Thursday, September 18, 2014

Systems thinking for problem solving

A system consists of processes that transform inputs into outputs. The processing is performed by the subsystems. Super systems are other systems in environment of which the survival of the focal system is dependent. Boundaries are the part of the system through which inputs and outputs must pass, during which exchanges between systems and with their environment reflect a mutually interactive process. The concept of boundary implies a hierarchy of systems in which there is both separateness and connectedness. All systems operate in an environment of cause and effect. Systems science provides a means of analysing and understanding complex processes based on a few basic principles. According to Ludwig Van Bertalanffy (1968), the founder of the systems theory, a system is ‘a set of elements in interaction’. Some examples of systems include scientific, organizational, personal and public systems. Systems are wholes which cannot be understood through analysis. Synthesis is a prerequisite for the systems thinking. Systems thinking places high value on understanding contexts and looking for connections between the parts, actors and processes of the system. Ludwig Van Bertalanffy, father of systems thinking said, “In one way or another we are forced to deal with complexities, with ‘wholes’ or ‘systems’ in all fields of knowledge. This implies a basic reorientation in scientific thinking.” Stephen Haines also said, “The systems thinking approach is an absolute necessity to succeed in today’s complex world.”
The term ‘system’ comes from a Greek word systema meaning ‘whole compounded of several parts or members’ or in the literary sense ‘composition.’ System means ‘something to look at.’ A system is constituted by its elements that is, all the parts that make up the whole; the links between the parts, that is the processes and interrelationships that hold the parts together in view of the whole; its boundary, that is , the limit that determines what is inside and outside a system.

Systems defined...

Systems are made up of a set of components that work together for the overall objectives of the whole (outputs).“A system is a set of things –people, cells, molecules-interconnected in such a way that they produce their own pattern of behaviour over time” (Donella Meadows). As a system develops, it generates pattern of behaviour due to the connections between elements in an organized fashion.


Systems theory

Systems theory was proposed in the 1940s by the biologist Ludwig von Bertalanfy (General systems theory 1968) furthered by Ross Ashby (Introduction to Cybernatics 1956). Systems theory can be defined as a set of unifying principles about the organization and functioning of systems. Systems theory provides an analytical framework for viewing an organization in general.

Systems concept

Systems are defined as meaningful wholes that are maintained by the interaction of their parts (Laszlo 1972). System can also be defined as “a set of interacting or interdependent system components forming an integrated whole (Lidell and Scott 1940). A system is a dynamic and complex whole, interacting as a structured functional unit. All systems are composed of inter-connected parts. A change to any part or connection affects the entire system. The structure of a system determines its behaviour. “Structure produces behaviour.” To understand a systems’ gross behaviour, it is essential to understand its structure. The change in the structure of a system effects change in its gross behaviour. System behaviour is an emergent phenomenon – how a system behaves cannot be determined by inspection of its part or structure. Feedback loops control a system’s major dynamic behaviour. Every part of a system is involved in one or more feedback loops. Systems have more feedback loops than parts. Feedback loops are the main reason, a system’s behaviour is emergent.

Broad types of systems

Natural systems –e.g. forests, human body.
Engineered or designed systems –e.g. computer, car.
Purposeful or human –activity systems-e.g. hospitals, prisons, schools.

Systems nature (Fredrich Hegel 1770-1831)

1.       The whole is more than the sum of the parts.
2.       The whole defines the nature of the parts.
3.       The parts cannot be understood by studying the whole.
4.       The parts are dynamically interrelated or interdependent.

System components

A system must consist of 3 kinds of things: elements (things), interconnections (processes) and a function (purpose). A system is an interconnected set of elements that is coherently organized in such a way that achieves something. A tree is a system and a forest is a larger system that encompasses subsystems of trees and animals. The interconnections in the tree system are the physical flows (e.g., water) and the chemical reactions that govern the tree’s metabolic processes. The interconnections or purposes are critically important in a system. Changing relationships usually changes system behaviour. System behaviour operates through feedback loops.

