Problem-solving is a valued competency. Successful problem-solving frequently requires knowledge, skills, and activities related to systematic exploration, critical thinking, organization, planning, monitoring, flexibility, persistence, imagination, and creativity. A methodical approach to solving problems might look like this:
1. Identify the problem.
2. Research potential solutions.
3. Compare these potential solutions.
4. Implement the chosen (best) solution.
5. Assess the results.
6. Make modifications as needed (or go back to Step 1).
Creating new problems
Sometimes, when we cannot solve our problems, it might help to create new problems (preferably ones simpler than but still related to the original problem).
Under what circumstances might this approach be helpful? Perhaps when the primary problem is complicated or emotionally exhausting. Below, I expand on each of these two possibilities.
1. The initial problem is emotionally exhausting.
Emotional problems are ones that engage us on a deep emotional level from the start (e.g., having a quarrel with your romantic partner). They can be tough to solve because strong emotions—feelings of rage, fear, sadness, and general distress—often interfere with our problem-solving efforts and do not allow us to gain clarity.
To illustrate, imagine a person named Don whose boss has asked him to work overtime next week to finish a project. Right away, Don feels upset because he has had arguments with his boss about working overtime. What complicates the matter is that after work Don always picks up his little daughter from school. In previous circumstances, he had asked a friend living close to the school to do so; not surprisingly, over time his friend has become more and more reluctant to help. And now Don is getting very emotional even thinking about asking the friend once again.
Nevertheless, his boss says the project must get done by the deadline…or Don will be fired.
What is the solution? What if, instead of considering who could drive his child home, Don created a different but related problem in which only he is allowed to pick up his child from school? This problem forces him to think outside the box and look at other types of solutions. Like what? How about coming to work early, working on the weekends, working on the project during lunch break, switching duties with a coworker, and so on?
2. The original problem is complex.
Let us say you are trying to solve a complicated problem; yet, despite using a variety of problem-solving strategies, approaches, and techniques, you have failed to find a solution. This has resulted in so much self-doubt that you have given up completely.
For instance, imagine you are trying to find a way to move a huge and oddly shaped piece of furniture through multiple doorways in your house. Several rational problem-solving methods have not helped, and you are out of ideas.
So, let us use this creative approach. Think of a new, related, but simpler challenge: How to move, say, a large sideboard with glass doors or a big chandelier through the doorways?
As you try to figure out how you would move these other items, you are giving your brain a break from the original puzzle. At the same time, you are still considering the same type of problem (involving moving items). In addition, by solving these other problems, you might also build up your confidence in your problem-solving ability.
Perhaps, while exploring possible solutions to these problems, you come up with novel and helpful solutions for the primary problem—solutions like using thinner people to move the furniture through the doorways, disassembling the item, rotating the furniture in a new way, using tape to secure loose parts, even yanking a door out of its hinges.
Note: Do not create problems that harm you or other people. Use your judgment.