four major obstacles to problem solving

6 Common Problem Solving Barriers and How Can Managers Beat them?

What is the meaning of barriers to problem solving, what are the 6 barriers to problem solving, examples of barriers to problem solving, how to overcome problem solving barriers at work tips for managers, problem solving barriers faqs.

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Lack of motivation

Lack of knowledge, lack of resources, emotional barriers, cultural and societal barriers, fear of failure.

  • Lack of motivation: A person who lacks motivation may struggle to complete tasks on time or produce quality work. For example, an employee who is disengaged from their job may procrastinate on essential tasks or show up late to work.
  • Lack of knowledge : Employees who lack knowledge or training may be unable to perform their duties effectively. For example, a new employee unfamiliar with the company’s software systems may struggle to complete tasks on their computer.
  • Lack of resources: Employees may be unable to complete their work due to a lack of resources, such as equipment or technology. For example, a graphic designer who doesn’t have access to the latest design software may struggle to produce high-quality designs.
  • Emotional barriers: Emotional barriers can affect an employee’s ability to perform their job effectively. For example, an employee dealing with a personal issue, such as a divorce, may have trouble focusing on their work and meeting deadlines.
  • Cultural and societal barriers: Cultural and societal barriers can affect an employee’s ability to work effectively. For example, an employee from a different culture may struggle to communicate effectively with colleagues or may feel uncomfortable in a work environment that is not inclusive.
  • Fear of failure : Employees who fear failure may avoid taking on new challenges or may not take risks that could benefit the company. For example, an employee afraid of making mistakes may not take on a leadership role or hesitate to make decisions that could impact the company’s bottom line.
  • Identify and Define the Problem: Define the problem and understand its root cause. This will help you identify the obstacles that are preventing effective problem solving.
  • C ollaborate and Communicate: Work with others to gather information, generate new ideas, and share perspectives. Effective communication can help overcome misunderstandings and promote creative problem solving.
  • Use Creative Problem Solving Techniques: Consider using creative problem solving techniques such as brainstorming, mind mapping, or SWOT analysis to explore new ideas and generate innovative solutions.
  • Embrace Flexibility: Be open to new ideas and approaches. Embracing flexibility can help you overcome fixed mindsets and encourage creativity in problem solving.
  • Invest in Resources: Ensure that you have access to the necessary resources, such as time, money, or personnel, to effectively solve complex problems.
  • Emphasize Continuous Learning: Encourage continuous learning and improvement by seeking feedback, evaluating outcomes, and reflecting on the problem solving process. This can help you identify improvement areas and promote a continuous improvement culture.

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What are the factors affecting problem solving?

What are the five key obstacles to problem solving, can habits be a barrier to problem solving, how do you overcome barriers in problem solving.

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four major obstacles to problem solving

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Barriers to Effective Problem Solving

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Learning how to effectively solve problems is difficult and takes time and continual adaptation. There are several common barriers to successful CPS, including:

  • Confirmation Bias: The tendency to only search for or interpret information that confirms a person’s existing ideas. People misinterpret or disregard data that doesn’t align with their beliefs.
  • Mental Set: People’s inclination to solve problems using the same tactics they have used to solve problems in the past. While this can sometimes be a useful strategy (see Analogical Thinking in a later section), it often limits inventiveness and creativity.
  • Functional Fixedness: This is another form of narrow thinking, where people become “stuck” thinking in a certain way and are unable to be flexible or change perspective.
  • Unnecessary Constraints: When people are overwhelmed with a problem, they can invent and impose additional limits on solution avenues. To avoid doing this, maintain a structured, level-headed approach to evaluating causes, effects, and potential solutions.
  • Groupthink: Be wary of the tendency for group members to agree with each other — this might be out of conflict avoidance, path of least resistance, or fear of speaking up. While this agreeableness might make meetings run smoothly, it can actually stunt creativity and idea generation, therefore limiting the success of your chosen solution.
  • Irrelevant Information: The tendency to pile on multiple problems and factors that may not even be related to the challenge at hand. This can cloud the team’s ability to find direct, targeted solutions.
  • Paradigm Blindness : This is found in people who are unwilling to adapt or change their worldview, outlook on a particular problem, or typical way of processing information. This can erode the effectiveness of problem solving techniques because they are not aware of the narrowness of their thinking, and therefore cannot think or act outside of their comfort zone.

According to Jaffa, the primary barrier of effective problem solving is rigidity. “The most common things people say are, ‘We’ve never done it before,’ or ‘We’ve always done it this way.’” While these feelings are natural, Jaffa explains that this rigid thinking actually precludes teams from identifying creative, inventive solutions that result in the greatest benefit. “The biggest barrier to creative problem solving is a lack of awareness – and commitment to – training employees in state-of-the-art creative problem-solving techniques,” Mattimore explains. “We teach our clients how to use ideation techniques (as many as two-dozen different creative thinking techniques) to help them generate more and better ideas. Ideation techniques use specific and customized stimuli, or ‘thought triggers’ to inspire new thinking and new ideas.” MacLeod adds that ineffective or rushed leadership is another common culprit. “We're always in a rush to fix quickly,” she says. “Sometimes leaders just solve problems themselves, making unilateral decisions to save time. But the investment is well worth it — leaders will have less on their plates if they can teach and eventually trust the team to resolve. Teams feel empowered and engagement and investment increases.”

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four major obstacles to problem solving

Obstacles to Problem Solving and Innovation in Design Thinking

Understanding the obstacles that prevent teams from reaching innovative solutions that solve underlying problems is a very important aspect of the Design Thinking process. When we ignore a major influencing factor while trying to develop a solution, we are setting ourselves up for a potentially negative result, or may even be creating an even more problematic situation than the one we are trying to resolve. To ensure your team has the optimum working environment for problem solving, let us look at the most common obstacles to problem solving and innovation — as well as a few simple steps you can take to prevent them.

Obstacles to Problem Solving

The following list of factors, though not exhaustive, represents some of the obstacles to achieving innovative solutions to the challenges we face. The more obstacles we encounter within a problem space , the more difficult the path to innovation. Our goal should always be to create a space where obstacles are understood and removed or neutralised while exploring solutions.

  • Individual people
  • Impulsive reactions
  • Man with a hammer syndrome
  • Team construction
  • Power structures
  • Organisational constraints and power structures
  • Environment
  • Sustainability

If the list above seems long and broad, that’s the whole point . Hundreds of factors can influence how conducive a team can be when solving problems, so it is extremely important to be cognizant of how small and seemingly unimportant factors can adversely affect your team’s progress. While it is not efficient to consider and analyse each and every factor in full, you should nevertheless put them at the back of your mind when working on a project.

Let us elaborate further on the most common obstacles teams face when trying to solve a problem.

Impulsive Reactions

When confronted with a challenging situation, we tend to want to be spontaneous in our reactions. The instinctive mentality is that we should strike, and strike fast, if we want to solve a challenging problem. We tend to pinpoint obvious superficial factors and attack them directly, without reviewing subtle and perhaps more influential factors. We might individually attack symptoms of problems, when the more appropriate solution would be to understand the situation as a group before attempting to apply a solution. Similarly, any one problem may comprise a tangled complex of sub-problems; striking at one of these may ‘seem’ to solve it, but doing so may have deep-reaching effects that can complicate tangent sub-problems and make the whole thing even more problematic. This impulsive urge to jump into a problem and quickly solve it can be a stumbling block in your project, because a truly useful and impactful solution requires a deep, empathic understanding of the problem. Consequently, it takes insight and restraint to overcome this impulse. While it feels good to be doing something about a problem, remember that “doing something” doesn’t have to mean taking a potentially brash action. The danger here is to mistake careful analysis for wasting time, as it seems to be far less proactive-looking and lacks the glory of a good, quick strike back that shows the problem solver can think on his feet.

Indeed, the very first reaction is rarely the most appropriate in problem solving, unless the problem is so familiar and frequent that one has become an expert in patching it quickly. Its reoccurrence may, however, indicate that the root has not been addressed — but that is another issue. Regarding being impulsive and diving in too soon, it prevents us from taking a bigger-picture view, from gaining deeper insight and from understanding how others view and experience the same problem.

Best practice: In order to solve a complex, wicked problem, you and your team need to resist the urge to react impulsively — whether it’s to solve the obvious, superficial factors quickly, or to develop the very first idea into a full product directly — and learn to dive deep and develop a holistic understanding of the problem, before starting to ideate the possible solutions to it.

four major obstacles to problem solving

In order to solve a complex, wicked problem, you and your team need to resist the urge to react impulsively and learn to dive deep and develop a holistic understanding of the problem, before starting to ideate the possible solutions to it.

Egos Get in the Way

At times, we can be our own worst enemies when it comes to working in teams trying to solve problems. If we're focused on ourselves, showing off, on egos and asserting ourselves over others, we will most likely run into issues. Not only will there almost definitely be conflicts within the team, we will also tend to fall in love with our own ideas and refuse to accept it when tests indicate that the solution is not working with the target users.

Solving problems with others requires a sincere desire to achieve the objectives together. It requires a degree of humility and excellent people skills as well. When individuals are more interested in asserting themselves over others, flexing their authority, experience or creative muscles and proving a personal point, the group will suffer and the solutions or ideas that are being forced through may not be the most appropriate. Someone’s vanity will therefore dilute the team’s effectiveness.

Best practice: The most successful problem-solving spaces provide room for each player or actor to present his/her views, thoughts, feelings and experiences, thereby allowing a more holistic approach to solving the problem. There should be no room for egos in an innovative design project.

As you may have noticed, the word “holistic” has popped up quite a few times already — and will likely appear many more times in any Design Thinking article you read. That’s because it’s one of the core aspects of the Design Thinking mindset. It's one of the words you should definitely stick up on the wall close to your thinking and working space if you want to apply Design Thinking. HOLISTIC!

four major obstacles to problem solving

We all agree, so it must be right... right? Wrong!

Groupthink is a phenomenon that occurs when the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in a dysfunctional or irrational decision-making outcome. When working in groups, we find in many cases that people will agree with group decisions due to self-confidence issues, a kind of group peer pressure, or fear of having an opposing view rejected. But groupthink does not only occur due to negative reasoning. It may result from the desire towards a more cohesive group dynamic by avoiding conflict or controversy. Individuals consider expressing loyalty to the group to require avoiding views which may be out of sync with what the group has achieved consensus on.

Groupthink is especially dangerous when it comes to a Design Thinking project, where the team is focused on creating an innovative solution to combat a tricky problem. In Design Thinking, it is crucial to iterate and to base your decisions on user testing and understanding; with groupthink, your team might suppress dissenting viewpoints and be less critical when evaluating ideas.

Best practice: In order to avoid this scenario, team managers need to create a safe and playful space for individuals to express themselves, throw ideas out there, and not feel targeted. No-one must be allowed to dominate while ideas are being brainstormed. The right mentality must be adopted at the beginning of the project, where critiques of ideas are never made personal (and should never feel personal). Of course, during later stages where ideas are evaluated and chosen for their appropriateness, a more critical approach should be taken rather than adopting a conforming mindset.

Man with a Hammer Syndrome

As the saying goes, “to the man with a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.”

We approach problems based on the toolset which we feel most comfortable with and most skilled at. Engineers, doctors, teachers, developers, and politicians may all have tendencies to want to exercise their core skills or experience within their own field. This may not be the correct approach to solve a specific problem, and it may not be a means to achieve the desired objective, especially when the problem has multiple influencing factors which require, wait for it, Holistic thinking. At times, we need to look outside of our core tendencies, skills and experiences and approach the problem on its own level of need.

We tend to try to solve problems which appear similar to previously solved problems, using the same methods even though simpler or more optimal solutions may exist. It's part of how the human brain works in following familiar patterns, thereby reducing cognitive load . But when embarking on a Design Thinking project, it is important to abandon our tendencies to follow patterns, because the way the brain tries to help us reduce cognitive load is the very same one in which it inhibits our ability to think outside of the box!

Best practice: Creating cross-disciplinary teams will help solve this issue, as there will be many men with different kinds of hammers looking for different kinds of nails. It’s of course crucial that the team leader illuminates to all team members that all skills and mindsets are equally important so as to avoid power struggles. In this context the manager’s skills and ideas are as important as the newly employed designer’s are. Likewise, the web designer ’s, architect’s, and developer’s skills and ideas are equally important in a Design Thinking process.

four major obstacles to problem solving

As the saying goes, “to the man with a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” We tend to try to solve problems which appear similar to previously solved problems, using the same methods even though simpler or more optimal solutions may exist. It's part of how the human brain works in following familiar patterns, thereby reducing cognitive load. 'Hammering Man' (1994) is a sculpture which is located in various cities.

It's a Bird; it's a Plane – Misdiagnosing Problems

We need to be sure we are diagnosing problems correctly, as treating symptoms may — as in the case of illnesses — not result in a cure but only temporary relief. In some cases, prescribing the incorrect medication to tackle a symptom may even cause a deepening of the root illness. As part of any human-centred design approach, digging deep into human experience uncovers more about the problems we face than if we only scrutinised things on a superficial level.

Best practice: It is when we immerse ourselves in all the factors that influence a situation that we gain a deeper understanding of the way forward. We need to be vigilant, fully focused and aware of the obstacles which could derail our progress while keeping our focus squarely on the destination.

The Take Away

Before we take on a Design Thinking project, it is important, firstly, to take note of the various obstacles that can prevent us from reaching a solution that really works. From our impulsive tendencies to react to problems quickly and solve them just as fast, to the threat of egos and groupthink, there are many potential pitfalls that teams should learn to avoid. Developing a holistic understanding of the problems that the target users face is a key element of Design Thinking, which is typically adopted to solve complex, wicked problems where multiple spheres and fields collide.