Systems thinking – ‘thinking about systems’

A system thinking is the ability to understand interactions and relationships in complex dynamic systems. A system thinking focuses on relationships, connectedness, multiple outcomes, holism and boundaries, the environment, the larger system and feedback. A system thinking helps to view systems from a broad perspective that includes seeing overall structures, patterns and cycles in systems and context. A system thinking is a superior approach in trying to understand the world’s complexity.

Systems characteristics

1. A system is a collection of interacting parts. Every system is a part of some larger system. Behaviour of any part is influenced by interaction with other parts. Systems can be represented in abstract networks of relations between components.
2. A system boundary defines the set of parts that comprise a system. A system may interact with things outside of its boundary. External interaction is less influential of the system behaviour than internal interaction. Behaviour is understood by examining the entire system, not individual parts.
3. Systems are organized in structural and functional hierarchies.
4. Systems exhibit several of kinds and levels of complexity.
5. Systems have dynamic processes on one or more time scales.
6. Systems emerge from proto-systems (unorganized, not complex) and evolve over time to greater organization and complexity.
7. Systems can encode knowledge and receive and send information.
8. Systems evolve internal regulation subsystems to achieve stability.
9. Systems can contain models of other systems.
10. Sufficiently complex, adaptive systems can contain models of themselves (brain/ mental models).
11. Systems can be understood – science as the building of models.
12. Systems can be improved – Engineering as an evolutionary process.

Systems understanding

Understanding of system is achieved through identification, modelling and analysis of relationships and interactions among the parts of a system. System modelling is performed by representing the parts of a system and interactions among those parts. In reality, a system consists of many feedback loops and many interactions among those loops. It is that total systems view that helps to achieve depth of understanding and real insight into the behaviours of complex systems.

Systems thinking rules (minimalist concept theory, MCT)

Distinction making – All thinking is distinction making. Distinction making is autonomic – one constantly makes distinctions all of the time. It is the making of differentiation between the identity of concepts and between what is internal and what is external to the boundaries of the concept.
Interrelating – It is the process of interlinking one concept to another by identifying reciprocal causes and effects.
Organizing systems – It is the process of splitting / lumping concepts into larger wholes or smaller parts and
Perspective taking – It is the process of reorienting a system of concepts by determining the focal point from which observation occurs by attributing to a point in the system, a view of the other objects in the system (e.g., point of view).

System thinking skills (Assaraf and Orion 2005)

1.       The ability to identify the components of a system and processes within the system.
2.       The ability to identify the relationships among the systems’ components.
3.       The ability to identify dynamic relationships within the system.
4.       The ability to organize the system’s components and processes within a framework of relationships (e.g.,chain, circle, network).
5.       The ability to understand the cyclic nature of systems.
6.       Understanding the hidden dimensions of the system.
7.       The ability to make generalizations.
8.       Thinking temporally: retrospection and prediction.

Systems thinking process

1. List as many elements as possible. Analytical thinking breaks things apart in stages. Systems thinking groups things together in stages.
2. Group the elements into sub-themes.
3. Find the central theme – the common theme across the sub-themes.
Systems thinking benefits
1. A conceptual framework to think strategically and a way to look at a complex issue in multiple perspectives.
2. A way to acquire new knowledge more easily because basic rules remain the same from system to system.
3. A better way to integrate new ideas within the systems context and dynamics.
4. A clearer way to see, understand and assess what is going on in an organization or in any system. Complex problems become easier to understand as do the interrelationships and the multiple causes and effects.
5. A new and better way to design solutions, create strategies, take decisions and solve problems.
                  Systems thinking simplifies complexity.

Quote for reflection
"When we live in a system, we absorb a system and
  think in a system."  - JAMES W.DOUGLASS.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Ways of developing critical thinking


Thinking is the highest mental activity present in man. Thinking is the process of giving careful thought to something. In other words, thinking is an action of using one's mind to produce ideas, decisions, memories etc. .  Thinking process involves using a sequence of skills intended to achieve a particular outcome.Thinking is a simple cognitive operation of observing, organizing, analyzing evaluating and inferring. It is a habit of intelligent behaviour learned through practice. Edward de Bono said, “Thinking is a skill that can be improved by practice.” 

