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Problem-Solving Strategies and Obstacles
Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."
Sean is a fact-checker and researcher with experience in sociology, field research, and data analytics.
JGI / Jamie Grill / Getty Images
From deciding what to eat for dinner to considering whether it's the right time to buy a house, problem-solving is a large part of our daily lives. Learn some of the problem-solving strategies that exist and how to use them in real life, along with ways to overcome obstacles that are making it harder to resolve the issues you face.
What Is Problem-Solving?
In cognitive psychology , the term 'problem-solving' refers to the mental process that people go through to discover, analyze, and solve problems.
A problem exists when there is a goal that we want to achieve but the process by which we will achieve it is not obvious to us. Put another way, there is something that we want to occur in our life, yet we are not immediately certain how to make it happen.
Maybe you want a better relationship with your spouse or another family member but you're not sure how to improve it. Or you want to start a business but are unsure what steps to take. Problem-solving helps you figure out how to achieve these desires.
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. If your understanding of the issue is faulty, your attempts to resolve it will also be incorrect or flawed.
Problem-Solving Mental Processes
Several mental processes are at work during problem-solving. Among them are:
- Perceptually recognizing the problem
- Representing the problem in memory
- Considering relevant information that applies to the problem
- Identifying different aspects of the problem
- Labeling and describing the problem
There are many ways to go about solving a problem. Some of these strategies might be used on their own, or you may decide to employ multiple approaches when working to figure out and fix a problem.
An algorithm is a step-by-step procedure that, by following certain "rules" produces a solution. Algorithms are commonly used in mathematics to solve division or multiplication problems. But they can be used in other fields as well.
In psychology, algorithms can be used to help identify individuals with a greater risk of mental health issues. For instance, research suggests that certain algorithms might help us recognize children with an elevated risk of suicide or self-harm.
One benefit of algorithms is that they guarantee an accurate answer. However, they aren't always the best approach to problem-solving, in part because detecting patterns can be incredibly time-consuming.
There are also concerns when machine learning is involved—also known as artificial intelligence (AI)—such as whether they can accurately predict human behaviors.
Heuristics are shortcut strategies that people can use to solve a problem at hand. These "rule of thumb" approaches allow you to simplify complex problems, reducing the total number of possible solutions to a more manageable set.
If you find yourself sitting in a traffic jam, for example, you may quickly consider other routes, taking one to get moving once again. When shopping for a new car, you might think back to a prior experience when negotiating got you a lower price, then employ the same tactics.
While heuristics may be helpful when facing smaller issues, major decisions shouldn't necessarily be made using a shortcut approach. Heuristics also don't guarantee an effective solution, such as when trying to drive around a traffic jam only to find yourself on an equally crowded route.
Trial and Error
A trial-and-error approach to problem-solving involves trying a number of potential solutions to a particular issue, then ruling out those that do not work. If you're not sure whether to buy a shirt in blue or green, for instance, you may try on each before deciding which one to purchase.
This can be a good strategy to use if you have a limited number of solutions available. But if there are many different choices available, narrowing down the possible options using another problem-solving technique can be helpful before attempting trial and error.
In some cases, the solution to a problem can appear as a sudden insight. You are facing an issue in a relationship or your career when, out of nowhere, the solution appears in your mind and you know exactly what to do.
Insight can occur when the problem in front of you is similar to an issue that you've dealt with in the past. Although, you may not recognize what is occurring since the underlying mental processes that lead to insight often happen outside of conscious awareness .
Research indicates that insight is most likely to occur during times when you are alone—such as when going on a walk by yourself, when you're in the shower, or when lying in bed after waking up.
How to Apply Problem-Solving Strategies in Real Life
If you're facing a problem, you can implement one or more of these strategies to find a potential solution. Here's how to use them in real life:
- Create a flow chart . If you have time, you can take advantage of the algorithm approach to problem-solving by sitting down and making a flow chart of each potential solution, its consequences, and what happens next.
- Recall your past experiences . When a problem needs to be solved fairly quickly, heuristics may be a better approach. Think back to when you faced a similar issue, then use your knowledge and experience to choose the best option possible.
- Start trying potential solutions . If your options are limited, start trying them one by one to see which solution is best for achieving your desired goal. If a particular solution doesn't work, move on to the next.
- Take some time alone . Since insight is often achieved when you're alone, carve out time to be by yourself for a while. The answer to your problem may come to you, seemingly out of the blue, if you spend some time away from others.