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6.8: Blocks to Problem Solving

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  • Mehgan Andrade and Neil Walker
  • College of the Canyons

Sometimes, previous experience or familiarity can even make problem solving more difficult. This is the case whenever habitual directions get in the way of finding new directions – an effect called fixation.

Functional Fixedness

Functional fixedness concerns the solution of object-use problems. The basic idea is that when the usual way of using an object is emphasised, it will be far more difficult for a person to use that object in a novel manner. An example for this effect is the candle problem : Imagine you are given a box of matches, some candles and tacks. On the wall of the room there is a cork- board. Your task is to fix the candle to the cork-board in such a way that no wax will drop on the floor when the candle is lit. – Got an idea?

Picture1.png

Explanation: The clue is just the following: when people are confronted with a problem

and given certain objects to solve it, it is difficult for them to figure out that they could use them in a different (not so familiar or obvious) way. In this example the box has to be recognized as a support rather than as a container.

A further example is the two-string problem: Knut is left in a room with a chair and a pair of pliers given the task to bind two strings together that are hanging from the ceiling. The problem he faces is that he can never reach both strings at a time because they are just too far away from each other. What can Knut do?

Picture2.png

Solution: Knut has to recognize he can use the pliers in a novel function – as weight for a pendulum. He can bind them to one of the strings, push it away, hold the other string and just wait for the first one moving towards him. If necessary, Knut can even climb on the chair, but he is not that small, we suppose…

Mental Fixedness

Functional fixedness as involved in the examples above illustrates a mental set - a person’s tendency to respond to a given task in a manner based on past experience. Because Knut maps an object to a particular function he has difficulties to vary the way of use (pliers as pendulum's weight). One approach to studying fixation was to study wrong-answer verbal insight problems. It was shown that people tend to give rather an incorrect answer when failing to solve a problem than to give no answer at all.

A typical example: People are told that on a lake the area covered by water lilies doubles every 24 hours and that it takes 60 days to cover the whole lake. Then they are asked how many days it takes to cover half the lake. The typical response is '30 days' (whereas 59 days is correct).

These wrong solutions are due to an inaccurate interpretation, hence representation, of the problem. This can happen because of sloppiness (a quick shallow reading of the problemand/or weak monitoring of their efforts made to come to a solution). In this case error feedback should help people to reconsider the problem features, note the inadequacy of their first answer, and find the correct solution. If, however, people are truly fixated on their incorrect representation, being told the answer is wrong does not help. In a study made by P.I. Dallop and R.L. Dominowski in 1992 these two possibilities were contrasted. In approximately one third of the cases error feedback led to right answers, so only approximately one third of the wrong answers were due to inadequate monitoring. [6] Another approach is the study of examples with and without a preceding analogous task. In cases such like the water-jug task analogous thinking indeed leads to a correct solution, but to take a different way might make the case much simpler:

Imagine Knut again, this time he is given three jugs with different capacities and is asked to measure the required amount of water. Of course he is not allowed to use anything despite the jugs and as much water as he likes. In the first case the sizes are 127 litres, 21 litres and 3 litres while 100 litres are desired. In the second case Knut is asked to measure 18 litres from jugs of 39, 15 and three litres size.

In fact participants faced with the 100 litre task first choose a complicate way in order tosolve the second one. Others on the contrary who did not know about that complex task solved the 18 litre case by just adding three litres to 15.

Pitfalls to Problem Solving

Not all problems are successfully solved, however. What challenges stop us from successfully solving a problem? Albert Einstein once said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” Imagine a person in a room that has four doorways. One doorway that has always been open in the past is now locked. The person, accustomed to exiting the room by that particular doorway, keeps trying to get out through the same doorway even though the other three doorways are open. The person is stuck—but she just needs to go to another doorway, instead of trying to get out through the locked doorway. A mental set is where you persist in approaching a problem in a way that has worked in the past but is clearly not working now. Functional fixedness is a type of mental set where you cannot perceive an object being used for something other than what it was designed for. During the Apollo 13 mission to the moon, NASA engineers at Mission Control had to overcome functional fixedness to save the lives of the astronauts aboard the spacecraft. An explosion in a module of the spacecraft damaged multiple systems. The astronauts were in danger of being poisoned by rising levels of carbon dioxide because of problems with the carbon dioxide filters. The engineers found a way for the astronauts to use spare plastic bags, tape, and air hoses to create a makeshift air filter, which saved the lives of the astronauts.

Link to Learning

Check out this Apollo 13 scene where the group of NASA engineers are given the task of overcoming functional fixedness.

Researchers have investigated whether functional fixedness is affected by culture. In one experiment, individuals from the Shuar group in Ecuador were asked to use an object for a purpose other than that for which the object was originally intended. For example, the participants were told a story about a bear and a rabbit that were separated by a river and asked to select among various objects, including a spoon, a cup, erasers, and so on, to help the animals. The spoon was the only object long enough to span the imaginary river, but if the spoon was presented in a way that reflected its normal usage, it took participants longer to choose the spoon to solve the problem. (German & Barrett, 2005). The researchers wanted to know if exposure to highly specialized tools, as occurs with individuals in industrialized nations, affects their ability to transcend functional fixedness. It was determined that functional fixedness is experienced in both industrialized and non-industrialized cultures (German & Barrett, 2005).

Common obstacles to solving problems

The example also illustrates two common problems that sometimes happen during problem solving. One of these is functional fixedness : a tendency to regard the functions of objects and ideas as fixed (German & Barrett, 2005). Over time, we get so used to one particular purpose for an object that we overlook other uses. We may think of a dictionary, for example, as necessarily something to verify spellings and definitions, but it also can function as a gift, a doorstop, or a footstool. For students working on the nine-dot matrix described in the last section, the notion of “drawing” a line was also initially fixed; they assumed it to be connecting dots but not extending lines beyond the dots. Functional fixedness sometimes is also called response set , the tendency for a person to frame or think about each problem in a series in the same way as the previous problem, even when doing so is not appropriate to later problems. In the example of the nine-dot matrix described above, students often tried one solution after another, but each solution was constrained by a set response not to extend any line beyond the matrix.

Functional fixedness and the response set are obstacles in problem representation , the way that a person understands and organizes information provided in a problem. If information is misunderstood or used inappropriately, then mistakes are likely—if indeed the problem can be solved at all. With the nine-dot matrix problem, for example, construing the instruction to draw four lines as meaning “draw four lines entirely within the matrix” means that the problem simply could not be solved. For another, consider this problem: “The number of water lilies on a lake doubles each day. Each water lily covers exactly one square foot. If it takes 100 days for the lilies to cover the lake exactly, how many days does it take for the lilies to cover exactly half of the lake?” If you think that the size of the lilies affects the solution to this problem, you have not represented the problem correctly. Information about lily size is not relevant to the solution, and only serves to distract from the truly crucial information, the fact that the lilies double their coverage each day. (The answer, incidentally, is that the lake is half covered in 99 days; can you think why?)

Tackling Obstacles: Creative Strategies for Effective Problem-Solving

  • September 20, 2023
  • Business Strategy & Innovation

four major obstacles to problem solving

Are you tired of hitting roadblocks and feeling stuck when faced with problems? Look no further! In this article, we’ll show you how to tackle obstacles head-on with creative strategies for effective problem-solving.

Get ready to unleash your innovative thinking and analytical skills as we explore a range of powerful techniques. From the methodical approach of the Six Thinking Hats to the thorough analysis of the McKinsey Method and Issue Tree, you’ll discover a treasure trove of innovative problem-solving strategies.

So, gear up and get ready to conquer any challenge that comes your way!

Table of Contents

Key Takeaways

  • Setbacks and failures can be addressed through problem-solving strategies such as Six Thinking Hats and the McKinsey Method.
  • Creative problem-solving strategies like Design Thinking, SWOT Analysis, Reverse Thinking, Mind Mapping, and the Pareto Principle can be effective in overcoming obstacles.
  • Tools such as issue trees, fishbone diagrams, OOC/EMR, and action planning can aid in problem-solving.
  • Real-life examples and case studies, such as the SpaceX case study and the impact of limiting beliefs, can provide valuable insights into effective problem-solving techniques.

Understanding the Types of Problems

To effectively tackle obstacles, you need to understand the types of problems you are facing and the creative strategies that can be used to solve them. In problem-solving, there are common obstacles that you may encounter. Setbacks and failures, such as a car breakdown or a decline in company revenue, can hinder your progress.

Goals, like attracting more clients or convincing someone to date, may require unique approaches. Decisions, such as moving to Finland or leaving a toxic relationship, can be challenging to navigate.

It’s important to recognize that emotions play a significant role in problem-solving. Trusting your instincts and exploring your feelings can lead to innovative solutions.

The Six Thinking Hats Method: A Methodical Approach

Put on your green hat and start brainstorming creative ideas using the Six Thinking Hats method to approach problems methodically.

The Six Thinking Hats method, developed by Edward de Bono, is a powerful tool for innovative problem-solving. Each hat represents a different perspective, allowing you to analyze a problem from multiple angles.

For example, the blue hat helps you define the problem and set goals, the white hat encourages data analysis, and the yellow hat focuses on identifying potential benefits.

Real life examples of the Six Thinking Hats method in practice include a team using the red hat to explore their instincts and feelings before making a decision, or a group wearing the black hat to assess potential risks and issues.

The McKinsey Method and Issue Tree: Thorough Analysis Techniques

Start by generating a hypothesis about the problem and create a map of the issue for a comprehensive analysis using the McKinsey Method and Issue Tree.

This innovative and strategic approach allows you to break down complex problems and identify potential causes and solutions.

The McKinsey Method involves five steps: generating a hypothesis, mapping out the problem, identifying causes and solutions, testing hypotheses, and implementing solutions.

By following this method, you can ensure a thorough analysis of the issue at hand.

Additionally, incorporating issue tree implementation tips can help you effectively organize and visualize the problem.

Case studies showcasing the effectiveness of the McKinsey Method and issue tree implementation can provide valuable insights and inspiration for your problem-solving endeavors.

Don’t hesitate to leverage these powerful techniques to tackle obstacles and drive innovation in your problem-solving approach.

Exploring Other Creative Problem-Solving Strategies

Explore different approaches to problem-solving and discover innovative methods that can help you overcome challenges and generate unique solutions. Here are four unconventional approaches to consider:

Design Thinking: This human-centered approach involves empathizing with the problem, defining it clearly, generating creative ideas, prototyping solutions, and testing them to find the best fit.

SWOT Analysis: Assess the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats related to the problem. This structured analysis helps identify potential solutions by leveraging strengths, addressing weaknesses, capitalizing on opportunities, and mitigating threats.

Reverse Thinking: Start with the desired outcome and work backward to determine the steps needed to achieve it. This approach challenges conventional thinking and encourages innovative solutions.

Mind Mapping: Visualize ideas and connections in a structured way using diagrams or software. This approach promotes creative thinking and aids in identifying relationships between different elements of the problem.

To further enhance your problem-solving capabilities, consider integrating technology into your process. Utilize tools such as advanced data analytics, artificial intelligence, or virtual reality simulations to gain insights and explore innovative solutions.

Strategy 1: Design Thinking

To enhance your problem-solving capabilities, embrace Design Thinking as a human-centered approach that allows you to empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test solutions.

Design Thinking places empathy at the forefront of problem-solving, enabling you to truly understand the needs and experiences of others. By immersing yourself in their world, you gain valuable insights that inform the problem definition stage.

This empathetic understanding sets the foundation for generating innovative ideas during the ideation phase. Design Thinking also emphasizes the importance of prototyping as a means of quickly and iteratively testing potential solutions. Through the creation of tangible prototypes, you can gather feedback and refine your ideas before fully implementing them.

This iterative process ensures that your solutions are both effective and user-centered. Incorporating empathy and prototyping into your problem-solving toolkit through Design Thinking will undoubtedly lead to innovative and impactful solutions.

Strategy 2: SWOT Analysis

Identify your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats with a SWOT analysis to gain valuable insights for problem-solving.

Benefits of SWOT analysis:

  • Provides a comprehensive overview of your current situation.
  • Helps you identify potential areas for growth and improvement.
  • Allows you to leverage your strengths and minimize weaknesses.
  • Provides a framework for strategic decision-making.

Limitations of SWOT analysis:

  • Can be subjective and influenced by personal bias.
  • May not capture all external factors that could impact your situation.
  • Requires careful analysis and interpretation to avoid oversimplification.
  • Needs regular updates to stay relevant in a dynamic environment.

Case studies illustrating the effectiveness of SWOT analysis:

  • Company X used SWOT analysis to identify their competitive advantage and develop a successful marketing strategy.
  • Nonprofit organization Y conducted a SWOT analysis to assess their internal capabilities and external opportunities, leading to effective resource allocation.
  • Entrepreneur Z used SWOT analysis to evaluate potential business ventures and make informed decisions, resulting in a profitable venture.
  • Government agency W utilized SWOT analysis to identify potential threats and develop contingency plans, ensuring effective crisis management.

Incorporating SWOT analysis into your problem-solving process can provide valuable insights and guide strategic decision-making. However, it is important to recognize its limitations and supplement it with other analytical tools for a comprehensive approach.

Strategy 3: Reverse Thinking

Try approaching your problem-solving process from a different perspective with the reverse thinking strategy. Reversing thought patterns can help you overcome mental blocks and find innovative solutions to your challenges.

Instead of starting with the problem, begin with the desired outcome and work backwards. This strategic approach allows you to break free from traditional thinking and explore unconventional possibilities.

By questioning assumptions and challenging the status quo, you open yourself up to new insights and breakthrough ideas. Reverse thinking encourages you to see things from a fresh angle, enabling you to uncover hidden opportunities and creative solutions.

