Problems. That word keeps the World rolling. Without problems, there won’t be solutions. Without solutions, there won’t be quests or adventures. And without those, this world is just as void as it was in the beginning of creation. So, the importance of problem solving skills is clearly visible everywhere.

For example, to solve the problem of hunger, we look for food through cultivation or money to purchase food. To solve the problem of money, we all work to earn it. To solve the problem of difficulty, humans came up with machines and technology. And to solve the problem of not being able to effectively deal with your problems (especially at the place of work), I am writing this post.

What Is Problem Solving?

If you ask a layman for the definition of problem solving, he would tell you problem solving is the process of providing solutions to a particular problem. Obviously, that is right. But if we are to go a little technical, problem solving definition is more than that.

Technically, problem solving is the accumulation of processes that include the definition of a problem, determination of the root cause of the problem, identification, prioritizing, as well as selecting different alternatives for the solution and finally, execution of the solution.

You need to go through the above process if you want to solve the problem effectively. So, in simple terms, problem solving is the journey through a lot of steps to arrive at the solution to a problem. Now that we have established the problem solving definition, it is important that we proceed to other details.

Before then, I would like to establish that problem solving skill is one of the most important skills required of an individual. No matter the nature of work you do or even in the family, you need such skill.

Key Problem Solving Skills

Problem solving skills are a compilation of skill sets that comprise of different abilities that are interrelated. Some of these important problem solving skills include the following:

  1. Creativity:
    The ability to do new things or do the old things in a new way. This is always important for problem solving. With creativity, new methods could be employed to wisely solve the problem.
  2. Communication Skills:
    Being able to communicate well with members of a group or workers in the workplace.
  3. Research Skills:
    Research here means that an individual can search for relevant information. This information will give him an informed and fully loaded approach to the problem. He also will have a lot of alternatives to explore. Remember that is one of the processes of problem solving.
  4. Analytical skills:
    This involves the ability to listen to other people’s opinion and analyse the pros and cons of the alternatives that are available. Being analytical also means that you can take your time to check out the advantages and disadvantages of your options. Then, through your analysis, you settle for the best.
  5. Collaboration:
    This is the ability to be able to work together with others towards providing a solution.
  6. Decision Making:
    This includes the ability to quickly decide on the most appropriate solution.

Problem Solving Process

Problem solving is simply like building a house. It is systematic. You cannot afford to skip a step. If you do, you will land yourself in a problem bigger than the one you are seeking to solve. So, in a problem solving process, you need to follow the process as it is so you won’t waste your time and resources only to jump into a worse problem.

Below is the list that make up the problem solving process:

  1. Problem definition
  2. Generation of available solutions and alternatives
  3. Analysis of the alternatives and decide on the most appropriate
  4. Implementation and follow up

The above procedure has sub-procedures each that you could follow through in order to come up with the most appropriate solution to the problems you may have. Remember that problems abound. There are problems everywhere – at home, in the place of work, etc. so, to live a good life generally, you have to master these problem solving skills.

  1. Problem definition:
    You need to first understand what the problem is. You cannot successfully find solution to a problem if you know nothing about it.

    So, take your time to identify the problem and do proper analysis of the problem. While doing that, you need to be able to know the difference between opinions and facts.

    Then, look out for the cause(s) of the problem. It is easier to get the solution to a problem you know the root cause. Gather more information about the problem. Remember no information is too much. Gather as much information as possible and filter them out to arrive at the most important information.

    Now, do what is called problem specification. This means that you should write the problem in one or few sentence(s) so as to know exactly what the problem is. Ask yourself, “what exactly is the problem?”, then answer. You see that answer? That’s the problem, put it down.
  2. Generation of available solutions and alternatives:
    The beauty of this stage is that you get to gather as much as possible ideas from your team members. In this case, you need to understand that no one’s idea is foolish. Allow everyone to contribute their ideas, no matter how irrelevant it may be.

