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’

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