Strategy 4: Mind Mapping

When using the mind mapping strategy, visualize your ideas and connections in a structured way to gain a comprehensive understanding of the problem at hand. Mind mapping offers several benefits for effective problem-solving:

Enhanced creativity: By visually representing your thoughts, mind mapping encourages innovative thinking and generates new ideas.

Improved organization: Mind maps provide a clear structure for your thoughts, making it easier to organize information and identify relationships between different elements.

Increased clarity: Visualizing your ideas allows you to see the big picture and grasp the key concepts, leading to a deeper understanding of the problem.

Facilitated brainstorming: Mind mapping enables you to quickly jot down ideas and make connections, promoting efficient and productive brainstorming sessions.

To make the most out of mind mapping, consider these practical tips:

  • Use colors and images to enhance visual appeal and stimulate creativity.
  • Start with a central idea and radiate outwards to capture related concepts.
  • Keep the branches concise and use keywords to represent ideas.
  • Regularly review and update your mind map as new insights arise.

Strategy 5: Pareto Principle

To make the most of the Pareto Principle, prioritize the vital few factors that have the most impact on solving your problem. This strategy allows you to focus your energy and resources on the tasks that will bring the greatest results.

When applying the Pareto Principle to your personal life, it’s important to identify the 20% of activities that will contribute to 80% of your happiness and fulfillment. Take a step back and evaluate all the tasks and commitments you have. Which ones are truly essential? Which ones align with your values and goals?

By prioritizing these vital few tasks, you can allocate your time and energy effectively, leading to greater productivity and satisfaction.

Don’t waste your energy on the trivial many, instead, concentrate on the vital few and watch as your personal life transforms.

Essential Tools for Effective Problem-Solving

Maximize your problem-solving capabilities by utilizing essential tools that can enhance your effectiveness and efficiency. Here are four innovative and strategic tools that can help you tackle obstacles and find creative solutions:

MindMeister vs. MindManager: Choosing the Right Mind Mapping Tool:

  • Mind mapping is a powerful technique for visualizing ideas and connections.
  • Compare and contrast the features of MindMeister and MindManager to determine which tool aligns best with your problem-solving needs.

The Role of Action Planning in Problem Solving: Tips for Prioritizing and Executing Tasks:

  • Action planning is crucial for effective problem-solving.
  • Learn how to prioritize tasks and focus on high-value actions to drive progress and achieve your goals.

Issue Trees:

  • Map out complex challenges using issue trees.
  • This tool helps you break down problems into smaller components, making it easier to identify root causes and develop targeted solutions.

Fishbone Diagrams:

  • Visually organize problems to reveal their underlying causes.
  • Fishbone diagrams allow you to explore different factors contributing to a problem and enable you to address them systematically.

Utilizing Issue Trees for Complex Challenges

Utilize issue trees to break down complex challenges into smaller components, allowing you to identify root causes and develop targeted solutions more effectively.

Applying issue trees in business strategy and using them for project management can help you tackle obstacles with innovation and strategic thinking.

Issue trees provide a structured framework that enables you to analyze a problem from multiple angles and uncover hidden connections. By visually mapping out the problem and its various components, you gain a clear understanding of the interdependencies and can prioritize your efforts accordingly.

This analytical approach allows you to focus on the vital few factors that have the most impact, leading to more efficient problem-solving.

Issue trees also facilitate collaboration and communication among team members, ensuring everyone is aligned on the root causes and solutions.

Harness the power of issue trees to unravel complexity and drive innovative solutions for your business challenges.

Fishbone Diagrams: Revealing Root Causes

Reveal the root causes of complex challenges by using fishbone diagrams, which visually organize problems and uncover the underlying factors. This innovative problem-solving technique allows you to identify causes and develop effective strategies. Here’s how fishbone diagrams can help you tackle obstacles:

Visual organization: Fishbone diagrams provide a structured framework to analyze and understand the different factors contributing to a problem. By visually mapping out the causes, you can easily identify the root cause and prioritize your actions.

Identifying causes: Fishbone diagrams help you break down complex challenges into smaller components, making it easier to identify the multiple causes that contribute to the problem. This comprehensive view allows you to develop targeted solutions.

Problem-solving techniques: Fishbone diagrams allow you to apply various problem-solving techniques, such as the 5 Whys or the Pareto Principle, to uncover the underlying causes. This strategic approach enables you to address the core issues and find effective solutions.

Strategic decision-making: By revealing the root causes, fishbone diagrams empower you to make informed decisions and take proactive measures. You can develop a strategic action plan that targets the underlying factors, leading to long-term success.

Incorporating fishbone diagrams into your problem-solving toolkit will enhance your ability to identify causes and develop innovative solutions. So, start using this powerful technique today and overcome complex challenges with confidence.

OOC/EMR: Tony Robbins’ Problem-Solving Strategy

You can enhance your problem-solving skills by incorporating Tony Robbins’ OOC/EMR strategy into your toolkit.

This innovative and strategic approach is highly effective in tackling obstacles and finding innovative solutions. OOC stands for Outcome, Obstacle, and Course Correction, while EMR stands for Evaluate, Modify, and Repeat.

By understanding and applying this problem-solving strategy, you can approach challenges with a clear focus on the desired outcome, identify and address obstacles, and make necessary adjustments along the way.

One powerful technique within this strategy is reverse thinking, which involves starting with the desired outcome and working backwards to find innovative solutions.

Action Planning: Prioritizing Tasks for Success

Start by prioritizing tasks based on their importance and potential impact to achieve success in your action planning. Here are four steps to help you effectively prioritize tasks in your action planning:

Set clear goals: Clearly define what you want to achieve through your action planning. Having specific goals will enable you to identify the tasks that align with your objectives.

Assess task urgency: Determine which tasks require immediate attention and which can be addressed later. This will help you allocate your time and resources efficiently.

Consider task impact: Evaluate the potential impact each task will have on your overall goals. Focus on tasks that will bring the most significant results and contribute to your success.

Track your progress: Regularly monitor and evaluate your progress. This will allow you to make necessary adjustments and stay on track towards achieving your goals.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are some examples of setbacks and failures that can occur in problem-solving.

In problem-solving, setbacks and failures like unexpected car breakdowns and declining company revenue can occur. Resilience is important in overcoming these obstacles, allowing you to find innovative solutions and strategic approaches to overcome challenges.

How Can the Six Thinking Hats Method Be Applied to Problem-Solving?

To creatively solve problems, try using the Six Thinking Hats method. This approach helps you analyze and brainstorm ideas from different perspectives, ensuring a more innovative and strategic problem-solving process.

Can You Provide a Real-Life Case Study or Example of the Mckinsey Method and Issue Tree in Action?

Sure! When using the McKinsey method and issue tree in problem-solving, take a setback like a revenue decline. Hypothesize the causes, map out the problem, analyze data, implement solutions, and track progress.

Are There Any Other Problem-Solving Strategies That Were Not Mentioned in the Article?

There are several alternative problem-solving techniques and different problem-solving frameworks that were not mentioned in the article. These strategies offer innovative, analytical, and strategic approaches to tackle obstacles and find effective solutions.

How Can Action Planning Help in Problem-Solving and Prioritizing Tasks?

Action planning can be your compass, guiding you through the maze of problem-solving. It helps you prioritize tasks, ensuring you focus on what truly matters. By mapping out your actions, success becomes attainable.

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10 Problem-solving strategies to turn challenges on their head

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What is an example of problem-solving?

What are the 5 steps to problem-solving, 10 effective problem-solving strategies, what skills do efficient problem solvers have, how to improve your problem-solving skills.

Problems come in all shapes and sizes — from workplace conflict to budget cuts.

Creative problem-solving is one of the most in-demand skills in all roles and industries. It can boost an organization’s human capital and give it a competitive edge. 

Problem-solving strategies are ways of approaching problems that can help you look beyond the obvious answers and find the best solution to your problem . 

Let’s take a look at a five-step problem-solving process and how to combine it with proven problem-solving strategies. This will give you the tools and skills to solve even your most complex problems.

Good problem-solving is an essential part of the decision-making process . To see what a problem-solving process might look like in real life, let’s take a common problem for SaaS brands — decreasing customer churn rates.

To solve this problem, the company must first identify it. In this case, the problem is that the churn rate is too high. 

Next, they need to identify the root causes of the problem. This could be anything from their customer service experience to their email marketing campaigns. If there are several problems, they will need a separate problem-solving process for each one. 

Let’s say the problem is with email marketing — they’re not nurturing existing customers. Now that they’ve identified the problem, they can start using problem-solving strategies to look for solutions. 

This might look like coming up with special offers, discounts, or bonuses for existing customers. They need to find ways to remind them to use their products and services while providing added value. This will encourage customers to keep paying their monthly subscriptions.

They might also want to add incentives, such as access to a premium service at no extra cost after 12 months of membership. They could publish blog posts that help their customers solve common problems and share them as an email newsletter.

The company should set targets and a time frame in which to achieve them. This will allow leaders to measure progress and identify which actions yield the best results.

team-meeting-problem-solving-strategies

Perhaps you’ve got a problem you need to tackle. Or maybe you want to be prepared the next time one arises. Either way, it’s a good idea to get familiar with the five steps of problem-solving. 

Use this step-by-step problem-solving method with the strategies in the following section to find possible solutions to your problem.

1. Identify the problem

The first step is to know which problem you need to solve. Then, you need to find the root cause of the problem. 

The best course of action is to gather as much data as possible, speak to the people involved, and separate facts from opinions. 

Once this is done, formulate a statement that describes the problem. Use rational persuasion to make sure your team agrees .

2. Break the problem down 

Identifying the problem allows you to see which steps need to be taken to solve it. 

First, break the problem down into achievable blocks. Then, use strategic planning to set a time frame in which to solve the problem and establish a timeline for the completion of each stage.

3. Generate potential solutions

At this stage, the aim isn’t to evaluate possible solutions but to generate as many ideas as possible. 

Encourage your team to use creative thinking and be patient — the best solution may not be the first or most obvious one.

Use one or more of the different strategies in the following section to help come up with solutions — the more creative, the better.

4. Evaluate the possible solutions

Once you’ve generated potential solutions, narrow them down to a shortlist. Then, evaluate the options on your shortlist. 

There are usually many factors to consider. So when evaluating a solution, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Will my team be on board with the proposition?
  • Does the solution align with organizational goals ?
  • Is the solution likely to achieve the desired outcomes?
  • Is the solution realistic and possible with current resources and constraints?
  • Will the solution solve the problem without causing additional unintended problems?

woman-helping-her-colleague-problem-solving-strategies

5. Implement and monitor the solutions

Once you’ve identified your solution and got buy-in from your team, it’s time to implement it. 

But the work doesn’t stop there. You need to monitor your solution to see whether it actually solves your problem. 

Request regular feedback from the team members involved and have a monitoring and evaluation plan in place to measure progress.

If the solution doesn’t achieve your desired results, start this step-by-step process again.

There are many different ways to approach problem-solving. Each is suitable for different types of problems. 

The most appropriate problem-solving techniques will depend on your specific problem. You may need to experiment with several strategies before you find a workable solution.

Here are 10 effective problem-solving strategies for you to try:

  • Use a solution that worked before
  • Brainstorming
  • Work backward
  • Use the Kipling method
  • Draw the problem
  • Use trial and error
  • Sleep on it
  • Get advice from your peers
  • Use the Pareto principle
  • Add successful solutions to your toolkit

Let’s break each of these down.

1. Use a solution that worked before

It might seem obvious, but if you’ve faced similar problems in the past, look back to what worked then. See if any of the solutions could apply to your current situation and, if so, replicate them.

2. Brainstorming

The more people you enlist to help solve the problem, the more potential solutions you can come up with.

Use different brainstorming techniques to workshop potential solutions with your team. They’ll likely bring something you haven’t thought of to the table.

3. Work backward

Working backward is a way to reverse engineer your problem. Imagine your problem has been solved, and make that the starting point.

Then, retrace your steps back to where you are now. This can help you see which course of action may be most effective.

4. Use the Kipling method

This is a method that poses six questions based on Rudyard Kipling’s poem, “ I Keep Six Honest Serving Men .” 

  • What is the problem?
  • Why is the problem important?
  • When did the problem arise, and when does it need to be solved?
  • How did the problem happen?
  • Where is the problem occurring?
  • Who does the problem affect?

Answering these questions can help you identify possible solutions.

5. Draw the problem

Sometimes it can be difficult to visualize all the components and moving parts of a problem and its solution. Drawing a diagram can help.

This technique is particularly helpful for solving process-related problems. For example, a product development team might want to decrease the time they take to fix bugs and create new iterations. Drawing the processes involved can help you see where improvements can be made.

woman-drawing-mind-map-problem-solving-strategies

6. Use trial-and-error

A trial-and-error approach can be useful when you have several possible solutions and want to test them to see which one works best.

7. Sleep on it

Finding the best solution to a problem is a process. Remember to take breaks and get enough rest . Sometimes, a walk around the block can bring inspiration, but you should sleep on it if possible.

A good night’s sleep helps us find creative solutions to problems. This is because when you sleep, your brain sorts through the day’s events and stores them as memories. This enables you to process your ideas at a subconscious level. 

If possible, give yourself a few days to develop and analyze possible solutions. You may find you have greater clarity after sleeping on it. Your mind will also be fresh, so you’ll be able to make better decisions.

8. Get advice from your peers

Getting input from a group of people can help you find solutions you may not have thought of on your own. 

For solo entrepreneurs or freelancers, this might look like hiring a coach or mentor or joining a mastermind group. 

For leaders , it might be consulting other members of the leadership team or working with a business coach .