Obstacles to Problem-Solving
Problem-solving is not a flawless process as there are a number of obstacles that can interfere with our ability to solve a problem quickly and efficiently. These obstacles include:
- Assumptions: When dealing with a problem, people can make assumptions about the constraints and obstacles that prevent certain solutions. Thus, they may not even try some potential options.
- Functional fixedness : This term refers to the tendency to view problems only in their customary manner. Functional fixedness prevents people from fully seeing all of the different options that might be available to find a solution.
- Irrelevant or misleading information: When trying to solve a problem, it's important to distinguish between information that is relevant to the issue and irrelevant data that can lead to faulty solutions. The more complex the problem, the easier it is to focus on misleading or irrelevant information.
- Mental set: A mental set is a tendency to only use solutions that have worked in the past rather than looking for alternative ideas. A mental set can work as a heuristic, making it a useful problem-solving tool. However, mental sets can also lead to inflexibility, making it more difficult to find effective solutions.
How to Improve Your Problem-Solving Skills
In the end, if your goal is to become a better problem-solver, it's helpful to remember that this is a process. Thus, if you want to improve your problem-solving skills, following these steps can help lead you to your solution:
- Recognize that a problem exists . If you are facing a problem, there are generally signs. For instance, if you have a mental illness , you may experience excessive fear or sadness, mood changes, and changes in sleeping or eating habits. Recognizing these signs can help you realize that an issue exists.
- Decide to solve the problem . Make a conscious decision to solve the issue at hand. Commit to yourself that you will go through the steps necessary to find a solution.
- Seek to fully understand the issue . Analyze the problem you face, looking at it from all sides. If your problem is relationship-related, for instance, ask yourself how the other person may be interpreting the issue. You might also consider how your actions might be contributing to the situation.
- Research potential options . Using the problem-solving strategies mentioned, research potential solutions. Make a list of options, then consider each one individually. What are some pros and cons of taking the available routes? What would you need to do to make them happen?
- Take action . Select the best solution possible and take action. Action is one of the steps required for change . So, go through the motions needed to resolve the issue.
- Try another option, if needed . If the solution you chose didn't work, don't give up. Either go through the problem-solving process again or simply try another option.
You can find a way to solve your problems as long as you keep working toward this goal—even if the best solution is simply to let go because no other good solution exists.
Sarathy V. Real world problem-solving . Front Hum Neurosci . 2018;12:261. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2018.00261
Dunbar K. Problem solving . A Companion to Cognitive Science . 2017. doi:10.1002/9781405164535.ch20
Stewart SL, Celebre A, Hirdes JP, Poss JW. Risk of suicide and self-harm in kids: The development of an algorithm to identify high-risk individuals within the children's mental health system . Child Psychiat Human Develop . 2020;51:913-924. doi:10.1007/s10578-020-00968-9
Rosenbusch H, Soldner F, Evans AM, Zeelenberg M. Supervised machine learning methods in psychology: A practical introduction with annotated R code . Soc Personal Psychol Compass . 2021;15(2):e12579. doi:10.1111/spc3.12579
Mishra S. Decision-making under risk: Integrating perspectives from biology, economics, and psychology . Personal Soc Psychol Rev . 2014;18(3):280-307. doi:10.1177/1088868314530517
Csikszentmihalyi M, Sawyer K. Creative insight: The social dimension of a solitary moment . In: The Systems Model of Creativity . 2015:73-98. doi:10.1007/978-94-017-9085-7_7
Chrysikou EG, Motyka K, Nigro C, Yang SI, Thompson-Schill SL. Functional fixedness in creative thinking tasks depends on stimulus modality . Psychol Aesthet Creat Arts . 2016;10(4):425‐435. doi:10.1037/aca0000050
Huang F, Tang S, Hu Z. Unconditional perseveration of the short-term mental set in chunk decomposition . Front Psychol . 2018;9:2568. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2018.02568
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By Kendra Cherry, MSEd Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."
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How to Handle a Problem You Can’t Solve
Finding a solution is only one way to proactively respond to problems..
Posted July 22, 2021 | Reviewed by Vanessa Lancaster
- What Is a Career
- Find a career counselor near me
- The difference between a big problem and a small problem is the amount of risk we’re exposed to.
- New research has uncovered an often overlooked category of solutions to help solve difficult problems.