Critical thinking

“Critical” is derived from the Greek word kritikos which means “to judge.” Critical thinking, also called evaluative thinking includes a complex combination of abilities such as ordering, classifying, and analyzing, evaluating, observing, comparing, and contrasting information for problem solving. Critical thinking involves questioning. Critical thinking is goal directed; it is the thinking with a purpose. Using logic and reasoning a critical thinker identifies the strengths and weaknesses of alternative solutions, conclusions or approaches to problems. Critical thinking has two important components: it includes a frame of mind and a number of specific mental operations.Critical thinking has three dimensions: an analytic, an evaluative and creative component. As a critical thinker, one has to analyse thinking in order to evaluate it. One has to evaluate it in order to improve it.
   Critical thinking is a process “orchestrates numerous skills and is directed toward achieving an objective."  Swartz and Perkins (1990) discuss critical thinking as “the critical examination and evaluation –actual and potential- of beliefs and courses of action.” Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "Thinking is the function. Living is the functionary."

Definitions of critical thinking

Critical thinking may be defined as "the process of purposeful, self-regulatory judgement. The process gives reasoned consideration to evidence, contexts, conceptualizations, methods and criteria (American Philosophical Association, 1990).
Critical thinking is the ability to analyse facts, generate and organize ideas, defend opinions, make comparisons, draw inferences, evaluate arguments and solve problems (Chance, 1986).
Critical thinking is reasonable, reflective thinking that is focused on deciding what to believe (Ennis 1996).
Critical thinking is skillful, reasonable thinking that is conducive to good judgement because it is sensitive to context, relies on criteria and is self-correcting (Matthew Lipman).
Critical thinking is thinking about your thinking, while you’re thinking, in order to making your thinking better (Richard Paul).
In short, critical thinking is the ability to think clearly and rationally. Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of evaluating information and evaluating our thought process. In brief, critical thinking is self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored and self-corrective thinking.

Critical spirit

Critical thinkers need certain attitudes, dispositions, passions and traits of mind. Thinking critically requires a critical spirit or critical mindedness (Norris, 1985). The critical spirit requires one to think critically about all aspects of life, to think critically about one’s own thinking and to act on the basis of what one has considered when using critical thinking skills.Critical thinking skills enable people to evaluate, compare, analyse, critique and synthesize information.

Principles of critical thinking

Critical thinking is an active process – It involves in gathering, analyzing, synthesizing, assessing and applying data in solving problems.
Critical thinking is an organized and systematic process – It involves using criteria or standards to judge the validity of information.
Critical thinking is a search for meaning – it is a way of making sense out of the data or information.
Critical thinking is reflective – It involves thinking about your thinking.
Critical thinking involves standards – Accuracy, relevance and depth are some examples of standards or criteria.
Critical thinking is authentic – critical thinking is thinking about real problems. Real problems are often messy and unclear.
Critical thinking involves being reasonable – for thinking to be critical, it must be reasonable thinking.
Critical thinking is a skill that can be learned – It is based on active, logical reasoning on facts and evidence and a desire to learn.

Intellectual standards of critical thinking (Paul and Elder 2001).

Critical thinking includes a complex combination of skills. Critical thinkers use the intellectual tools that critical thinking offers-concepts and principles that enable them to analyse, assess and improve thinking. Critical thinkers should check their thinking according to the following standards of Paul and Elder (2001).The standards of critical thinking are clarity, accuracy, precision, relevance, depth, breadth, logic, significance and fairness. Standards are essential to increasing the quality of thinking. Increased skill in the application of standards improves the process of critical thinking.
  • Clarity- understandable, the meaning can be grasped;
  • Accuracy- free from errors or distortions, true; 
  • Precision-exact to the necessary level of detail;
  • Relevance-relating to the matter at hand;
  • Depth- containing complexities and multiple interrelationships;
  • Breadth- encompassing multiple viewpoints;
  • Logic-the parts make sense together, no contradictions;
  • Significance-focusing on the important, not trivial;
  • Fairness – justifiable, not self-serving or one sided.