It’s important to recognize you might not have all the skills, experience, or knowledge necessary to find a solution alone. 

9. Use the Pareto principle

The Pareto principle — also known as the 80/20 rule — can help you identify possible root causes and potential solutions for your problems.

Although it’s not a mathematical law, it’s a principle found throughout many aspects of business and life. For example, 20% of the sales reps in a company might close 80% of the sales. 

You may be able to narrow down the causes of your problem by applying the Pareto principle. This can also help you identify the most appropriate solutions.

10. Add successful solutions to your toolkit

Every situation is different, and the same solutions might not always work. But by keeping a record of successful problem-solving strategies, you can build up a solutions toolkit. 

These solutions may be applicable to future problems. Even if not, they may save you some of the time and work needed to come up with a new solution.

three-colleagues-looking-at-computer-problem-solving-strategies

Improving problem-solving skills is essential for professional development — both yours and your team’s. Here are some of the key skills of effective problem solvers:

  • Critical thinking and analytical skills
  • Communication skills , including active listening
  • Decision-making
  • Planning and prioritization
  • Emotional intelligence , including empathy and emotional regulation
  • Time management
  • Data analysis
  • Research skills
  • Project management

And they see problems as opportunities. Everyone is born with problem-solving skills. But accessing these abilities depends on how we view problems. Effective problem-solvers see problems as opportunities to learn and improve.

Ready to work on your problem-solving abilities? Get started with these seven tips.

1. Build your problem-solving skills

One of the best ways to improve your problem-solving skills is to learn from experts. Consider enrolling in organizational training , shadowing a mentor , or working with a coach .

2. Practice

Practice using your new problem-solving skills by applying them to smaller problems you might encounter in your daily life. 

Alternatively, imagine problematic scenarios that might arise at work and use problem-solving strategies to find hypothetical solutions.

3. Don’t try to find a solution right away

Often, the first solution you think of to solve a problem isn’t the most appropriate or effective.

Instead of thinking on the spot, give yourself time and use one or more of the problem-solving strategies above to activate your creative thinking. 

two-colleagues-talking-at-corporate-event-problem-solving-strategies

4. Ask for feedback

Receiving feedback is always important for learning and growth. Your perception of your problem-solving skills may be different from that of your colleagues. They can provide insights that help you improve. 

5. Learn new approaches and methodologies

There are entire books written about problem-solving methodologies if you want to take a deep dive into the subject. 

We recommend starting with “ Fixed — How to Perfect the Fine Art of Problem Solving ” by Amy E. Herman. 

6. Experiment

Tried-and-tested problem-solving techniques can be useful. However, they don’t teach you how to innovate and develop your own problem-solving approaches. 

Sometimes, an unconventional approach can lead to the development of a brilliant new idea or strategy. So don’t be afraid to suggest your most “out there” ideas.

7. Analyze the success of your competitors

Do you have competitors who have already solved the problem you’re facing? Look at what they did, and work backward to solve your own problem. 

For example, Netflix started in the 1990s as a DVD mail-rental company. Its main competitor at the time was Blockbuster. 

But when streaming became the norm in the early 2000s, both companies faced a crisis. Netflix innovated, unveiling its streaming service in 2007. 

If Blockbuster had followed Netflix’s example, it might have survived. Instead, it declared bankruptcy in 2010.

Use problem-solving strategies to uplevel your business

When facing a problem, it’s worth taking the time to find the right solution. 

Otherwise, we risk either running away from our problems or headlong into solutions. When we do this, we might miss out on other, better options.

Use the problem-solving strategies outlined above to find innovative solutions to your business’ most perplexing problems.

If you’re ready to take problem-solving to the next level, request a demo with BetterUp . Our expert coaches specialize in helping teams develop and implement strategies that work.

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Elizabeth Perry

Content Marketing Manager, ACC

8 creative solutions to your most challenging problems

What are metacognitive skills examples in everyday life, 31 examples of problem solving performance review phrases, 5 problem-solving questions to prepare you for your next interview, leadership activities that encourage employee engagement, what is lateral thinking 7 techniques to encourage creative ideas, can dreams help you solve problems 6 ways to try, learn what process mapping is and how to create one (+ examples), 3 ways to solve your performance management problems, similar articles, the pareto principle: how the 80/20 rule can help you do more with less, thinking outside the box: 8 ways to become a creative problem solver, effective problem statements have these 5 components, contingency planning: 4 steps to prepare for the unexpected, what makes a good team, and how can you build one, stay connected with betterup, get our newsletter, event invites, plus product insights and research..

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There are 4 main types of life and work problems we face every day. Here's how to solve each one

thumbnail

When it comes to solving problems and making tough decisions , people love plans (especially their own plans), so they make a lot of them. And because they want the perfect plan, they demand more data to help them.

Inevitably, though, this takes longer and longer, and instead of the goal being to reach a decision, the process of making the decision becomes the goal.

There may be studies, hearings and debates, but nothing actually gets done. This can go on for quite a while, depending on the nature of the decision ... all because everyone wants the perfect plan.

The 'perfect plan' doesn't exist

More often than not, it's impossible to know the results of a dynamic system in advance. So any action is better than no action; it doesn't matter what you do, it just matters that you do, in order to learn and move forward.

Smart leaders know that in order to solve any major problem, the goal should be to get quick feedback on whether that decision was a good one or not. If it wasn't, then they know to pivot and seek a different path.

Each decision informs the next. The path emerges from the doing.

The 4 types of problems we encounter daily

In 1999, while working at IBM, a guy named Dave Snowden came up with a way of looking at problems to help people know what kind of problem they are facing, and what kind of solution they should be looking for.

He calls it the Cynefin framework — cynefin is a Welsh word that means "habitat" — because you need to know where you stand.

1. The simple problem

The first type of problem in Snowden's framework is simple and obvious . It has already been solved, and there actually is a best practice that works all the time.

Once you can determine that a problem is simple, you can apply a known recipe from your bag of tricks. If you're playing poker, never draw to an inside straight. A bank shouldn't make loans to people with X level of debt load.

With simple problems, the relationship between cause and effect is not only clear but obvious.

2. The complicated problem

This is the kind of problem where you have a known unknown. Take a giant oil company, for example: When geologists run a seismic survey to learn where they could drill for oil, they know they don't know the answer, but they know how to find it.

This is the domain of the expert. Once you have ascertained that the problem is solvable, you can work out a solution, even if it turns out to be tricky. If you're knowledgeable enough, you can figure out cause and effect.

I always think of this when I bring my car into the shop. It's making a weird noise and I'm worried. I know I don't know how to address this problem, but I know that my mechanic knows, or can figure it out.

3. The complex problem

The third type of problem is complex , where you can only figure out afterward why what happened happened. Here you have to take some sort of action to see what happens before you act again.

Most of us wrestle with complex problems. All the time. The answers aren't known, and all the forces aren't known. But we have to do something. And what happens will surprise us.

Let's examine the story of Twitch, a web service that allows people to stream themselves playing a video game so that other people can watch them do it. This isn't an obvious product except in retrospect. But Twitch is an incredible success story. Amazon acquired it for $970 million in 2014 .

This company's first product idea? A calendar that would integrate with Gmail. Of course, then Google came out with Google Calendar. So the company decided to go into live-streaming.

One of the founders would stream his entire life, 24/7. Camera on head and a big backpack with a computer — constantly live. They built an incredibly fast live-streaming service that a lot of people could use at the same time. But as it turns out, no one really wanted to watch that live-stream.

So they opened the idea up. Maybe people wanted to live-stream themselves? It really wasn't working in the marketplace, and they were running out of cash. Then, they noticed that a lot of people were watching live-streams of people playing video games. Weird.

But they went with that, and it turns out there is an avid audience of fans and recreational gamers who want to watch the top players play. People can make a small fortune just playing video games and streaming it for others to watch.

...any action is better than no action; it doesn't matter what you do, it just matters that you do, in order to learn and move forward. J.J. Sutherland CEO, Scrum Inc.

That's an extreme example of a solution to a need that no one knew existed. But the problems we're facing today in business, politics and society are tough ones. Often we simply do not know the solution. And sometimes we don't know how to even approach the solution.

So what you need to do is try something and then see what happens. Take the results of that and tweak what you're doing. Then try again. Tweak again. And let the solution emerge. That's all it is — a series of small experiments in short periods of time to find a solution to a complex problem.

4. The chaotic problem

The final type of problem in the Cynefin framework is chaotic. This is essentially a crisis.

Let's say there's a tsunami, or an oil rig blows up, or an uprising turns into a revolution, or there's a stock market crash. The first thing to do is to take action quickly, and begin to take steps to encapsulate the problem, to define its limits, to bring it out of the chaotic and into the realm of the merely complex.

One example I use to describe a chaotic problem is a riot. One night during the Arab Spring, I was in the middle of a crowd that decided to storm the parliament building. This crowd of tens of thousands lurched as one toward the parliament gates.

Here speed matters. Delaying the decision will only worsen the problem. J.J. Sutherland CEO, Scrum Inc.

Then screams broke out from one side and the whole crowd got chaotic. Everyone was running around unsure of what to do, and they turned from individuals into a mob. I was standing in the middle of all this with a young American student I'd hired because she spoke Arabic. I told her — and I'll tell you — exactly what to do in a riot.

First, don't panic. I can't emphasize how important that is. Blind fear is what gets people trampled and killed. Second, find something hard that can't easily be knocked over, like a lamppost. It's bizarre — the crowd will part around you like a river around a stone.

What you've done is pulled the chaotic into the complex. Take a minute. Breathe. Figure out what the escape routes are. You have that freedom now. You can't do anything when you're just another body being flung about, but if you can get out of the noise and fear, you can start to come up with a plan.

Here speed matters. Delaying the decision will only worsen the problem. By rapidly iterating — trying something, seeing the response, trying again — you can ultimately succeed in bringing the crisis under control.

This trial-and-error approach can feel terrifying in the moment. But it's also an opportunity. New ways of doing things will emerge as people try to figure out how to work in an environment that didn't exist the day before.

J.J. Sutherland is the CEO of Scrum Inc. , a consulting and training firm, author of " The Scrum Fieldbook" and co-author of the best-selling book "Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time." Previously, he was an award-winning correspondent and producer for NPR. Follow J.J. on LinkedIn .

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*This is an adapted excerpt from "The Scrum Fieldbook," by J.J. Sutherland. Copyright © 2019 by J.J. Sutherland. Excerpted by permission of Currency. All rights reserved.

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Why Kevin O'Leary expects all of his employees to work on vacation

7.3 Problem-Solving

Learning objectives.

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Describe problem solving strategies
  • Define algorithm and heuristic
  • Explain some common roadblocks to effective problem solving

   People face problems every day—usually, multiple problems throughout the day. Sometimes these problems are straightforward: To double a recipe for pizza dough, for example, all that is required is that each ingredient in the recipe be doubled. Sometimes, however, the problems we encounter are more complex. For example, say you have a work deadline, and you must mail a printed copy of a report to your supervisor by the end of the business day. The report is time-sensitive and must be sent overnight. You finished the report last night, but your printer will not work today. What should you do? First, you need to identify the problem and then apply a strategy for solving the problem.

The study of human and animal problem solving processes has provided much insight toward the understanding of our conscious experience and led to advancements in computer science and artificial intelligence. Essentially much of cognitive science today represents studies of how we consciously and unconsciously make decisions and solve problems. For instance, when encountered with a large amount of information, how do we go about making decisions about the most efficient way of sorting and analyzing all the information in order to find what you are looking for as in visual search paradigms in cognitive psychology. Or in a situation where a piece of machinery is not working properly, how do we go about organizing how to address the issue and understand what the cause of the problem might be. How do we sort the procedures that will be needed and focus attention on what is important in order to solve problems efficiently. Within this section we will discuss some of these issues and examine processes related to human, animal and computer problem solving.

PROBLEM-SOLVING STRATEGIES

   When people are presented with a problem—whether it is a complex mathematical problem or a broken printer, how do you solve it? Before finding a solution to the problem, the problem must first be clearly identified. After that, one of many problem solving strategies can be applied, hopefully resulting in a solution.

Problems themselves can be classified into two different categories known as ill-defined and well-defined problems (Schacter, 2009). Ill-defined problems represent issues that do not have clear goals, solution paths, or expected solutions whereas well-defined problems have specific goals, clearly defined solutions, and clear expected solutions. Problem solving often incorporates pragmatics (logical reasoning) and semantics (interpretation of meanings behind the problem), and also in many cases require abstract thinking and creativity in order to find novel solutions. Within psychology, problem solving refers to a motivational drive for reading a definite “goal” from a present situation or condition that is either not moving toward that goal, is distant from it, or requires more complex logical analysis for finding a missing description of conditions or steps toward that goal. Processes relating to problem solving include problem finding also known as problem analysis, problem shaping where the organization of the problem occurs, generating alternative strategies, implementation of attempted solutions, and verification of the selected solution. Various methods of studying problem solving exist within the field of psychology including introspection, behavior analysis and behaviorism, simulation, computer modeling, and experimentation.

A problem-solving strategy is a plan of action used to find a solution. Different strategies have different action plans associated with them (table below). For example, a well-known strategy is trial and error. The old adage, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” describes trial and error. In terms of your broken printer, you could try checking the ink levels, and if that doesn’t work, you could check to make sure the paper tray isn’t jammed. Or maybe the printer isn’t actually connected to your laptop. When using trial and error, you would continue to try different solutions until you solved your problem. Although trial and error is not typically one of the most time-efficient strategies, it is a commonly used one.