- Sometimes it's more productive to eliminate, shrink, or delegate a problem than it is to solve it.
After returning from a 12-month deployment in Iraq, Patrick Skluzacek began to experience horrible nightmares. Veterans Affairs didn’t have a cure. Afraid to close his eyes, Patrick turned to alcohol to help himself sleep. As his drinking and mental health grew worse, he went on to lose his job, his wife, and even his home.
Patrick’s son Tyler was desperate to help. But he wasn’t a psychologist or a sleep expert. He was just a college student studying mathematics and computer science. So rather than trying to heal his father from the effects of trauma, Tyler decided to look for a way to prevent the nightmares from happening.
Using his programming skills, Tyler developed a smartwatch app that monitored his father’s heart rate and movement during sleep to spot nightmares early. The app then prompted the watch to vibrate gently, coaxing Patrick out of bad dreams without completely waking him.
With the help of his son’s invention, Patrick has once again lived a normal life.
Thankfully, most of us have never had to watch a parent struggle with post- traumatic stress disorder, but we’ve all faced problems that felt too big to solve–in our professional lives as well as at home. The experience of the Skluzaceks, both father and son, illustrates some strategies you might employ the next time you’re up against what feels like an impossible dilemma.
1. If you can’t solve a problem, look for ways to eliminate it.
Problems live inside systems, and one way to get rid of a problem is to eliminate the system it belongs to. Tyler never found a cure for his dad’s PTSD . He simply found a way to interrupt his father’s nightmares, preventing them from happening again.
In an organizational context, we can usually wipe out problems that seem unsolvable by replacing troublesome staff, software, or policies. But new research out of the University of Virginia has found that our brains often overlook these “subtractive solutions”— tunneling instead on what might be added to improve a situation.
2. If you can’t eliminate a problem, look for ways to shrink it.
The difference between a big problem and a small problem is the amount of risk we’re exposed to. So if you can’t fix the cause, try to reduce the effects. For example, certain positions in your company might be inherently stressful , posing the threat of high burnout rates. If you can’t find a way to modify the positions to make them less demanding, an alternative might be to offer more vacation days or free massage therapy sessions to the affected individuals. The root problem will still exist, but it will have a smaller negative impact on your organization.
3. See if you can delegate the problem to someone else.
As Tyler’s story illustrates, sometimes we are our own best options. But in many cases, we can turn to others for help. A surprising number of leaders are comfortable delegating tasks but never think to delegate problems. Doing so can free up your time and empower your colleagues to make a bigger impact. Plus, most problems are easier to solve with a fresh perspective, making a handoff even more advantageous.
4. Ask yourself what insight would make the problem easier to solve.
If you can’t solve a problem, it might be indicative of a gap in your expertise. That’s perfectly normal. The key is simply to pinpoint what those gaps are. To do so, try filling in this sentence:
I would be able to solve this problem if only I knew…
Once you’ve identified the gaps in your knowledge, brainstorm ways to find reliable answers, colleagues might be a useful resource, and consulting is often an effective option. If your timeline and budget don’t allow for consulting, on-demand online trainings are another way to expand your understanding, and a surprising number of experts offer these virtual courses.
5. Question whether you actually need to solve the problem right now.
Sometimes, the true cost of a problem is the work it distracts you from. In Tyler’s case, ignoring his father’s nightmares wasn’t an option. But sometimes, procrastinating on one problem allows you to be more productive in other areas. If you’re facing a dilemma that seems unsolvable, try asking yourself if fixing it is really your best opportunity for personal growth or organizational contribution at that moment. Will you incur any high costs by waiting to tackle the issue?
Challenges don’t always have an obvious cure, but you can still respond intentionally and productively. In fact, knowing what to do with tough dilemmas is a skill that sets great leaders apart. After all, difficult decisions are one of the primary responsibilities great leaders get paid to handle.
Kyle Young is a strategy consultant and writer who works to help people achieve their goals.
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Apply Problem Solving To Yourself and Solve Your Own Problems
by Adam Eason | Nov 3, 2010 | Personal Development | 0 comments
In the 80s and early 90s, I used to watch the Krypton Factor. I loved that show. Especially when they did the intelligence and skill tests… I would be screaming at the contestants trying to tell them what way to organise the puzzles… I was the same watching the Crystal Maze and other types of programmes where they had to solve problems and puzzles to progress through the TV show.
