7 steps to ethical and effective problem solving

It doesn’t matter how well intentioned you are. If you can’t solve your problems effectively, you may be doing more harm than good. Having a system to solve your problems will help ensure you problem solve effectively.

The University of Pittsburgh has a great website dedicated to effective problem solving.  They list 7 steps that are critical to proper problem solving.  Here is a link to their website: http://www.pitt.edu/~groups/probsolv.html

What I find interesting is that these are the same steps that are followed when using a critical thinking approach to problem solving. And these are the same steps I teach my clients.

Here are the 7 main steps and why they are important:

  • Define and Identify the Problem  - If you don’t know what problem you are trying to solve or if you try to solve the wrong problem you won’t be successful. Find out what the facts are and not only develop a statement about what exactly the problem is you are trying to solve, but what your goal is in solving it.
  • Analyze the Problem – Don’t assume you know what is causing the problem. Do your research and find out if your assumptions are valid or not. This is what freethought, skepticism and science is all about.
  • Identifying Possible Solutions  - make a list of possible solutions. Don’t assume there are only a couple of solutions available. Brainstorm, make a list, think outside the box, but don’t limit your potential by liming your list of possible solutions. (the website lists several methods to develop the list – and it is worth reading through!)
  • Evaluating Solutions – what are the pros and cons of each proposed solution, will this really solve our problem, or make it worse.
  • Selecting the Best Solution – After evaluating your possible solutions and ranking them as you need to choose the one you think  has the best chance of success that will help you accomplish the goal you set in task 1.  If none of the solutions will work, you need to re-evaluate how you defined the problem and go back to step one taking into account what you have learned through this process. No, this isn’t a pain, it is what is sometimes required if you want to actually solve your problem.
  • Develop an Action Plan – what tasks need to be done, who will do them, when do they need to be done, what could go wrong and how will you get around problems, who can help you, or can you do it yourself?
  • Implement the Solution - Now that you have a plan – get to it and start implementing it. If you need to change it, do so, but if you don’t take action, the problem isn’t going to get solved.  There ain’t nothing to it but to do it.
Which part of the process do you have the most trouble with?  I know that I take extra time to make sure I define my problem properly. If I can get that step right, everything else seems to follow. Albert Einstein said that he spent 90% of his problem solving on that step as well. Do you agree? What do you think is the hardest or most important part of problem solving? 

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