   Another type of strategy is an algorithm. An algorithm is a problem-solving formula that provides you with step-by-step instructions used to achieve a desired outcome (Kahneman, 2011). You can think of an algorithm as a recipe with highly detailed instructions that produce the same result every time they are performed. Algorithms are used frequently in our everyday lives, especially in computer science. When you run a search on the Internet, search engines like Google use algorithms to decide which entries will appear first in your list of results. Facebook also uses algorithms to decide which posts to display on your newsfeed. Can you identify other situations in which algorithms are used?

A heuristic is another type of problem solving strategy. While an algorithm must be followed exactly to produce a correct result, a heuristic is a general problem-solving framework (Tversky & Kahneman, 1974). You can think of these as mental shortcuts that are used to solve problems. A “rule of thumb” is an example of a heuristic. Such a rule saves the person time and energy when making a decision, but despite its time-saving characteristics, it is not always the best method for making a rational decision. Different types of heuristics are used in different types of situations, but the impulse to use a heuristic occurs when one of five conditions is met (Pratkanis, 1989):

  • When one is faced with too much information
  • When the time to make a decision is limited
  • When the decision to be made is unimportant
  • When there is access to very little information to use in making the decision
  • When an appropriate heuristic happens to come to mind in the same moment

Working backwards is a useful heuristic in which you begin solving the problem by focusing on the end result. Consider this example: You live in Washington, D.C. and have been invited to a wedding at 4 PM on Saturday in Philadelphia. Knowing that Interstate 95 tends to back up any day of the week, you need to plan your route and time your departure accordingly. If you want to be at the wedding service by 3:30 PM, and it takes 2.5 hours to get to Philadelphia without traffic, what time should you leave your house? You use the working backwards heuristic to plan the events of your day on a regular basis, probably without even thinking about it.

Another useful heuristic is the practice of accomplishing a large goal or task by breaking it into a series of smaller steps. Students often use this common method to complete a large research project or long essay for school. For example, students typically brainstorm, develop a thesis or main topic, research the chosen topic, organize their information into an outline, write a rough draft, revise and edit the rough draft, develop a final draft, organize the references list, and proofread their work before turning in the project. The large task becomes less overwhelming when it is broken down into a series of small steps.

Further problem solving strategies have been identified (listed below) that incorporate flexible and creative thinking in order to reach solutions efficiently.

Additional Problem Solving Strategies :

  • Abstraction – refers to solving the problem within a model of the situation before applying it to reality.
  • Analogy – is using a solution that solves a similar problem.
  • Brainstorming – refers to collecting an analyzing a large amount of solutions, especially within a group of people, to combine the solutions and developing them until an optimal solution is reached.
  • Divide and conquer – breaking down large complex problems into smaller more manageable problems.
  • Hypothesis testing – method used in experimentation where an assumption about what would happen in response to manipulating an independent variable is made, and analysis of the affects of the manipulation are made and compared to the original hypothesis.
  • Lateral thinking – approaching problems indirectly and creatively by viewing the problem in a new and unusual light.
  • Means-ends analysis – choosing and analyzing an action at a series of smaller steps to move closer to the goal.
  • Method of focal objects – putting seemingly non-matching characteristics of different procedures together to make something new that will get you closer to the goal.
  • Morphological analysis – analyzing the outputs of and interactions of many pieces that together make up a whole system.
  • Proof – trying to prove that a problem cannot be solved. Where the proof fails becomes the starting point or solving the problem.
  • Reduction – adapting the problem to be as similar problems where a solution exists.
  • Research – using existing knowledge or solutions to similar problems to solve the problem.
  • Root cause analysis – trying to identify the cause of the problem.

The strategies listed above outline a short summary of methods we use in working toward solutions and also demonstrate how the mind works when being faced with barriers preventing goals to be reached.

One example of means-end analysis can be found by using the Tower of Hanoi paradigm . This paradigm can be modeled as a word problems as demonstrated by the Missionary-Cannibal Problem :

Missionary-Cannibal Problem

Three missionaries and three cannibals are on one side of a river and need to cross to the other side. The only means of crossing is a boat, and the boat can only hold two people at a time. Your goal is to devise a set of moves that will transport all six of the people across the river, being in mind the following constraint: The number of cannibals can never exceed the number of missionaries in any location. Remember that someone will have to also row that boat back across each time.

Hint : At one point in your solution, you will have to send more people back to the original side than you just sent to the destination.

The actual Tower of Hanoi problem consists of three rods sitting vertically on a base with a number of disks of different sizes that can slide onto any rod. The puzzle starts with the disks in a neat stack in ascending order of size on one rod, the smallest at the top making a conical shape. The objective of the puzzle is to move the entire stack to another rod obeying the following rules:

  • 1. Only one disk can be moved at a time.
  • 2. Each move consists of taking the upper disk from one of the stacks and placing it on top of another stack or on an empty rod.
  • 3. No disc may be placed on top of a smaller disk.

four major obstacles to problem solving

  Figure 7.02. Steps for solving the Tower of Hanoi in the minimum number of moves when there are 3 disks.

four major obstacles to problem solving

Figure 7.03. Graphical representation of nodes (circles) and moves (lines) of Tower of Hanoi.

The Tower of Hanoi is a frequently used psychological technique to study problem solving and procedure analysis. A variation of the Tower of Hanoi known as the Tower of London has been developed which has been an important tool in the neuropsychological diagnosis of executive function disorders and their treatment.

GESTALT PSYCHOLOGY AND PROBLEM SOLVING

As you may recall from the sensation and perception chapter, Gestalt psychology describes whole patterns, forms and configurations of perception and cognition such as closure, good continuation, and figure-ground. In addition to patterns of perception, Wolfgang Kohler, a German Gestalt psychologist traveled to the Spanish island of Tenerife in order to study animals behavior and problem solving in the anthropoid ape.

As an interesting side note to Kohler’s studies of chimp problem solving, Dr. Ronald Ley, professor of psychology at State University of New York provides evidence in his book A Whisper of Espionage  (1990) suggesting that while collecting data for what would later be his book  The Mentality of Apes (1925) on Tenerife in the Canary Islands between 1914 and 1920, Kohler was additionally an active spy for the German government alerting Germany to ships that were sailing around the Canary Islands. Ley suggests his investigations in England, Germany and elsewhere in Europe confirm that Kohler had served in the German military by building, maintaining and operating a concealed radio that contributed to Germany’s war effort acting as a strategic outpost in the Canary Islands that could monitor naval military activity approaching the north African coast.

While trapped on the island over the course of World War 1, Kohler applied Gestalt principles to animal perception in order to understand how they solve problems. He recognized that the apes on the islands also perceive relations between stimuli and the environment in Gestalt patterns and understand these patterns as wholes as opposed to pieces that make up a whole. Kohler based his theories of animal intelligence on the ability to understand relations between stimuli, and spent much of his time while trapped on the island investigation what he described as  insight , the sudden perception of useful or proper relations. In order to study insight in animals, Kohler would present problems to chimpanzee’s by hanging some banana’s or some kind of food so it was suspended higher than the apes could reach. Within the room, Kohler would arrange a variety of boxes, sticks or other tools the chimpanzees could use by combining in patterns or organizing in a way that would allow them to obtain the food (Kohler & Winter, 1925).

While viewing the chimpanzee’s, Kohler noticed one chimp that was more efficient at solving problems than some of the others. The chimp, named Sultan, was able to use long poles to reach through bars and organize objects in specific patterns to obtain food or other desirables that were originally out of reach. In order to study insight within these chimps, Kohler would remove objects from the room to systematically make the food more difficult to obtain. As the story goes, after removing many of the objects Sultan was used to using to obtain the food, he sat down ad sulked for a while, and then suddenly got up going over to two poles lying on the ground. Without hesitation Sultan put one pole inside the end of the other creating a longer pole that he could use to obtain the food demonstrating an ideal example of what Kohler described as insight. In another situation, Sultan discovered how to stand on a box to reach a banana that was suspended from the rafters illustrating Sultan’s perception of relations and the importance of insight in problem solving.

Grande (another chimp in the group studied by Kohler) builds a three-box structure to reach the bananas, while Sultan watches from the ground.  Insight , sometimes referred to as an “Ah-ha” experience, was the term Kohler used for the sudden perception of useful relations among objects during problem solving (Kohler, 1927; Radvansky & Ashcraft, 2013).

Solving puzzles.

   Problem-solving abilities can improve with practice. Many people challenge themselves every day with puzzles and other mental exercises to sharpen their problem-solving skills. Sudoku puzzles appear daily in most newspapers. Typically, a sudoku puzzle is a 9×9 grid. The simple sudoku below (see figure) is a 4×4 grid. To solve the puzzle, fill in the empty boxes with a single digit: 1, 2, 3, or 4. Here are the rules: The numbers must total 10 in each bolded box, each row, and each column; however, each digit can only appear once in a bolded box, row, and column. Time yourself as you solve this puzzle and compare your time with a classmate.

How long did it take you to solve this sudoku puzzle? (You can see the answer at the end of this section.)

   Here is another popular type of puzzle (figure below) that challenges your spatial reasoning skills. Connect all nine dots with four connecting straight lines without lifting your pencil from the paper:

Did you figure it out? (The answer is at the end of this section.) Once you understand how to crack this puzzle, you won’t forget.

   Take a look at the “Puzzling Scales” logic puzzle below (figure below). Sam Loyd, a well-known puzzle master, created and refined countless puzzles throughout his lifetime (Cyclopedia of Puzzles, n.d.).

A puzzle involving a scale is shown. At the top of the figure it reads: “Sam Loyds Puzzling Scales.” The first row of the puzzle shows a balanced scale with 3 blocks and a top on the left and 12 marbles on the right. Below this row it reads: “Since the scales now balance.” The next row of the puzzle shows a balanced scale with just the top on the left, and 1 block and 8 marbles on the right. Below this row it reads: “And balance when arranged this way.” The third row shows an unbalanced scale with the top on the left side, which is much lower than the right side. The right side is empty. Below this row it reads: “Then how many marbles will it require to balance with that top?”

What steps did you take to solve this puzzle? You can read the solution at the end of this section.

Pitfalls to problem solving.

   Not all problems are successfully solved, however. What challenges stop us from successfully solving a problem? Albert Einstein once said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” Imagine a person in a room that has four doorways. One doorway that has always been open in the past is now locked. The person, accustomed to exiting the room by that particular doorway, keeps trying to get out through the same doorway even though the other three doorways are open. The person is stuck—but she just needs to go to another doorway, instead of trying to get out through the locked doorway. A mental set is where you persist in approaching a problem in a way that has worked in the past but is clearly not working now.

Functional fixedness is a type of mental set where you cannot perceive an object being used for something other than what it was designed for. During the Apollo 13 mission to the moon, NASA engineers at Mission Control had to overcome functional fixedness to save the lives of the astronauts aboard the spacecraft. An explosion in a module of the spacecraft damaged multiple systems. The astronauts were in danger of being poisoned by rising levels of carbon dioxide because of problems with the carbon dioxide filters. The engineers found a way for the astronauts to use spare plastic bags, tape, and air hoses to create a makeshift air filter, which saved the lives of the astronauts.

   Researchers have investigated whether functional fixedness is affected by culture. In one experiment, individuals from the Shuar group in Ecuador were asked to use an object for a purpose other than that for which the object was originally intended. For example, the participants were told a story about a bear and a rabbit that were separated by a river and asked to select among various objects, including a spoon, a cup, erasers, and so on, to help the animals. The spoon was the only object long enough to span the imaginary river, but if the spoon was presented in a way that reflected its normal usage, it took participants longer to choose the spoon to solve the problem. (German & Barrett, 2005). The researchers wanted to know if exposure to highly specialized tools, as occurs with individuals in industrialized nations, affects their ability to transcend functional fixedness. It was determined that functional fixedness is experienced in both industrialized and nonindustrialized cultures (German & Barrett, 2005).

In order to make good decisions, we use our knowledge and our reasoning. Often, this knowledge and reasoning is sound and solid. Sometimes, however, we are swayed by biases or by others manipulating a situation. For example, let’s say you and three friends wanted to rent a house and had a combined target budget of $1,600. The realtor shows you only very run-down houses for $1,600 and then shows you a very nice house for $2,000. Might you ask each person to pay more in rent to get the $2,000 home? Why would the realtor show you the run-down houses and the nice house? The realtor may be challenging your anchoring bias. An anchoring bias occurs when you focus on one piece of information when making a decision or solving a problem. In this case, you’re so focused on the amount of money you are willing to spend that you may not recognize what kinds of houses are available at that price point.

The confirmation bias is the tendency to focus on information that confirms your existing beliefs. For example, if you think that your professor is not very nice, you notice all of the instances of rude behavior exhibited by the professor while ignoring the countless pleasant interactions he is involved in on a daily basis. Hindsight bias leads you to believe that the event you just experienced was predictable, even though it really wasn’t. In other words, you knew all along that things would turn out the way they did. Representative bias describes a faulty way of thinking, in which you unintentionally stereotype someone or something; for example, you may assume that your professors spend their free time reading books and engaging in intellectual conversation, because the idea of them spending their time playing volleyball or visiting an amusement park does not fit in with your stereotypes of professors.

Finally, the availability heuristic is a heuristic in which you make a decision based on an example, information, or recent experience that is that readily available to you, even though it may not be the best example to inform your decision . Biases tend to “preserve that which is already established—to maintain our preexisting knowledge, beliefs, attitudes, and hypotheses” (Aronson, 1995; Kahneman, 2011). These biases are summarized in the table below.

Were you able to determine how many marbles are needed to balance the scales in the figure below? You need nine. Were you able to solve the problems in the figures above? Here are the answers.