Have you ever done Sudoku? Or are you into cryptic crosswords? Or do you play Bejewelled or Angry Birds on your Smartphone? Do you do any other kind of regular problem solving?
Katie and I love crime thrillers and psychological films with a clever twist. I think I tend to irritate Katie a bit due to the fact that I work out what is happening and guess at the twist throughout the programmes and films… I do love problem solving.
One of my hypnotherapy teachers once told me of how he admired one of his motor mechanic friends because he loved to look at a faulty engine and relished working out what was wrong with it… Such was this influence that my teacher used to compare his own work with his hypnotherapy clients by relishing working out how to best help them get better and resolve their issues.
So few people seem to actually use the same energy for personal problem solving as we do for these kinds of activities I have mentioned above.
In my own consulting rooms, as with so many other therapeutic environments, many of our therapy approaches ensure that the therapist listens out for the presence of problematic language, limiting beliefs and distorted thought processes. Yet when we employ problem-solving strategies to our therapeutic approach we start to become aware of the absence of healthy language, positive mindsets, beliefs and thought processes.
So this week, I wanted to share with you a really basic problem solving strategy to apply to yourself and ascertain logically what you can do to make life better and healthier and happier for yourself… Without the need for anything more dramatic… And I hope you relish the problem solving in the same way that you may relish other problem solving challenges in your life.
12 Steps To Apply Problem Solving To Yourself:
The main structure that I offer up today is the one found in many problem solving therapy approaches from the main authors of problem solving therapy. (I learned them from UKHypnosis trainer Donald Robertson, and you can investigate the work of D’Zurilla and Goldfried as well as Spivack and Sure if you’d like to examine this approach further)
Step One : Firstly, you examine and ascertain what the problem is.
Some people do get anxious, frustrated or just down in the dumps thinking about any problems they may have… heck they may have avoided it as a result… So first you recognise any problems you may currently have then choose and approach them (and reframe them if necessary) as challenges to be overcome; like your puzzles, crosswords and murder mysteries, for example.
Get motivated and truly commit an appropriate and necessary period of time as well as effort that you’ll invest in getting the problem resolved. Get a pen and paper to write down a lot of the information you generate.
So with pen in hand, the time and space made, feeling motivated and driven about the problem solving process, you move on and get stuck into the following steps.
Step Two : Defining The Problem.
Write down exactly what the problem is here. Having identified it, now write it down and do your best to define the problem. The problem may be a situation or circumstance, in which case you adapt your answer, but just write down and define the problem as best as you can. Get some clarity on it.
Explore it a little bit by examining the situations and times that the problem occurs and write those down. Explain in your write up what actually does happen when the problem occurs. Explain whether it is exclusive to you or if other people are involved in any way. Look at the things that spark the problem, and what conditions are present when it happens.
In NLP, this kind of exploration is often referred to looking at your logical levels and you explore the environment of the problem at hand, the behaviour and so on.
Right now, at this stage, define the problem, see it for what it truly is, chart and record it accurately in writing, and when you feel satisfied you have done that, move on to the next step.
Step Three : Establish SMART Goals.
I am guessing you have come across this notion before. Most people that read these kinds of personal development ezines have encountered SMART goals.
The two classic questions I teach all my hypnotherapy students to ask when working with clients are “what do you want?” and “how will you know when you have achieved that?” This is fashioning an outcome and with SMART goals, we are getting into detail with a well-formed outcome for the process. What you want to happen?
Setting goals in this way is not a strictly linear process and you may reassess and revisit goals as they may evolve and change. Do make sure you set them in a progressive mindset – setting goals when you are experiencing negative (or what the Dalai Lama calls ‘destructive emotions’) is going to distort the goals.
So as you set your goals, as much as is possible, ensure that they conform to the principles of SMART goal setting:
S – specific
A – attainable
R – realistic
T – time-bound & tangible
SMART as an acronym has been quoted many times and there are several different translations for the acronym especially for the A and the R. All are good: Achievable, Attainable, Actionable, Reachable, Relevant, Realistic.
make the goal as real as you can, and make it compelling – short term goals are usually more compelling than longer term goals (10 years into the future can seem like a VERY long time away and may not inspire or motivate you). So if you do have a long term goal, break it down to a shorter goal that is an indication that you are well on your way to achieving the longer term goal.