3 – Parts of critical thinking

Firstly, critical thinking involves asking questions. Secondly, critical thinking involves trying to answer those questions by reasoning them out. Thirdly, critical thinking involves believing the results of our reasoning.

5 – Step process of critical thinking - IDEAS

Step 1.Identify the problem and set priorities (I)
Step 2.Deepen understanding and gather relevant information (D)
Step 3.Enumerate options and anticipate consequences (E).
Step 4.Assess situation and make a preliminary decision (A).
Step 5.Scrutinize the process and self-correct as needed (S)
The ability to think critically requires a great deal of effort and time. Critical thinking is that mode of thinking –about any subject, content or problem – in which the thinker improves the quality of his/her thinking by skilfully taking charge of the structures inherent in thinking and imposing the intellectual standards ( or a level or degree of quality) (Paul and Willsen, 1993).

A list of critical thinking skills based on Maker and Nielson ( 1996)

·         Determining fact and opinion
·         Choosing relevant from irrelevant information.
·         Determining the accuracy of a statement.
·         Determining the credibility of a source.
·         Recognizing ambiguities.
·         Identifying underlying assumptions.
·         Determining external and internal bias.
·         Recognizing valid and fallacious arguments.

5-main theoretical requirements for critical thinking (Joe Y.F.Lau 1968)

1.       Meaning analysis – Explain ideas clearly and systematically; use definitions and other tools to clarify meaning and make ideas more precise.
2.       Logic – Analyse and evaluate arguments; identify logical consequences and inconsistencies.
3.       Scientific methods – Use empirical data to test a theory; identify causes and effects; probability theory and statistics.
4.       Decision and values -Rational decision making; critical reflection of value frameworks and moral judgements.
5.       Fallacies and biases – Typical mistakes of reasoning and psychological traits likely to cause such mistakes.

Characteristics of a critical thinker (Paul R and Elder L, 2010)

1.       One who raises vital questions and problems, formulating them clearly and precisely.
2.       One who gathers and assesses relevant information, using abstract ideas to interpret it effectively.
3.       One who comes to well- reasoned conclusions and solutions, testing them against relevant criteria or standards.
4.       One who thinks open-mindedly within alternative systems of thought, recognizing and assessing, as need be, their assumptions, implications and practical consequences and
5.       One who communicates effectively with others in figuring out solutions to complex problems.

 Critical thinking and creativity

The ideas are usually composed of different elements. Our store of ideas (knowledge base) provides the ingredients to generate new ones. The new combination of ideas is formulated by joining different ideas together. In general new ideas are old ones rearranged in a new way. The ingredients for creativity depend on the store of ideas that are available for recombination.
Critical thinking is necessary to help determine the relevance and effectiveness of the idea. It is a necessary condition for cognitive creativity- the generation of new ideas and the evaluation and modification of old ideas. Creativity is enhanced by the ability to detect connections between the ideas. So if anyone wants to be creative, he /she must develop the skill of critical thinking to see the connections between different areas. Good thinking involves both critical thinking and creativity.

Benefits of critical thinking

 Critical thinking is higher-order and more complex form of thinking. It involves more evidence – based analysis of information and clear understanding of problems and solutions. Critical thinking enables faster, accurate and logical inferences and quality decisions. Critical thinking is inherent to problem solving and decision making. Good critical thinking is a cognitive skill. Using critical thinking, one is able to acquire knowledge, understanding, insights and skills in any given body of content. Critical thinkers are more flexible in their thinking and they offer a richer variety of explanations and solutions for any problem. A well cultivated critical thinker thinks open-mindedly within alternative systems of thought, recognizing and assessing their assumptions, implications and practical consequences. People, who think critically, consistently attempt to live rationally, reasonably and empathetically. Critical thinking contributes to the process of self-evaluation and transformation. They easily recognize opportunities and avoid making mistakes in problem-solving. Critical thinking results in improved planning of tasks. Critical thinking skills are essential for all sorts of careers in which we have to communicate ideas, make decisions, analyse and solve problems. Good critical thinking is the foundation of science and democracy. Science requires rationality in designing experiments and testing hypotheses. A good democracy requires citizens who can think objectively about social and political issues. The cultivation of critical thinking is central to the aim of education.
            Critical thinking uses evidence-based analysis of information.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Effective decision making skills