The first puzzle is a Sudoku grid of 16 squares (4 rows of 4 squares) is shown. Half of the numbers were supplied to start the puzzle and are colored blue, and half have been filled in as the puzzle’s solution and are colored red. The numbers in each row of the grid, left to right, are as follows. Row 1: blue 3, red 1, red 4, blue 2. Row 2: red 2, blue 4, blue 1, red 3. Row 3: red 1, blue 3, blue 2, red 4. Row 4: blue 4, red 2, red 3, blue 1.The second puzzle consists of 9 dots arranged in 3 rows of 3 inside of a square. The solution, four straight lines made without lifting the pencil, is shown in a red line with arrows indicating the direction of movement. In order to solve the puzzle, the lines must extend beyond the borders of the box. The four connecting lines are drawn as follows. Line 1 begins at the top left dot, proceeds through the middle and right dots of the top row, and extends to the right beyond the border of the square. Line 2 extends from the end of line 1, through the right dot of the horizontally centered row, through the middle dot of the bottom row, and beyond the square’s border ending in the space beneath the left dot of the bottom row. Line 3 extends from the end of line 2 upwards through the left dots of the bottom, middle, and top rows. Line 4 extends from the end of line 3 through the middle dot in the middle row and ends at the right dot of the bottom row.

   Many different strategies exist for solving problems. Typical strategies include trial and error, applying algorithms, and using heuristics. To solve a large, complicated problem, it often helps to break the problem into smaller steps that can be accomplished individually, leading to an overall solution. Roadblocks to problem solving include a mental set, functional fixedness, and various biases that can cloud decision making skills.

References:

Openstax Psychology text by Kathryn Dumper, William Jenkins, Arlene Lacombe, Marilyn Lovett and Marion Perlmutter licensed under CC BY v4.0. https://openstax.org/details/books/psychology

Review Questions:

1. A specific formula for solving a problem is called ________.

a. an algorithm

b. a heuristic

c. a mental set

d. trial and error

2. Solving the Tower of Hanoi problem tends to utilize a  ________ strategy of problem solving.

a. divide and conquer

b. means-end analysis

d. experiment

3. A mental shortcut in the form of a general problem-solving framework is called ________.

4. Which type of bias involves becoming fixated on a single trait of a problem?

a. anchoring bias

b. confirmation bias

c. representative bias

d. availability bias

5. Which type of bias involves relying on a false stereotype to make a decision?

6. Wolfgang Kohler analyzed behavior of chimpanzees by applying Gestalt principles to describe ________.

a. social adjustment

b. student load payment options

c. emotional learning

d. insight learning

7. ________ is a type of mental set where you cannot perceive an object being used for something other than what it was designed for.

a. functional fixedness

c. working memory

Critical Thinking Questions:

1. What is functional fixedness and how can overcoming it help you solve problems?

2. How does an algorithm save you time and energy when solving a problem?

Personal Application Question:

1. Which type of bias do you recognize in your own decision making processes? How has this bias affected how you’ve made decisions in the past and how can you use your awareness of it to improve your decisions making skills in the future?

anchoring bias

availability heuristic

confirmation bias

functional fixedness

hindsight bias

problem-solving strategy

representative bias

trial and error

working backwards

Answers to Exercises

algorithm:  problem-solving strategy characterized by a specific set of instructions

anchoring bias:  faulty heuristic in which you fixate on a single aspect of a problem to find a solution

availability heuristic:  faulty heuristic in which you make a decision based on information readily available to you

confirmation bias:  faulty heuristic in which you focus on information that confirms your beliefs

functional fixedness:  inability to see an object as useful for any other use other than the one for which it was intended

heuristic:  mental shortcut that saves time when solving a problem

hindsight bias:  belief that the event just experienced was predictable, even though it really wasn’t

mental set:  continually using an old solution to a problem without results

problem-solving strategy:  method for solving problems

representative bias:  faulty heuristic in which you stereotype someone or something without a valid basis for your judgment

trial and error:  problem-solving strategy in which multiple solutions are attempted until the correct one is found

working backwards:  heuristic in which you begin to solve a problem by focusing on the end result

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Why Groups Struggle to Solve Problems Together

  • Al Pittampalli

If your meetings are unproductive, this might be the reason.

There are five stages of problem solving: defining the problem, generating solutions, evaluating solutions, picking a solution, and making a plan. When we solve problems on our own, we intuitively move in between these stages to quickly generate solutions. We assume this method will also work in group settings, however, it often fails because each person could be occupying a different problem solving stage at the same time (essentially, no one is on the same page — even though they think they are). To solve problems as a group, we need to jettison the assumption that intuitive problem solving is sufficient, and instead embrace a more methodical approach. In a methodical meeting, for each issue that needs to be discussed, members deliberately and explicitly choose just one problem-solving stage to complete.

four major obstacles to problem solving

Why are so many meetings so unproductive?

four major obstacles to problem solving

  • Al Pittampalli is the founder of the Modern Meeting Company and the author of Read This Before Our Next Meeting (Penguin).

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4 Main problem-solving strategies

problem solving

In Psychology, you get to read about a ton of therapies. It’s mind-boggling how different theorists have looked at human nature differently and have come up with different, often somewhat contradictory, theoretical approaches.

Yet, you can’t deny the kernel of truth that’s there in all of them. All therapies, despite being different, have one thing in common- they all aim to solve people’s problems. They all aim to equip people with problem-solving strategies to help them deal with their life problems.

Problem-solving is really at the core of everything we do. Throughout our lives, we’re constantly trying to solve one problem or another. When we can’t, all sorts of psychological problems take hold. Getting good at solving problems is a fundamental life skill.

Problem-solving stages

What problem-solving does is take you from an initial state (A) where a problem exists to a final or goal state (B), where the problem no longer exists.

To move from A to B, you need to perform some actions called operators. Engaging in the right operators moves you from A to B. So, the stages of problem-solving are:

  • Initial state

The problem itself can either be well-defined or ill-defined. A well-defined problem is one where you can clearly see where you are (A), where you want to go (B), and what you need to do to get there (engaging the right operators).

For example, feeling hungry and wanting to eat can be seen as a problem, albeit a simple one for many. Your initial state is hunger (A) and your final state is satisfaction or no hunger (B). Going to the kitchen and finding something to eat is using the right operator.

In contrast, ill-defined or complex problems are those where one or more of the three problem solving stages aren’t clear. For example, if your goal is to bring about world peace, what is it exactly that you want to do?

It’s been rightly said that a problem well-defined is a problem half-solved. Whenever you face an ill-defined problem, the first thing you need to do is get clear about all the three stages.

Often, people will have a decent idea of where they are (A) and where they want to be (B). What they usually get stuck on is finding the right operators.

Initial theory in problem-solving

When people first attempt to solve a problem, i.e. when they first engage their operators, they often have an initial theory of solving the problem. As I mentioned in my article on overcoming challenges for complex problems, this initial theory is often wrong.

But, at the time, it’s usually the result of the best information the individual can gather about the problem. When this initial theory fails, the problem-solver gets more data, and he refines the theory. Eventually, he finds an actual theory i.e. a theory that works. This finally allows him to engage the right operators to move from A to B.

Problem-solving strategies

These are operators that a problem solver tries to move from A to B. There are several problem-solving strategies but the main ones are:

  • Trial and error

1. Algorithms

When you follow a step-by-step procedure to solve a problem or reach a goal, you’re using an algorithm. If you follow the steps exactly, you’re guaranteed to find the solution. The drawback of this strategy is that it can get cumbersome and time-consuming for large problems.

Say I hand you a 200-page book and ask you to read out to me what’s written on page 100. If you start from page 1 and keep turning the pages, you’ll eventually reach page 100. There’s no question about it. But the process is time-consuming. So instead you use what’s called a heuristic.

2. Heuristics

Heuristics are rules of thumb that people use to simplify problems. They’re often based on memories from past experiences. They cut down the number of steps needed to solve a problem, but they don’t always guarantee a solution. Heuristics save us time and effort if they work.

You know that page 100 lies in the middle of the book. Instead of starting from page one, you try to open the book in the middle. Of course, you may not hit page 100, but you can get really close with just a couple of tries.

If you open page 90, for instance, you can then algorithmically move from 90 to 100. Thus, you can use a combination of heuristics and algorithms to solve the problem. In real life, we often solve problems like this.

When police are looking for suspects in an investigation, they try to narrow down the problem similarly. Knowing the suspect is 6 feet tall isn’t enough, as there could be thousands of people out there with that height.

Knowing the suspect is 6 feet tall, male, wears glasses, and has blond hair narrows down the problem significantly.

3. Trial and error

When you have an initial theory to solve a problem, you try it out. If you fail, you refine or change your theory and try again. This is the trial-and-error process of solving problems. Behavioral and cognitive trial and error often go hand in hand, but for many problems, we start with behavioural trial and error until we’re forced to think.

Say you’re in a maze, trying to find your way out. You try one route without giving it much thought and you find it leads to nowhere. Then you try another route and fail again. This is behavioural trial and error because you aren’t putting any thought into your trials. You’re just throwing things at the wall to see what sticks.

This isn’t an ideal strategy but can be useful in situations where it’s impossible to get any information about the problem without doing some trials.

Then, when you have enough information about the problem, you shuffle that information in your mind to find a solution. This is cognitive trial and error or analytical thinking. Behavioral trial and error can take a lot of time, so using cognitive trial and error as much as possible is advisable. You got to sharpen your axe before you cut the tree.

When solving complex problems, people get frustrated after having tried several operators that didn’t work. They abandon their problem and go on with their routine activities. Suddenly, they get a flash of insight that makes them confident they can now solve the problem.

I’ve done an entire article on the underlying mechanics of insight . Long story short, when you take a step back from your problem, it helps you see things in a new light. You make use of associations that were previously unavailable to you.

You get more puzzle pieces to work with and this increases the odds of you finding a path from A to B, i.e. finding operators that work.

Pilot problem-solving

No matter what problem-solving strategy you employ, it’s all about finding out what works. Your actual theory tells you what operators will take you from A to B. Complex problems don’t reveal their actual theories easily solely because they are complex.

Therefore, the first step to solving a complex problem is getting as clear as you can about what you’re trying to accomplish- collecting as much information as you can about the problem.

This gives you enough raw materials to formulate an initial theory. We want our initial theory to be as close to an actual theory as possible. This saves time and resources.

Solving a complex problem can mean investing a lot of resources. Therefore, it is recommended you verify your initial theory if you can. I call this pilot problem-solving.

Before businesses invest in making a product, they sometimes distribute free versions to a small sample of potential customers to ensure their target audience will be receptive to the product.

Before making a series of TV episodes, TV show producers often release pilot episodes to figure out whether the show can take off.

Before conducting a large study, researchers do a pilot study to survey a small sample of the population to determine if the study is worth carrying out.

The same ‘testing the waters’ approach needs to be applied to solving any complex problem you might be facing. Is your problem worth investing a lot of resources in? In management, we’re constantly taught about Return On Investment (ROI). The ROI should justify the investment.

If the answer is yes, go ahead and formulate your initial theory based on extensive research. Find a way to verify your initial theory. You need this reassurance that you’re going in the right direction, especially for complex problems that take a long time to solve.

memories of murder movie scene

Getting your causal thinking right

Problem solving boils down to getting your causal thinking right. Finding solutions is all about finding out what works, i.e. finding operators that take you from A to B. To succeed, you need to be confident in your initial theory (If I do X and Y, they’ll lead me to B). You need to be sure that doing X and Y will lead you to B- doing X and Y will cause B.

All obstacles to problem-solving or goal-accomplishing are rooted in faulty causal thinking leading to not engaging the right operators. When your causal thinking is on point, you’ll have no problem engaging the right operators.

As you can imagine, for complex problems, getting our causal thinking right isn’t easy. That’s why we need to formulate an initial theory and refine it over time.

I like to think of problem-solving as the ability to project the present into the past or into the future. When you’re solving problems, you’re basically looking at your present situation and asking yourself two questions:

“What caused this?” (Projecting present into the past)

“What will this cause?” (Projecting present into the future)

The first question is more relevant to problem-solving and the second to goal-accomplishing.

If you find yourself in a mess , you need to answer the “What caused this?” question correctly. For the operators you’re currently engaging to reach your goal, ask yourself, “What will this cause?” If you think they cannot cause B, it’s time to refine your initial theory.

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Hi, I’m Hanan Parvez (MBA, MA Psychology). My work has been featured in Forbes , Business Insider , Reader’s Digest , and Entrepreneur . When I’m not thinking about human behavior, I… No wait! I’m always thinking about human behavior!

four major obstacles to problem solving

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Barriers To Problem-Solving

Problems are inevitable at work. They could be big problems. Or they could be small problems.  Either way, the trick…

Barriers To Problem Solving

Problems are inevitable at work. They could be big problems. Or they could be small problems. 

Either way, the trick is to develop strong problem-solving skills. But it isn’t always easy to find a solution to a problem. You often face many unexpected obstacles on the way.

Imagine a client rejects a proposal for a marketing pitch you and your team worked hard on. In such a situation, you might come up with a quick and easy alternative to retain the client, but in the scramble, you may forget to assess its long-term potential.

Such barriers to problem-solving abound at the workplace. You need to be prepared for potential pitfalls that could trip you up. ( Phentermine )

Effective problem-solving in such situations is a handy skill that’ll help you navigate your way through the professional landscape. 

You will find some useful tips on how to deal with some common barriers to effective problem-solving in Harappa Education’s Defining Problems course. The course introduces ways in which you can define, identify and deal with problems in a solution-oriented manner.

Contrary to popular belief, problem-solving takes time and patience. This is something we tend to overlook because quick solutions are often rewarded at the workplace where everyone is busy and pressed for time. 