Step Four : You can enlist constructive assistance here, or just have a one-man brainstorm.
The idea is that you do not dismiss anything, you just write out loads and loads of ideas without editing them just yet. Have a brainstorm about possible solutions to the problem.
Be as creative as you can. What different ways could you behave? What different ways could you think? What actions could you take? What differences could be made to your usual reactions and responses?
Avoid editing or judging, just get as much data, ideas and thoughts down in writing as you possibly can. Consider as many options, even ones which you might not think are valuable initially, even include things you may have avoided doing for particular reasons.
Step Five: SWOT Analysis and Consequences.
Now have a good look at each of the things you previously wrote down and give them a kind of SWOT analysis.
SWOT analysis is a strategic planning method used to evaluate the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats involved in a project. So not really perfect for this kind of personal development. However, it gives a framework for how you look at each of the ideas you brainstormed previously, ensuring that you do it with neutrality and objectivity (i.e. not dismissing things because of laziness or personal bias).
Give pros and cons for each of the things you have written up, exhaust all that you can about the proposed solution in your exploration. Then also look ecologically at each solution.
That is, look at the depth of consequences to each solution – who else is affected? What are the wider consequences to your own life? How does it impact on other areas of your life? Will you have to let go of certain things? Will you have to embrace things you previously avoided? Examine the bigger picture of the proposed solutions.
Step Six: Scale and Rate.
Having done that as thoroughly as possible, and ideally as objectively as possible… Now go ahead and rate how satisfied you feel with each of the proposed solutions, on a scale of 0-10. Be objective, be practical and be realistic. Trust yourself, evaluate and rate them each.
Then as a result of your rating, choose which solution is going to be the one that you adopt and put into action.
With that decision made, with that choice in mind, move on to the next step.
Step Seven: Getting Motivated.
Without a good level of motivation, you are unlikely to truly get an action plan in place and adopt this solution strategy, are you? So you need to get yourself motivated.
Write up a list of rewards that you will gain as a result of making this change and getting this problem dealt with. How will life be better?
Write down a list of your motives, write down what is driving you to do this. What benefits will you gain as a result?
it is also worth writing down what issues it will cause if you do not solve this problem. Write down how much worse off you’ll be if it is not dealt with properly.
The idea is to get yourself driven, motivated and focused here. With that done, move on.
Step Eight: Putting Your Plan Together.
“I love it when a plan comes together”
You now write out your plan. You plot, create and fashion your plan of action.
get specific with regards to what you are going to do on what days and at what times. You may want to share this with someone so that you are held accountable for doing it and committing to it.
map out each step you need to take – include information you may need, knowledge you may have to learn, people you have to advise, places you’ll need to go etc, etc. Ideally diarise the entire thing.
We don’t want to focus on anything going wrong or potentially failing, but it is wise to have a contingency plan in case of changes that are unexpected. So maybe also write up a contingency plan at this stage too, to employ in case of any disruption to the plan.
Once you are fully satisfied with the plan of action, and feeling driven and motivated about it, we are ready to push on…
Step Nine: Look at any personal development options.
Here you may like to add some techniques and strategies that you have found beneficial to help with your mindset. if you need inspiration, look at some of my self-hypnosis techniques that I write about often in this very ezine (entire back catalogue is in our members area).
Ideally, just look at ways of keeping inspired, motivated and thinking positively to help you with the very important next step.
Step Ten: Just Do It!
Now go ahead and do your plan. Start it. Involve yourself in it. take action and implement the steps.
Ensure that each step of the way, you keep track of your progress and you recognise your progress, reward and praise yourself when it is due and even allow yourself some excitement as you see the results occurring as a result of your problem solving skills.
Step Eleven: Reflection.
On a regular basis, assess and reflect upon what you did and how it went. Chart the results, chart the problems or snags, and chart your overall progress.
Once you reach the end of your plan, evaluate what you did, you might even like to rate your level of satisfaction with the result and how you did from 0-10. You might like to write up any changes you would make in hindsight, or things you’d do differently, or resources that you’d benefit from having in the future. Chart what you have learned.
Step Twelve: Success or Restart?
With all the information you have gleaned and considered in the previous step. If you have not fully let go of or dealt with the problem to your absolute satisfaction… Consider repeating the process.
Amend the plan, amend whatever you feel is necessary and then go about it again with all the vigour and drive.