Decisions are important part of our life. A decision is a choice. Life is full of choices at every moment of time. Some of the decisions are small and inconsequential, and some are large and life determining.  All decision making occurs in dynamically changing contexts. This context includes psychological aspects of the decision maker and socio-cultural aspects of the situation he or she acts in. Making good decisions is a life skill that can be learned. Each person makes decisions based on his or her knowledge, skills, values and past experiences.  Effective decision making is a matter of defining the situation, weighing the possibilities and choosing the moment to act. Peter Drucker quoted, ‘making good decisions is a crucial skill at every level.’ Decision making is a reasoning process which can be rational or irrational and can be based on explicit assumptions or tacit assumptions. Rational decisions maximize our chances of happiness, successful living and fulfillment. Anthony Robins quoted, ‘Success and failure are not overnight experiences. It’s the small decisions along the way that cause people to fail or succeed.’
Decision is a commitment to a course of action or determination of future action. Making is the process of applying the objectives in proper way. Decision making is primarily concerned with choosing between the available options. Every decision is made within a decision environment, which is defined as the collection of information, alternatives, values and preferences available at the time of decision.   Every decision making process produces a final choice. It can be an action or an opinion. Many decisions involve solving a problem. Wise decisions are decisions that are made using a definite process.  Decision making is an integral part of management, planning, organizing, controlling and motivation processes.
Decision making refers to the mental activities that take place in choosing among alternatives. Decision making is the study of identifying and choosing alternatives based on the values and preferences of the decision maker.

Effective decision making procedure

1. Identify the right decision problem – State your decision problem as goals to focus on the positive and on the future. You need to state your decision problems carefully, acknowledging their complexity and avoiding unwarranted assumptions and opinion limiting prejudices. Identification of the decision problem produces a motivational state that induces action.
2. Create imaginative alternatives to reach that goal - Your alternatives represent the different courses of action you have to choose from. It is better to ‘brainstorm’ and list the possible options. Your decision can be no better than your best alternative.
3. Understand the consequences – Consequences are the end results of each option. Consider all the facts about each alternative.
4. Choose the best alternative – You have to consider the benefits of each alternative as well as the disadvantages or cost. Your values, goals and standards will guide you in making your choice. Weigh the pros and cons and implement the best alternative. Effective implementation of the decision is critical.
5. Evaluate the decision and the process – When a problem is stated as a goal, you can use your standards to judge whether you have reached the goal or not. The decision making process is a valuable resource to help you solve problems and reach your goals. A conscious awareness of your willingness to accept risk will make your decision making smoother and more effective.

Types of decisions

Programmed decisions- are repetitive decisions that can be handled using a routine approach.
Nonprogrammed decisions- are unique decisions that generate unique responses.

Types of decision making

Intuitive decision making –is making decisions on the basis of experience, feelings and accumulated judgement.
Rational decision making – describes choices that are logical and consistent while maximizing values.
Individual decision making – is the decision taken by an individual in an organization.
Group decision making – decisions taken by a group of organizational members.
Creative decision making – The creative decision making may be characterized by the generation of a large pool of diverse and perhaps novel alternatives and a number of evaluation strategies for choosing among options. It may involve using intuition and insight before logic and analysis.

Barriers to good decision making

Hasty – making quick decisions without having much thought.
Narrow – decision making is based on very limited information.
Scattered – our thoughts in making decisions are disconnected or disorganized.
Fuzzy – sometimes, the lack of clarity on important aspects of a decision causes us to overlook certain important considerations.