When you stop for a moment to think about what went wrong, you’re more likely to come up with a lasting solution. Here are the most common barriers to problem-solving and decision-making in the workplace:

Misdiagnosis

Common barriers to problem-solving include an incorrect diagnosis of the problem. This could be due to preconceived ideas, biases, or judgments. Defining a problem is the hardest step in the process of problem-solving because this is the foundation on which your entire strategy is built. If you’re not careful, you may end up spending all your time, resources and effort on the wrong problem and, eventually, the wrong solution.

Communication Barriers

Thinking that you know better than anyone else or miscommunicating the problem is another one of the barriers to problem-solving. Everyone defines or understands the problem differently. It’s important to communicate with your teammates so that everyone’s on the same page. If you’re unclear about something, acknowledge your limited understanding of the problem. This will save you both time and energy.  

Solution Bias

Another common challenge is a solution bias or thinking that one solution is universal and can be applied to multiple problems. If you catch yourself thinking about a problem that you solved in a particular way, you’re already going in the wrong direction. It’s more important for you to focus on the problem at hand than to force-fit a solution from the past that, in all probability, won’t work. 

Cognitive Bias

Barriers to problem solving psychology often involve a cognitive bias or the tendency to jump to conclusions. To find a solution as quickly as possible, you might end up with a solution that’s irrelevant to the situation. You have to learn to listen before making a judgment. If you miss a step, for instance, there’s a chance that you’ll end up in an even bigger mess.

Lack Of Empathy

Every problem is in one way or another associated with human emotions, abilities or feelings. If you’re not able to recognize the people who are affected by the problem, you won’t be able to come up with a solution that serves everyone.

How To Circumvent Barriers To Problem-Solving

Some of the ways in which you can tackle common barriers to problem-solving are:

  • Be open to suggestions and different points of view
  • Accept that you may not know everything
  • Be patient and take your time before coming to a conclusion
  • Approach the owner of the problem and ask the right questions
  • Avoid shortcuts and ‘cut and dry’ formulas

Navigating your way through the complexities of work-life can be daunting, but it’s not impossible. Harappa’s Defining Problems course equips you with the tools you need to recognize a problem for what it is. Learn more about barriers to effective problem-solving and how to identify or define problems to become a skilled problem-solver. With frameworks such as the Problem Definition Framework, you’ll be able to define problems effectively and find constructive solutions.

Explore topics such as  Problem Solving  & the  5 Whys Analysis  from our Harappa Diaries blog section and develop your skills.

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Problem Solving Skills for Business Success

There are six major obstacles to creative thinking that could be preventing you from learning how to improve your problem solving skills for business success. Any one of them, if you fail to recognize and remove it, can hold you back.

Obstacle to Creative Thinking #1: Lack of Direction

The first obstacle to creative thinking is the lack of clear goals and objectives, written down, accompanied by detailed, written plans of action. When you become crystal clear about what you want, and how you are going to achieve it, your creative mind springs to life. You immediately begin to sparkle with ideas and insights that help you to move forward and improve your problem solving skills for business success.

Obstacle to Creative Thinking #2: Fear of Failure

The second major obstacle to creative thinking is the fear of failure or loss. It is the fear of being wrong, of making a mistake, or of losing money or time. As it happens, it is not the experience of failure that holds you back. You have failed countless times in life and it hasn’t done you any permanent damage. It is the possibility of failure, the anticipation of failure that paralyses action and becomes the primary reason for failure and ineffective  problem solving .

Obstacle to Creative Thinking #3: Fear of Criticism

The third major obstacle to creative thinking is the fear of criticism, or the fear of ridicule, scorn or rejection. It is the fear of sounding dumb or looking foolish. This is triggered by the desire to be liked and approved of by others, even people you don’t know or care about. As a result, you decide that, “If you want to get along, you have to go along.”

It is amazing how many people live lives of underachievement and mediocrity because they are afraid to attempt to sell themselves or their ideas for business success. They are afraid to ask someone to buy or try their product or service. As a result of these fears of rejection and criticism, they play it safe and settle for far less than they are truly capable of earning.

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Obstacle to Creative Thinking #4: Striving for Constancy

A major obstacle to creative thinking is called “homeostasis.” This is a deep subconscious desire to remain consistent with what you have done or said in the past. It is the fear of doing or saying something new or different from what you did before. This homeostatic impulse holds people back from becoming all they are capable of becoming and from achieving business success .

In homeostasis, there seems to be an irresistible unconscious pressure that brings you back to doing what you have always done. Unfortunately, this tendency leads you into your own “comfort zone.”  Your comfort zone, over time, becomes a groove, and then a rut.  You become stuck. All progress stops. In no time, you begin to use your marvelous powers of rationalization to justify not changing. As Jim Rohn says, “The only difference between a rut and a grave is the depth.” Homeostasis is a major killer of human potential, which will hinder you from achieving business success.

Obstacle to Creative Thinking #5: Passive Vs. Proactive Thinking

The fifth obstacle to creative thinking for business success is passivity. If you do not continually stimulate your mind with new ideas and information, it loses its vitality and energy, very much like a muscle that is not exercised. Instead of thinking proactively and creatively, your thinking becomes passive and automatic.

A major cause of passive thinking is routine . Most people get up at the same time each morning, follow the same routine at their jobs, socialize with the same people in the evenings, and watch the same television programs. As a result of not continually challenging their minds, they become dull and complacent. If someone suggests or proposes a new idea or way of doing things, they usually react with negativity and discouragement. They very soon begin to feel threatened by any suggestion of change from the way things have been done in the past.

Obstacle to Creative Thinking #6: Rationalizing and Justifying

The sixth obstacle to creative thinking for business success is rationalizing.  We know that human beings are rational creatures, but what does that mean?  Being rational means that we continually use our minds to explain the world to ourselves, so we can understand it better and feel more secure. In other words, whatever you decide to do, or not do, you very quickly come up with a good reason for your decision. By constantly rationalizing your decisions, you cannot learn to improve performance for business success.

Developing Problem Solving Skills for Business Success

There are two main reasons why creativity is important in achieving business success. First, problem-solving and making decisions are the key functions of the entrepreneur. As much as 50% to 60% of your time in business and in life is spent in problem-solving; the better you become at thinking up creative ways to solve the inevitable and unavoidable problems of daily life and work, and making effective decisions, the more successful you will be at your career .

Second, each of us wants to make more money. We all want to be more successful, and enjoy greater status, esteem, and recognition. Your problem solving ability is a key determinant of how much of these you accomplish.

Thank you for reading this post on the six obstacles to creative thinking and how to overcome them. If you have any other tips on how to develop problem solving skills for business success, please feel free to comment and share below!

To learn all about how to use positive thinking to your greatest advantage, take a look at my article  Transform Your Life With The Power Of Positive Thinking .

Topics included in this article include

Creative Thinking

Problem solving.

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The Top Four Obstacles to Problem Solving

four major obstacles to problem solving

This month we are featuring a free webinar on how to solve problems so that you do not need to solve them again.

So, I took a quick look out on the world wide web, to see what obstacles people are facing to getting problems solved – especially as many of us are in transition from remote working to being back in the office.

Turns out that, at least at a high-level, it does not matter if you are remote or in the office or somewhere in between.   The obstacles seem to be the same.

  • Lack of communication and sharing of information
  • Lack of long-term thinking
  • Silos, and along with that, not having everyone moving towards the same goal or in the same direction
  • People who seem uninterested in engaging in problem-solving

Depending on the survey or article, these will change in order, but they remain quite consistent.

Consider this – do you have a process to solve problems?    Defining a problem-solving process and reflecting on how to make it better each time you finish solving a problem will help you address these four obstacles.

We are interested in hearing from you.  Take a minute to answer our survey question .   We will share the results in our webinar on August 25 th .

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What Is Problem-Solving Therapy?

Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of "Therapy in Focus: What to Expect from CBT for Social Anxiety Disorder" and "7 Weeks to Reduce Anxiety." She has a Master's degree in psychology.

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Daniel B. Block, MD, is an award-winning, board-certified psychiatrist who operates a private practice in Pennsylvania.

four major obstacles to problem solving

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Problem-Solving Therapy Techniques

How effective is problem-solving therapy, things to consider, how to get started.

Problem-solving therapy is a brief intervention that provides people with the tools they need to identify and solve problems that arise from big and small life stressors. It aims to improve your overall quality of life and reduce the negative impact of psychological and physical illness.

Problem-solving therapy can be used to treat depression , among other conditions. It can be administered by a doctor or mental health professional and may be combined with other treatment approaches.

At a Glance

Problem-solving therapy is a short-term treatment used to help people who are experiencing depression, stress, PTSD, self-harm, suicidal ideation, and other mental health problems develop the tools they need to deal with challenges. This approach teaches people to identify problems, generate solutions, and implement those solutions. Let's take a closer look at how problem-solving therapy can help people be more resilient and adaptive in the face of stress.

Problem-solving therapy is based on a model that takes into account the importance of real-life problem-solving. In other words, the key to managing the impact of stressful life events is to know how to address issues as they arise. Problem-solving therapy is very practical in its approach and is only concerned with the present, rather than delving into your past.

This form of therapy can take place one-on-one or in a group format and may be offered in person or online via telehealth . Sessions can be anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours long. 

Key Components

There are two major components that make up the problem-solving therapy framework:

  • Applying a positive problem-solving orientation to your life
  • Using problem-solving skills

A positive problem-solving orientation means viewing things in an optimistic light, embracing self-efficacy , and accepting the idea that problems are a normal part of life. Problem-solving skills are behaviors that you can rely on to help you navigate conflict, even during times of stress. This includes skills like:

  • Knowing how to identify a problem
  • Defining the problem in a helpful way
  • Trying to understand the problem more deeply
  • Setting goals related to the problem
  • Generating alternative, creative solutions to the problem
  • Choosing the best course of action
  • Implementing the choice you have made
  • Evaluating the outcome to determine next steps

Problem-solving therapy is all about training you to become adaptive in your life so that you will start to see problems as challenges to be solved instead of insurmountable obstacles. It also means that you will recognize the action that is required to engage in effective problem-solving techniques.

Planful Problem-Solving

One problem-solving technique, called planful problem-solving, involves following a series of steps to fix issues in a healthy, constructive way:

  • Problem definition and formulation : This step involves identifying the real-life problem that needs to be solved and formulating it in a way that allows you to generate potential solutions.
  • Generation of alternative solutions : This stage involves coming up with various potential solutions to the problem at hand. The goal in this step is to brainstorm options to creatively address the life stressor in ways that you may not have previously considered.
  • Decision-making strategies : This stage involves discussing different strategies for making decisions as well as identifying obstacles that may get in the way of solving the problem at hand.
  • Solution implementation and verification : This stage involves implementing a chosen solution and then verifying whether it was effective in addressing the problem.

Other Techniques

Other techniques your therapist may go over include:

  • Problem-solving multitasking , which helps you learn to think clearly and solve problems effectively even during times of stress
  • Stop, slow down, think, and act (SSTA) , which is meant to encourage you to become more emotionally mindful when faced with conflict
  • Healthy thinking and imagery , which teaches you how to embrace more positive self-talk while problem-solving

What Problem-Solving Therapy Can Help With

Problem-solving therapy addresses life stress issues and focuses on helping you find solutions to concrete issues. This approach can be applied to problems associated with various psychological and physiological symptoms.

Mental Health Issues

Problem-solving therapy may help address mental health issues, like:

  • Chronic stress due to accumulating minor issues
  • Complications associated with traumatic brain injury (TBI)
  • Emotional distress
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Problems associated with a chronic disease like cancer, heart disease, or diabetes
  • Self-harm and feelings of hopelessness
  • Substance use
  • Suicidal ideation

Specific Life Challenges

This form of therapy is also helpful for dealing with specific life problems, such as:

  • Death of a loved one
  • Dissatisfaction at work
  • Everyday life stressors
  • Family problems
  • Financial difficulties
  • Relationship conflicts

Your doctor or mental healthcare professional will be able to advise whether problem-solving therapy could be helpful for your particular issue. In general, if you are struggling with specific, concrete problems that you are having trouble finding solutions for, problem-solving therapy could be helpful for you.

Benefits of Problem-Solving Therapy

The skills learned in problem-solving therapy can be helpful for managing all areas of your life. These can include:

  • Being able to identify which stressors trigger your negative emotions (e.g., sadness, anger)
  • Confidence that you can handle problems that you face
  • Having a systematic approach on how to deal with life's problems
  • Having a toolbox of strategies to solve the issues you face
  • Increased confidence to find creative solutions
  • Knowing how to identify which barriers will impede your progress
  • Knowing how to manage emotions when they arise
  • Reduced avoidance and increased action-taking
  • The ability to accept life problems that can't be solved
  • The ability to make effective decisions
  • The development of patience (realizing that not all problems have a "quick fix")

Problem-solving therapy can help people feel more empowered to deal with the problems they face in their lives. Rather than feeling overwhelmed when stressors begin to take a toll, this therapy introduces new coping skills that can boost self-efficacy and resilience .

Other Types of Therapy

Other similar types of therapy include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and solution-focused brief therapy (SFBT) . While these therapies work to change thinking and behaviors, they work a bit differently. Both CBT and SFBT are less structured than problem-solving therapy and may focus on broader issues. CBT focuses on identifying and changing maladaptive thoughts, and SFBT works to help people look for solutions and build self-efficacy based on strengths.

This form of therapy was initially developed to help people combat stress through effective problem-solving, and it was later adapted to address clinical depression specifically. Today, much of the research on problem-solving therapy deals with its effectiveness in treating depression.

Problem-solving therapy has been shown to help depression in: 

  • Older adults
  • People coping with serious illnesses like cancer

Problem-solving therapy also appears to be effective as a brief treatment for depression, offering benefits in as little as six to eight sessions with a therapist or another healthcare professional. This may make it a good option for someone unable to commit to a lengthier treatment for depression.

