must be analysed for their suitability to determine which is best to handle the problem. Do careful analysis of the different possible courses of action and then select the best solution for implementation.

Implement and Follow Up on the Solution

Once the best solution is determined, put it into practice. This may be done on a limited scale at first to verify that the solution is indeed the best. Often times, it is necessary to “sell” the solution to others or facilitate the implementation by involving the efforts of others. Involving others in the implementation minimizes resistance to subsequent changes.

Get Feedback

The final stage of problem solving is concerned with checking that the process was successful. This can be achieved by monitoring and gaining feedback from people affected by any changes that occurred. It is good practice to keep a record of outcomes and any additional problems that occurred.

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The Five Basic Steps in Problem Solving

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