How to Problem Solve

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The ability to problem solve is a valuable life skill. Below is a simple yet detailed problem solving process that any

Turning Things Upside Down

Turning Things Upside Down

executive can use.

Problem Solving 101

  1. Preparation
  2. Incubation
  3. Illumination
  4. Verification/Implementation

Anatomy of a Problem Solving Process

Stage I: Preparation (Research/Gather ideas)

  1. Describe a challenge or problem that you’re having. Writing down the problem makes it more concrete for you. Make sure that your problem statement is not too broadly or narrowly defined
  2. Develop a set of decision criteria to judge the quality of the solutions
  3. Describe the root causes (not symptoms) of the problem or challenge. Uncover the facts surrounding the problem
  4. Who do you know that has experienced a similar problem? If you know someone:
    1. How did they resolve the problem?
    2. Would that solution work for you?
  5. Collect all the information that you can find relating to possible solutions
    1. Look for case studies in your industry and unrelated industries
    2. Conduct research on the internet
    3. Conduct research using commercial databases, you can access many through your public library portal
    4. Interview subject matter experts
    5. Brainstorm with colleagues
    6. Conduct focus group interviews
  6. Read all the information gathered and synthesize them
  7. Extract all the relevant information by distilling the facts pertinent to your problem
  8. Formulate options and test alternatives

Read the post How to Analyze Information to evaluate the quality of the data you gathered.

Stage II: Incubation (Lay the issue aside for a period of time)

  1. Mull it over
  2. Take a break, or work on another project
  3. Let all the information sit for a while

Stage III: Illumination (The moment when the new solution (idea) emerges)

  1. You have an aha moment
  2. You see the problem in a completely different light
  3. Or a solution (s) comes to you
  4. You now have an opening to develop a strategy to resolve your problem

Stage IV: Verification/Implementation (Test out the idea then apply it)

  1. Test the idea to see if it’s a workable solution to your problem
  2. Use the criteria you developed in Stage I to judge the quality of the solution
  3. Refine the idea if you have to
  4. Implement the solution
  5. Evaluate the solution
  6. If you find that the solution doesn’t work, go through the process again

The type of problem solver you are informs how you approach the challenges, problems and issues that you will inevitably face in your work and life. The problem solving process outlined above is solid and has been used successfully for decades. The entire process can take hours or it can take months depending on the complexity of the problem.

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