Problem-solving therapy is not a good fit for everyone. It may not be effective at addressing issues that don't have clear solutions, like seeking meaning or purpose in life. Problem-solving therapy is also intended to treat specific problems, not general habits or thought patterns .

In general, it's also important to remember that problem-solving therapy is not a primary treatment for mental disorders. If you are living with the symptoms of a serious mental illness such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia , you may need additional treatment with evidence-based approaches for your particular concern.

Problem-solving therapy is best aimed at someone who has a mental or physical issue that is being treated separately, but who also has life issues that go along with that problem that has yet to be addressed.

For example, it could help if you can't clean your house or pay your bills because of your depression, or if a cancer diagnosis is interfering with your quality of life.

Your doctor may be able to recommend therapists in your area who utilize this approach, or they may offer it themselves as part of their practice. You can also search for a problem-solving therapist with help from the American Psychological Association’s (APA) Society of Clinical Psychology .

If receiving problem-solving therapy from a doctor or mental healthcare professional is not an option for you, you could also consider implementing it as a self-help strategy using a workbook designed to help you learn problem-solving skills on your own.

During your first session, your therapist may spend some time explaining their process and approach. They may ask you to identify the problem you’re currently facing, and they’ll likely discuss your goals for therapy .

Keep In Mind

Problem-solving therapy may be a short-term intervention that's focused on solving a specific issue in your life. If you need further help with something more pervasive, it can also become a longer-term treatment option.

Get Help Now

We've tried, tested, and written unbiased reviews of the best online therapy programs including Talkspace, BetterHelp, and ReGain. Find out which option is the best for you.

Shang P, Cao X, You S, Feng X, Li N, Jia Y. Problem-solving therapy for major depressive disorders in older adults: an updated systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials .  Aging Clin Exp Res . 2021;33(6):1465-1475. doi:10.1007/s40520-020-01672-3

Cuijpers P, Wit L de, Kleiboer A, Karyotaki E, Ebert DD. Problem-solving therapy for adult depression: An updated meta-analysis . Eur Psychiatry . 2018;48(1):27-37. doi:10.1016/j.eurpsy.2017.11.006

Nezu AM, Nezu CM, D'Zurilla TJ. Problem-Solving Therapy: A Treatment Manual . New York; 2013. doi:10.1891/9780826109415.0001

Owens D, Wright-Hughes A, Graham L, et al. Problem-solving therapy rather than treatment as usual for adults after self-harm: a pragmatic, feasibility, randomised controlled trial (the MIDSHIPS trial) .  Pilot Feasibility Stud . 2020;6:119. doi:10.1186/s40814-020-00668-0

Sorsdahl K, Stein DJ, Corrigall J, et al. The efficacy of a blended motivational interviewing and problem solving therapy intervention to reduce substance use among patients presenting for emergency services in South Africa: A randomized controlled trial . Subst Abuse Treat Prev Policy . 2015;10(1):46. doi:doi.org/10.1186/s13011-015-0042-1

Margolis SA, Osborne P, Gonzalez JS. Problem solving . In: Gellman MD, ed. Encyclopedia of Behavioral Medicine . Springer International Publishing; 2020:1745-1747. doi:10.1007/978-3-030-39903-0_208

Kirkham JG, Choi N, Seitz DP. Meta-analysis of problem solving therapy for the treatment of major depressive disorder in older adults . Int J Geriatr Psychiatry . 2016;31(5):526-535. doi:10.1002/gps.4358

Garand L, Rinaldo DE, Alberth MM, et al. Effects of problem solving therapy on mental health outcomes in family caregivers of persons with a new diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment or early dementia: A randomized controlled trial . Am J Geriatr Psychiatry . 2014;22(8):771-781. doi:10.1016/j.jagp.2013.07.007

Noyes K, Zapf AL, Depner RM, et al. Problem-solving skills training in adult cancer survivors: Bright IDEAS-AC pilot study .  Cancer Treat Res Commun . 2022;31:100552. doi:10.1016/j.ctarc.2022.100552

Albert SM, King J, Anderson S, et al. Depression agency-based collaborative: effect of problem-solving therapy on risk of common mental disorders in older adults with home care needs . The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry . 2019;27(6):619-624. doi:10.1016/j.jagp.2019.01.002

By Arlin Cuncic, MA Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of "Therapy in Focus: What to Expect from CBT for Social Anxiety Disorder" and "7 Weeks to Reduce Anxiety." She has a Master's degree in psychology.

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Four Obstacles to Creative Problem Solving

Radiology managers face a major issues requiring creative thinking. But these mental blocks can get in the way of problem solving.

How many issues in a week do you encounter that require creative problem solving? When you are in management you encounter a multitude of issues on a weekly basis, some which are very unique.  

When a problem arises there are four obstacles I am mindful of that can get in the way of my creative problem solving. The mental obstacles which are referred to as conceptual blocks can constrain the way I look at solving problems and limit the number of solutions I generate.  

The four types of conceptual blocks are:

1. Constancy . Constancy means we become committed to one way of looking at a problem and employing one approach to define and solving that problem. The issue with constancy is that since we are creatures of habit we are likely to consistently use the same methodology to our approach in creative problem solving. 

2. Commitment . Commitment is seen as a conceptual block because as individuals, once we become committed to an idea or solution we usually follow through with that idea or solution. We become so entrenched in our thinking that we do not consider other alternatives. Studies have shown that commitment has lead to some very silly decisions.

3. Compression . Compression is when we look at a problem in a narrow spectrum and we filter out too much of the relevant information. As problem solvers we must be able to determine what information is factual and important so we can define the problem and develop the best solution.   

4. Complacency . Complacency is typically the result of just pure laziness and in most cases can get us in lots of trouble. To solve problems we must ask questions to get the information we need to define the problem and generate the appropriate solution. However, asking individuals questions can raise defense mechanisms which lead to interpersonal conflict and resistance. In addition, asking lots of questions makes us feel as though we come across as not being intelligent. Being inquisitive is important to creative problem solving.

It is important to note that it takes practice to eliminate the tendencies of these four conceptual blocks.  I recommend you write them down on a small index card and place the card in your desk.

Here’s a quote from Frank Zappa that I find appropriate for problem solving; “Our mind is like a parachute, it doesn’t work if it is not open.”

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  1. Problem-Solving Strategies and Obstacles

    The problem-solving process involves: Discovery of the problem Deciding to tackle the issue Seeking to understand the problem more fully Researching available options or solutions Taking action to resolve the issue Before problem-solving can occur, it is important to first understand the exact nature of the problem itself.

  2. The Six Main Barriers Against Problem-Solving And How To ...

    4. Lack of respect for rhythms. There is always a right time for preparation, a right time for action and a right time for patience. Respecting the rhythms of a problem is directly link to the ...

  3. 6 Common Problem Solving Barriers and How Can Managers Beat them

    Lack of motivation Several barriers can impede problem solving, and lack of motivation is one of them. Feeling unmotivated can make it challenging to start or complete a task, which can be caused by stress, boredom, or fatigue.

  4. How to Overcome Unexpected Obstacles When Problem Solving

    Here are some tips for overcoming unexpected obstacles when problem solving. Top experts in this article Selected by the community from 1 contribution. Learn more. Earn a Community Top Voice badge ...

  5. Barriers to Effective Problem Solving

    According to Jaffa, the primary barrier of effective problem solving is rigidity. "The most common things people say are, 'We've never done it before,' or 'We've always done it this way.'"

  6. Obstacles to Problem Solving and Innovation in Design Thinking

    Obstacles to Problem Solving and Innovation in Design Thinking. Understanding the obstacles that prevent teams from reaching innovative solutions that solve underlying problems is a very important aspect of the Design Thinking process. When we ignore a major influencing factor while trying to develop a solution, we are setting ourselves up for ...

  7. 6.8: Blocks to Problem Solving

    Common obstacles to solving problems. The example also illustrates two common problems that sometimes happen during problem solving. One of these is functional fixedness: a tendency to regard the functions of objects and ideas as fixed (German & Barrett, 2005).Over time, we get so used to one particular purpose for an object that we overlook other uses.

  8. Tackling Obstacles: Creative Strategies for Effective Problem-Solving

    Creative problem-solving strategies like Design Thinking, SWOT Analysis, Reverse Thinking, Mind Mapping, and the Pareto Principle can be effective in overcoming obstacles. Tools such as issue trees, fishbone diagrams, OOC/EMR, and action planning can aid in problem-solving. Real-life examples and case studies, such as the SpaceX case study and ...

  9. The Problem-Solving Process

    1. Identifying the Problem While it may seem like an obvious step, identifying the problem is not always as simple as it sounds. In some cases, people might mistakenly identify the wrong source of a problem, which will make attempts to solve it inefficient or even useless.

  10. 10 Problem-solving strategies to turn challenges on their head

    One of the best ways to improve your problem-solving skills is to learn from experts. Consider enrolling in organizational training, shadowing a mentor, or working with a coach. 2. Practice. Practice using your new problem-solving skills by applying them to smaller problems you might encounter in your daily life.

  11. The 4 types of problems we encounter daily

    1. The simple problem The first type of problem in Snowden's framework is simple and obvious. It has already been solved, and there actually is a best practice that works all the time. Once you...

  12. 7.3 Problem-Solving

    Additional Problem Solving Strategies:. Abstraction - refers to solving the problem within a model of the situation before applying it to reality.; Analogy - is using a solution that solves a similar problem.; Brainstorming - refers to collecting an analyzing a large amount of solutions, especially within a group of people, to combine the solutions and developing them until an optimal ...

  13. The McKinsey guide to problem solving

    The McKinsey guide to problem solving. Become a better problem solver with insights and advice from leaders around the world on topics including developing a problem-solving mindset, solving problems in uncertain times, problem solving with AI, and much more. Become a better problem solver with insights and advice from leaders around the world ...

  14. What is Problem Solving? Steps, Process & Techniques

    1. Define the problem Diagnose the situation so that your focus is on the problem, not just its symptoms. Helpful problem-solving techniques include using flowcharts to identify the expected steps of a process and cause-and-effect diagrams to define and analyze root causes. The sections below help explain key problem-solving steps.

  15. Why Groups Struggle to Solve Problems Together

    Summary. There are five stages of problem solving: defining the problem, generating solutions, evaluating solutions, picking a solution, and making a plan. When we solve problems on our own, we ...

  16. 4 Main problem-solving strategies

    All obstacles to problem-solving or goal-accomplishing are rooted in faulty causal thinking leading to not engaging the right operators. When your causal thinking is on point, you'll have no problem engaging the right operators. As you can imagine, for complex problems, getting our causal thinking right isn't easy. That's why we need to ...

  17. 15 Problem Solving Skills for Overcoming Obstacles

    1. Reinforce a positive outlook. Smile. The first thing you should do when faced with a difficult problem is to start with a positive outlook. Sometimes our first reaction is to fear uncertainty. That's pretty natural.

  18. Barriers to Problem Solving

    ( Phentermine) Effective problem-solving in such situations is a handy skill that'll help you navigate your way through the professional landscape. You will find some useful tips on how to deal with some common barriers to effective problem-solving in Harappa Education's Defining Problems course.

  19. 12 Approaches To Problem-Solving for Every Situation

    Brainstorm options to solve the problem. Select an option. Create an implementation plan. Execute the plan and monitor the results. Evaluate the solution. Read more: Effective Problem Solving Steps in the Workplace. 2. Collaborative. This approach involves including multiple people in the problem-solving process.

  20. Problem solving

    Problem solving is the process of achieving a goal by overcoming obstacles, a frequent part of most activities. Problems in need of solutions range from simple personal tasks (e.g. how to turn on an appliance) to complex issues in business and technical fields. The former is an example of simple problem solving (SPS) addressing one issue ...

  21. 6 Problem Solving Skills For Business Success

    Obstacle to Creative Thinking #2: Fear of Failure. The second major obstacle to creative thinking is the fear of failure or loss. It is the fear of being wrong, of making a mistake, or of losing money or time. As it happens, it is not the experience of failure that holds you back. You have failed countless times in life and it hasn't done you ...

  22. The Top Four Obstacles to Problem Solving

    Lack of communication and sharing of information Lack of long-term thinking Silos, and along with that, not having everyone moving towards the same goal or in the same direction People who seem uninterested in engaging in problem-solving Depending on the survey or article, these will change in order, but they remain quite consistent.

  23. 14 Effective Problem-Solving Strategies

    14 types of problem-solving strategies. Here are some examples of problem-solving strategies you can practice using to see which works best for you in different situations: 1. Define the problem. Taking the time to define a potential challenge can help you identify certain elements to create a plan to resolve them.

  24. Problem-Solving Therapy: Definition, Techniques, and Efficacy

    Problem-solving therapy is a short-term treatment used to help people who are experiencing depression, stress, PTSD, self-harm, suicidal ideation, and other mental health problems develop the tools they need to deal with challenges. This approach teaches people to identify problems, generate solutions, and implement those solutions.

  25. Four Obstacles to Creative Problem Solving

    When a problem arises there are four obstacles I am mindful of that can get in the way of my creative problem solving. The mental obstacles which are referred to as conceptual blocks can constrain the way I look at solving problems and limit the number of solutions I generate. The four types of conceptual blocks are: 1. Constancy. Constancy ...

  26. Getting to Yes Chapter 4 Flashcards

    Terms in this set (25) e four major obstacles that inhibit the inventing of an abundance of options: (1) premature judgment; (2) searching for the single answer; (3) the assumption of a fixed pie; and. (4) thinking that "solving their problem is their problem." Premature judgment. Nothing is so harmful to inventing as a critical sense waiting ...