No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it. (Albert Einstein)
The art of problem solving
Although problem solving is something people have a natural tendency to do, giving this process the status of an Art also suggests more complexity to this subject. Problem-solving goes beyond physical, cultural, science or language. Everybody can solve problems, in fact we practically do it all the time. Every thought and every decision is in a way solving part of a problem. At the same time one might suggest by those decisions and actions following this (personal) problem solving process, new problems of another kind arise. Most of our economy is based on solving and creating new problems in some form. Then why bother analyzing and describing this process you might ask. Because when you know the underlying principles, your processes of solving problems become easier, more fun, and it helps you grow as an individual giving your environment a positive influence. Most interesting about solving problems are the processes themselves, not primarily the result. I might reframe that to enjoying the process of getting what you want.
Like other Art-studies, problem solving has several components: history, practices, theories, models, concepts, references in other arts, sciences and spiritually. There can be no final consensus on a best way to present it because describing the Art of problem solving is in itself a problem solving process, which is never finished.
To define your problem-solving strategy it is important to classify problems first into one of the three following categories.
Level 1: Urgent & Important – Highest Priority
Level 2: Important / not so urgent – Medium Priority
Level 3: Minor importance / no urgency – Low Priority
If you have more than one problem choose the one with the highest priority.
Essentially, there are two types of problems: analytic and divergent. An analytic problem is convergent in nature, that is, it has a single correct answer. Divergent problems allow for many possible solutions.
Phases in formulating a solution
1. formulating the problem (what and how did it get your attention, perceived facts)
2. acceptation (accept the problem as is)
3. reformulating (problem description, datasheet, examples, theories, references)
Questions which could be asked in this phase:
– what is good about this problem or situation?
– how can I use this problem or situation?
– what is not yet perfect?
– what am I willing to do to improve this situation?
– what will I stop doing to improve the situation?
– what is funny about it, that I didn’t notice before?
– how will I enjoy when I reach my goal and this problem is solved?
4. analyze and purge (effort to find logical solutions)
5. exhaustion / frustration
6. relaxation / incubation
7. creative sidestep
9. working out the plan (critical phase)
10. planning the approach
Who are the people involved in a problem-solution team?
– Problem-owner (Who’s problem is it?)
– Fellow Problem owner or involved persons (participants in solving the problem)
– Secretary (notes everything what is being said)
– Facilitator or coach (is not involved with the content, only the process)
1. postpone judgment
2. you are allowed to lie
3. privacy to the outside, openness to the inside
4. Extra attention to negative questions or remarks
5. No hierarchy, no arrogance
6. Critical phase afterwards
Many people, when trying to solve a problem, develop a mental block. This may be a result of ’thinking too hard’. Then, later, without conscious effort, a solution comes to mind. One way to overcome a mental block in the problem-solving process is to hold a brainstorming session.
The purpose of brainstorming is to generate as many ideas as possible. The more ideas a team has to choose from, the greater the chances are of finding one that is successful. Ideas are generated rapidly, which prevents individuals from dwelling on why an idea might not work. Evaluation of the ideas comes at a later stage of solution development.
General guidelines for holding brainstorming sessions:
1. Allow no criticism. Some people become self-conscious when they feel they may be criticized, which inhibits them from offering ideas. For this reason, it is important that ideas are not judged at this time.
2. Encourage outrageous ideas. This often results in team members going beyond the normal thought process.
3. Encourage piggybacking of other ideas. One idea often stimulates a better one.
4. Evaluate the ideas at the end of the session or after a day or two. Eliminate those that are not feasible.
Any criticism of ideas must be constructive. The team should know that it is okay to laugh at and have fun discussing the ideas. Keep in mind that decisions made at this time are not always final; ideation is an ongoing process.
Besides the coach as moderator, each brainstorming group should select a leader to direct the discussion. If a leveling off of ideas occurs, the leader should encourage new ideas by asking questions such as:
“By altering the materials how could we . . . ?”
“What might happen if we changed its shape?”
“How could we adapt it to make it move faster?”
“How can we make it smaller, lighter, etc.?”
One team member (or the secretary) should record all ideas and useful comments.