So there you have it. A process by which you can relish and enjoy exploring your own problems and rationally, and logically work your way through. Problem solving is something we do all enjoy in various guises… I hope you enjoy using it with yourself and any problems that may exist in your life. Have fun.
If you’d like to learn more or if this has resonated with you in some way, then visit these pages:
1. Do you need help with some of the problems in your life? Coaching with Adam Eason Or Hypnotherapy with Adam Eason 2. Would you like a satisfying and meaningful career as a hypnotherapist helping others overcome their problems? Adam Eason’s Anglo European training college . 3. Are you a hypnotherapist for whom problems are negatively effecting the success of your business? Hypnotherapist Mentoring with Adam Eason .
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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.
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?
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
- 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.
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.
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.
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
- 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 .
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.
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.
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.
Content Marketing Manager, ACC
8 creative solutions to your most challenging problems
31 examples of problem solving performance review phrases, 5 problem-solving questions to prepare you for your next interview, what is lateral thinking 7 techniques to encourage creative ideas, can dreams help you solve problems 6 ways to try, effective problem statements have these 5 components, 3 ways to solve your performance management problems, impression management: developing your self-presentation skills, adjusting your vision for 2022, similar articles, the pareto principle: how the 80/20 rule can help you do more with less, bring the power of sales coaching and real-time insights to your sales team, thinking outside the box: 8 ways to become a creative problem solver, guide to conflict resolution skills — plus real world examples, contingency planning: 4 steps to prepare for the unexpected, stay connected with betterup, get our newsletter, event invites, plus product insights and research..
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How to Handle Problems
Last Updated: September 9, 2022 Approved
This article was co-authored by Michael Stern . Michael Stern is a life coach and the owner of Integral Alignment, a coaching and training business focused on a holistic approach to optimizing one's health, work, love, play, and spirituality. Michael began his professional training in 2011 as an Integral Spiritual Mentor through One Spirit Learning Alliance, and has been certified as both a hatha yoga instructor and an Emotional Intelligence Coach through GolemanEI. In addition to his private 1:1 and groupwork, he has hosted workshops with thought leaders such as Frederic Laloux, Charles Eisenstein, and Thomas Hübl. Michael holds a BA in Spanish Language from Vanderbilt University and lives in Portland, Maine. wikiHow marks an article as reader-approved once it receives enough positive feedback. In this case, 94% of readers who voted found the article helpful, earning it our reader-approved status. This article has been viewed 327,989 times.
Are you feeling as surrounded by problems as a superhero by villains? Maybe you just have one big problem but you don't know how to solve it. Don't worry. Whether you're struggling with your significant other or you're in danger of losing your job, there are a few steps that you can take to bring your problems under control.
Handling Personal Conflicts
- For example, if you're having a fight with your girlfriend because she thinks you cheated on her (even if you didn't), don't make the problem worse by spending a lot of time out being social with other girls. This will only make you look worse and make it harder to argue with her from the moral high ground. Instead, take a vacation from people until you work things out with her.
- Another example for a problem with a friend is if your best friend is mad at you for blowing off their party in order to spend time with someone else. In this situation, you'll want to avoid seeming distant or disinterested in their feelings. Instead, try to do something nice for them.
- For example, your boyfriend might say that he's mad you decided to go to the big state school in the next town over instead of going to the local college with him. Of course, you'll still be able to see each other all the time and date without serious problems: what he's really worried about is that all that time off on your own will lead you to meet someone new.
- Sometimes, if you're having a hard time understanding their perspective, it can be really helpful to just ask them. Ask them to explain, at length, why they think it would be better to take another route. Say something like: “Can you explain your thinking to me? I’d really like to know better.” By walking through their feelings and thought process, you can often gain a better understanding of the problem and how to solve it.  X Research source
- For example, you'll want to dial back your language. Don't insult them or use accusatory language like "you should have ______". Instead, use “I” statements to express yourself. Say things like, “I felt hurt after out last conversation,” or, “I get upset when you talk to me like that.”
- Make them feel in control by giving them choices or options, as well as doing things like coming up with what they think is a fair solution to the problem.
- For these serious, problem-solving conversations, you should generally set aside a large chunk of time and meet in a place that's private and quiet. This will remove distractions and things which add more stress.
- Talking it out also shows the other person that you have put a priority on making things right, which can earn you some points and soften them up for finding a solution.