Conditions in making decisions

Risk – a situation in which an individual is able to estimate the likelihood (probability) of outcomes that result from the choice of particular alternatives.
Certainty – a situation in which an individual can make an accurate decision because the outcome of every alternative choice is known.
Uncertainty – limited information prevents estimation of outcome probabilities for alternatives associated with the problem and may force an individual to relay on intuition or ‘gut feelings.’

Styles of making decisions

Reflexive style – Such people makes quick decisions without taking the time to get all the information that may be needed and without considering all the alternatives.
Reflective style – Such people takes plenty of time to make decisions, gathering considerable information and analysing several alternatives.
Consistent style – Such people tends to make decisions without either rushing or wasting time.
Linear thinking style – a person’s preference for using external data and facts and processing this information through rational, logical thinking.
Non-linear thinking style – a person’s preference for internal resources of information and processing this information with internal insights, feelings and hunches.

Guidelines for effective decision making

1. The decision problem should be defined properly.
2. More quantity of reliable information is gathered for effective decision making.
3. Various views at the same point are taken into account for quality decisions.
4. Decision should be made at proper time to meet the competitive advantages.
5. More alternatives can be generated by brain storming
6. Decisions can also be made on the basis of questionnaire filled by respondents (Delphi technique).
7. Decisions can be made on the basis of majority opinion (consensus).

Benefits of effective decision making

1.       It focuses on what is important
2.       It is logical and consistent
3.       It is straightforward, reliable, easy to use and flexible.
4.       It acknowledges both subjective and objective thinking and blends analytical with intuitive thinking.
5.       It requires only as much information and analysis as is necessary to resolve a particular dilemma.
6.       It encourages and guides the gathering of relevant information and informed opinion.

Errors in decision making

Over confidence – when a decision maker thinks he knows more than he do or holds unrealistic positive views of himself.
Immediate gratification – decision makers tend to want immediate reward and to avoid immediate costs.
Anchoring – decision makers fixate on initial information as a starting point and then once set, fail to adequately adjust for subsequent information.
Selective perception – decision makers selectively organize and interpret events based on their biased perceptions.
Confirmation – decision makers seek out information that reaffirm their past choices and discount information that contradicts past judgement.
Framing – decision makers select and highlight certain aspects of a situation while excluding others.
Availability – decision makers tend to remember events that are the most recent and vivid in their memory.
Representation – decision makers assess the likelihood of an event based on how closely it resembles other events.
Randomness – decision makers try to create meaning out of random events.
Sunk costs – decision makers forget that current choices can’t correct the past.
Self-serving – decision makers who are quick to take credit for their successes and blame failure on outside factors.
Hind sight – decision makers tend to falsely believe that they would have accurately predicted the outcome of an event that outcome is actually known.

Systematic decision making (Simon, a Nobel laureate,SIM 77)

It involves 3 major phases 1) Intelligence or information gathering phase 2)Design phase 3)Choice phase followed by the implementation phase. Decision making phase starts with the intelligence phase where reality is examined and the problem is identified. In the design phase, a model that represents the system is constructed. The choice phase includes selection of a proposed solution to a model. Once the proposed solution seems to be reasonable, it is ready for the implementation.

Significance of good decisions in business world
Good decision making is as important in the working world as it is in the rest of our lives. Every day a number of decisions must be made that determine the direction and efficiency of the organization we work for. Decisions are made concerning production, marketing and personnel. Decisions are made affecting costs, sales and margins. Just as in our personal lives, the key to organizational success is to make good choices. The organization must have effective decision making (ref: Delivering business intelligence with Microsoft SQL server 2008).
                    Decisions determine the direction and efficiency.