    Don’t forget that there is “sense” in every “nonsense”. So be a good listener and pay attention to the smallest detail.
  3. Analysis of the alternatives and decide on the most appropriate:
    This is also the stage evaluate the ideas of the whole group. Consider every single idea that has been made and be objective with it. Sometimes, some people’s idea may sound brilliant. Do not trash other people’s opinions because of that.

    You could combine ideas or even derive a better one from those that look foolish. Remember gold looks useful until it is refined. Consider the pros and cons of all the ideas and select the one that has the highest probability of solving the problems.

    Archive the other opinions in case you need to fall back to them. They could make up your plan B though. Then, just like you defined the problem, write out the particular objective you have selected. As yourself, “so which alternative are we settling for?”, then the answer is what you should note down.
  4. Implementation and follow up:
    This is the final stage of the problem solving process where you apply your proposed solution to solve the problem. You can attempt a pilot test or a trial and see if the solution will work.

    Get feedback for the trial. If the trial works, then you may accept the proposed alternative to be the solution to the problem. And if it doesn’t work out, retrace the procedure and seek to apply some other better alternatives. This time, you will be get the desired result.

Problem Solving Resources

I gave you problem solving definition. I will still introduce you to some problem solving techniques. I told you to seek information to be able to handle the problems effectively. It will be unfair if I do not acquaint you with resources to extract this information. The resources include:

  1. Articles
  2. Books
  3. Case studies
  4. Webcasts
  5. Websites and Blogs
  6. Professionals

Problem Solving Techniques

Techniques are ways by which one could do something. So, I will be taking you through some problem solving techniques you could take into consideration when you are trying to solve problems.

  1. Ask questions that are compelling. Ask as much as possible. Questions like “can we…”, “why not…”, “what if….”, “how about….”, “ don’t you think….”, etc. These compelling questions make your team members give more details about their opinions and you also have a full understanding of what they are referring to. Likewise, you would immediately detect opinions that may not work out.
  2. Brainstorm as much as you can. Reason with others., reason with yourself. Think while you are with others. Think when you are alone in the toilet. Think every time. This gives many alternatives to choose from. Employ the different methods of brainstorming – silent brainstorming technique, round-robin brainstorming technique, etc.
  3. The 5 Whys technique: This technique could be employed to find out the cause of the problem. That is, you ask “What is the problem?”, “Who has/made the problem?”, “Why is the problem here?”, “When did the problem start?”, “Where did the problem start from?” and “How did the problem come about?”. Asking yourself these questions is important to problem definition.
  4. Failure Mode and Effect Analysis (FMEA): with this technique, you try to guess or predict when and how a strategy may fail. You look out for the failure mode and consider the effect of its failure. Also, you examine the possibility of the failure occurring.

Now that we have discussed some problem solving techniques, it is time to move to problem solving examples.

Check out some other problem solving techniques in this video.

Problem Solving Examples

Problem solving examples are everywhere. I will be sharing one example with you. But it is not out of place to say that you must have come across some situations where you had to solve some problems yourself.

There was once a time I headed an ad-hoc committee that was meant to see to the problem of lack of commitment among employees in my workplace.

Remember I told you problems abound everywhere, even in the workplace. I had to follow the processes above. In fact, I got good experience of the problem solving process from this task. Guess what, it worked for me.

It wasn’t so easy as all members of the committee had to make their opinions known. It took patience to be able to bring the ideas together even when everyone wanted their ideas to count. At the end of the day, we compiled everyone’s opinions objectively and everyone was happy. We submitted our report and the company thanked us for the job well done.

Conclusion

I said at the beginning that problems keep the world rolling. However, inability to proffer solutions to these problems could make the world stop rolling. Just imagine if we couldn’t find solution to hunger. Imagine if we couldn’t find solution to most of our problems, then we would be in complete disaster. Hence, the importance of these problem solving skills is huge.

Master these skills, and employ them in your everyday problem solving tasks. By then, you’ll be one of those making the whole world a better place.