- For example, if your girlfriend is upset because you can't agree which family to spend Christmas with, you can propose a third option: spending the week before Christmas with her family, the week after with your family, and the day itself with just each other.
- For example, if your friend is upset because they want to take one class with you but you want to take another class instead, you can suggest that you keep your classes separate but both take a study period that you can spend together studying in the library.
Handling Non-People Problems
- When you're struggling to stay calm, a good technique is to focus on your breathing. Breathe in and out slowly until you feel more calm and ready to do what you need to do.
- When trying to solve your problems, think about what is truly authentic to you so you don't spend a lot of time/energy pursuing goals that aren't personally meaningful for you.
- For example, if you know you have strong interpersonal skills, then you know you can use those skills to help solve your problem. Just because there might not be an obvious way to use them right now doesn’t mean that the opportunity won’t arise.
- Break the solution down into a series of goals, then break the goals down into a series of tasks. Decide when you'll do each task and where you can get a little extra help and before you know it you'll have a great plan. Set goals that are SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-based).
- Even just having a plan and working towards meeting your goals can often make things even easier because it makes your "gatekeepers" more willing to give you extra room and time to solve your problems. These people, like teachers, bosses, and creditors, will feel more comfortable being forgiving if you have a plan that shows you're serious.
- Think of your life like a movie. It's not going to stop just because the villain starts causing trouble. The story might not go how you want it to go but there will be a resolution in the end. And your life is hardly The Day After Tomorrow, so you'll be okay.
- Poor communication can also be the source of your problem, meaning that simply talking more may be what's needed to fix the problem.
- If nothing else, communicate the need for patience. Tell people that you're working on the problem but that you have a plan and you're focusing all of your energy on making things right.
Balancing Many Problems
- Let go of your past. Let go of your mistakes. Instead of hating yourself for them, learn from them. That's enough. Let go of that friend that just refuses to forgive you for whatever it is you did. Instead, focus on solving your other problems and work on making the rest of your life and actions as good as they can be.
- Problems in your past will often come to a better resolution when you work towards a better future...even if that just means you starting to realize that those mistakes don't define you.
- Figure out what means the most to you and focus on making that happen. Let everything else follow the path of least resistance so that it's not taking up all of your time and energy...even if that means it doesn't end well for you.
- For example, if you're having problems with your family, problems with school, and problems with work, you'll have to choose which is the most important. Generally, your family will always be there and you can get other jobs. Second shots at school, however, are rare.
- Think of this like having a giant pile of homework assignments. You can do them right away and not get overwhelmed or you can be afraid of failing and let them pile up. Not doing them just leads to you getting an F anyway. Ignoring them doesn't make them stop appearing.
- Making a chart of the steps you need to take to solve each problem can often be really helpful. This visual device allows you a better way to see how everything fits together.
- For example, let's say that you're struggling to figure out how to write a review for work. Go online and you'll find loads of business people who do stuff like that all the time. Post in a forum and you'll see so many people come forward saying things like, "No one ever taught me how to do this and I really wish they had. It doesn't need to be this hard."
- One good approach is to appreciate the problems in your life. If you didn't have problems in your life, you wouldn't know how to recognize the good things that you do have. This is especially true with problems surrounding people we love. We often forget how much we love them until something shows us how much we stand to lose.
- Take care of yourself. The most important person in difficult situations is you. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0
- Realize that there are a lot of people with far worse problems in life. Put your problems in perspective and you'll make it through your obstacles and know how lucky you are. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0
- Make yourself a list of things that need to change. You can't make all your problems go away, but you can learn from them so that the same things don't continue to happen. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0
- Not all problems are for you to sort through. If it is a vital decision you should feel comfortable forwarding it to a superior or discussing it at length with others to arrive at a group decision. Thanks Helpful 36 Not Helpful 8
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- ↑ http://www.techrepublic.com/blog/10-things/10-tips-and-tactics-for-dealing-with-conflict/
- ↑ https://www.edmonds.edu/counseling/documents/conflict.pdf
- ↑ Michael Stern. Life Coach. Expert Interview. 1 July 2020.