“In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.” - Eleanor Roosevelt.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Creative problem solving skills

Solving problems is a complex mental process that characterizes one of the most intelligent human activities. Problem – solving is a tool, a skill and a process. As a tool it helps anyone to solve a problem or achieve a goal. As a skill one can use it repeatedly throughout his/ her life.  As a process, it involves a number of steps. In fact we experience problems on a daily basis. Major problems can have a negative impact on our overall quality of life. The problem solving is either an individual or collaborative process composed of two different mental skills: (1) to analyse a situation accurately (analytical) and (2) to make a good decision based on that analysis (creative).  Analytical thinking includes skills such as ordering, comparing, contrasting, evaluating and selecting. It helps to identify the real cause from many possible causes (convergent process). Creative thinking is a divergent process using imagination to create a large range of ideas for solutions. The object of problem solving is usually a solution, answer or conclusion. Solving a complex problem requires more than mere knowledge; it requires the motivation and personal resourcefulness to undertake the challenge and persistence until a solution is reached.

Definition of a problem

The concise Oxford Dictionary (1995) defines problem as ‘A doubtful or difficult matter requiring a solution’ and ‘something hard to understand or accomplish or deal with.’  
A problem exists when a person wants something and does not know how to get it. The problems can be specific or general, positive or negative and major or minor in importance or scope.

Definition of problem solving

Problem solving is the process of working through details of a problem to reach a solution. The US Dictionary defines problem solving as the process of finding solutions to difficult or complex issues. In other words problem solving is ‘thinking that is directed toward the solving of a specific problem that involves both the formation of responses and the selection among possible responses.’

Guiding principles of problem solving

Problems are natural – People must understand that problems are natural part of life. Buccchianeri E.A quoted, “Well if it can be thought, it can be done, a problem can be overcome.”
All life is problem solving- Problem solving is an ongoing, perpetual thing. Joey Lawsin quoted, “The opposite of a problem would likely be the correct solution.”
Problems are solvable – people can do something about the problem. John Dewey quoted, “A problem well put is half solved.” Robert H. Schuller quoted, “Problems are not stop signs, they are guidelines.”
Problems are opportunities to make some good things happen. Author Brian Adams quoted, “Difficulties are opportunities to better things; they are stepping stones to greater experience...When one door closes, another always opens; as a natural it has to balance.”
Problems are challenges – they call upon the best of our abilities and ask us to go beyond what we thought we could do. Gever Tulley quoted, “Persistence and resilience only come from having been given the chance to work through difficult problems.”

Problem solving phases

1. Input phase – a problem is perceived and an attempt is made to understand the situation or problem. Problem solver gathers information or facts relevant to solving the problem;
2. Processing phase – alternatives are generated and evaluated and a solution is selected;
3. Output phase – includes planning for and implementing the solution;
4. Review phase – solution is evaluated and modifications are made, if necessary.

Problem solving procedure

1. Problem recognition – It involves detecting and recognizing that there is a problem exists and identifying the nature of the problem. Identifying a problem requires more thought and analysis. The identification of personal cues such as thoughts, feelings and behaviours provides the information for the existence of a problem which can be used in the subsequent steps of the problem solving process. This stage is all about gaining more information about the problem and increasing the understanding.
2. Problem definition – It is the process of defining the problem in a solvable form. A well defined problem will accurately describe the problem situation (context). As Edward Hodnitt stated, “A good problem statement often includes a) what is known b) what is unknown and c) what is sought.”
3. Generation of alternative solutions – It is now time to start thinking about possible solutions to the identified problem. One effective strategy for generating alternative solutions is brain storming.
4. Evaluation of alternative solutions – Once all the alternatives have been generated, it is time to evaluate the potential effectiveness of each of them in solving the problem.
5. Making a decision – This is perhaps the most complex part of the problem solving process. This stage involves careful analysis of the different possible courses of action and then selecting a solution which has the greater potential for effectiveness.
6. Implementation of the solution – Once the solution has been identified, it is time to implement one or more of the chosen solutions.
7. Verification of the solution’s effect – It is essential for a problem solver to verify the whether or not the solution was executed according to plan and then evaluated to determine its effectiveness.

7-Step problem solving procedure (Finkelman 2001)

The first step is defining the problem by clarifying the task and describing it in a single sentence. The second step is gathering information from a variety of sources and analysing the data. The third step is determining the overall goal or desired outcome to guide decision making and actions toward the desired outcome. The fourth step is developing potential solutions to make the best choice. The fifth step is considering the consequences for each of the identified potential solutions. Making the best decision is the sixth step. Finally implementing the solution, evaluating its effectiveness and taking necessary corrective action occurs.

9 – Step problem solving procedure (Dailey 1990)

1. Identifying problems
2. Determining perceptions
3. Determining the underlying causes of problems
4. Assessing the magnitude of the problem
5. Constructing a plan
6. Implementing a plan
7. Test-piloting the plan
8. Tracking effectiveness
9. Publicizing results.

Creative problem solving (CPS) Treffinger’s Model

The problem solving process of the CPS model (Donald and Treffinger, 2000,Isaksen and Treffinger, 2004) consists of a total of six steps
1. Objective finding – helps to identify problem ‘messes’ by using divergent thinking and then converge to select a broader goal.
2. Fact finding –focuses on examining many facts or data about the situation to form the basis for the next step.
3. Problem finding –helps generate many possible restatements of the problem.
4. Idea finding – helps generate promising ideas and possible solutions for the problem.
5. Solution finding – develops criteria to evaluate those ideas and solutions.
6. Acceptance finding – helps generate ideas for facilitating implementation of the most promising alternatives and building these ideas into a plan of action.
Brain storming is an essential component of each step. Each step involves divergent thinking to generate ideas and possibilities and convergent thinking to select insightful elements, synthesis or refine. The CPS model emphasizes harmony and balance between divergent or creative and convergent or critical thinking.

Aspects of problem solving

Being flexible – you have to be flexible and willing to try something different;
Take time to think – you should brainstorm a little about the different ways you can solve the problems;
Ask questions – part of solving a problem is to create new questions to answer;
Look at the problem in a different way – try thinking differently about the problem. Avoid your natural tendencies. Remember perspective is everything in solving a problem;
Think unconventionally – come up with solutions that make no or little sense. You might surprise yourself and actually run across an unconventional idea that is the perfect solution to your problem.

Problem solving strategies

Direct intervention – involves you personally doing  a task or activity.
Indirect intervention – requires good interpersonal skills such as negotiation, conflict resolution, persuasion and confrontations to influence others to carry out activities or resolve the problem.
Delegation – is used to assign the responsibility of an activity or task to another for the purpose of workload distribution.
Purposeful inaction – is consciously ignoring or choosing not to make a choice with the hope that the problem may go away with time.
Consultation or collaboration – is exchanging information with peers or colleagues to solve a problem.

Problem solving tools

Abstraction – solving the problem in model of the system before applying it to the real system.
Analogy – using a solution that solved an analogous problem.
Brain storming – suggesting a large number of solutions to a problem and then combining or developing them to find out an optimum solution.
Fractionalization – breaking down a large complex problem into a smaller, solvable problem.
Hypothesis testing – assuming a possible explanation to a problem and trying to prove/disprove assumptions.
Lateral thinking – approaching solutions indirectly and creatively.
Means-ends analysis – choosing an action at each step to move closer to the goal.
Morphological analysis – assessing the output and interactions of an entire system.
Reduction – transforming the problem into another problem for which solutions exist.
Research –employing existing ideas or adapting existing solutions to similar problems.
Root-cause analysis – eliminating the cause of the problem.
Trial -and – error –testing possible solutions until the right one is found.
Proof – try to prove that the problem cannot be solved. The point where the proof fails will be the starting point for solving it.

Benefits of problem solving

Effective problem solving has been found to be associated with optimism, hope, greater self-esteem and self-confidence, improved health and emotional well being and a strong sense of overall satisfaction in life. Effective problem solvers view problems more as opportunities for growth or positive change rather than threats. Solving problems provide necessary skills to handle new problems. They also have self-confidence in their ability to adequately tackle difficulties and attempt to react to problems in a thoughtful, planful and systematic manner. Problem solving decreases one’s impulsivity and social withdrawal. Effective problem solving skills serve to increase the likelihood that such individuals can adapt more successfully to life’s strains and difficulties.
                        ‘To every problem, there is a solution’