- ↑ http://www.forbes.com/sites/glennllopis/2013/11/04/the-4-most-effective-ways-leaders-solve-problems/
- ↑ http://www.oprah.com/spirit/What-to-Do-When-You-Are-Overwhelmed
- ↑ http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2012/10/16/overwhelmed-these-6-strategies-may-help/
About This Article
If you’re having a problem with another person in your life, first try to identify behaviors that might make the problem worse and avoid them. For example, if your significant other feels like you’re ignoring them, don’t dismiss their feelings or act like it’s no big deal. Once you’ve figured out the root of the problem, sit down and have a talk with the other person without being judgmental or placing the blame on anyone. As you’re talking to them, listen carefully to what they have to say, and try to see all sides of the issue. Then, the two of you can work together to find a solution. Read on for advice on how to deal with non-people problems! Did this summary help you? Yes No
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What If I Can’t Solve My Problems by Myself?
- Post author By Revel Miller, Ph.D.
Sometimes You Can’t Solve Problems on Your Own.
Most of us have the capacity to solve most of our problems. However, sometimes you don’t have the ability to work it out. So, you ask your friends and loved ones for assistance and advice. You might also ask your physician and minister for help. But this doesn’t always resolve the dilemmas .
That is where mental health specialists like me come in. We are trained to help people resolve difficult challenges and problems. We have experience in dealing with similar issues that you are confronting. Therefore, we know the terrain and have some helpful tools to share with you. Our work is to help clients overcome barriers and work around obstacles.
Some treatment by psychologists and counselors is relatively rapid in helping you to decrease your issues and symptoms. You may be able to get some quick positive results . That’s what everybody hopes for.
However, some problems are stubborn and take longer to work on to resolve . That is just a human reality . Just because we want an issue to disappear does not mean that it will evaporate. There is no magic like that. Some problems are big and take time, effort and money to resolve.
What If My Problems Are Too Big for Me to Solve Alone?
If you are plagued by personal and/or business problems or they seem too overwhelming for you to handle, then I suggest that you seek out a qualified psychotherapist or coach who can assist you and also help you develop improved problem-solving skills that you can use far into your future.
As a psychologist, I’m a problem-solver. I collaborate with you to work on challenges that you cannot solve on your own. Once the issues are lifted, you go on your way. You can see what problem areas I specialize in by visiting the “ What We Treat ” navigation button drop down list on this website.
What If I’m Too Ashamed to Ask for Professional Help?
Nowadays, many people turn to mental health professionals like me for help. The old cultural stigma about seeing a psychiatrist or psychologist has significantly decreased over the past 30 years. It is very common to seek assistance with personal problems and there are many professionals to choose from because the demand for our services is high.
Some people feel the stigma of engaging a psychologist . They fear others will judge them as if they are “crazy”. However, seeking assistance with problems is the intelligent and practical thing to do. If you had a medical concern, wouldn’t you consult a physician? If you had a dental problem, wouldn’t you go see your dentist? If your car wasn’t working so well or made some strange sounds, wouldn’t you take it to an auto mechanic? So, you need to over-ride the old unrealistic stigma and ask for help with psychological issues.
Getting Help Is Smart.
Don’t feel alone because you aren’t alone. Seeking out help is a common action to take in the USA. Don’t make excuses to avoid getting help. And please, for your sake, don’t be ashamed of seeking out and requesting the guidance that you need and deserve.
If you’d like help in solving some problems, give me a call – 805-448-5053. We can work on them together.
And if you want to be notified whenever I post a new article, go ahead and click the grey “ Subscribe ” link at the bottom of this page. Thanks!
- Tags challenges , collaborate , dilemmas , mental health specialists , problem solver , problems , psychologists , results
By Revel Miller, Ph.D.
Revel Miller, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist who has been practicing psychology for over 25 years and living in Santa Barbara for more than 15 years. He specializes in treating adults who experience depression, marital conflict, divorce transition and parenting challenges. Dr. Miller is also a behavioral health psychologist who collaborates with medical professionals and treats chronically ill patients who suffer from stress due to their illness. In addition, he actively collaborates with divorce attorneys and mediators to help support their clients who struggle with the stresses associated with marital transition. Moreover, Revel Miller is an experienced business coach who assists professionals, executives and small business owners to develop and grow their businesses.
Solve your own damn problems!
Why should you care about problem-solving, three essential elements 1. be curious .
2. Follow Structure
3. it’s ok to fail, closing thoughts.
Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.
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How to Solve Problems
- Laura Amico
To bring the best ideas forward, teams must build psychological safety.
Teams today aren’t just asked to execute tasks: They’re called upon to solve problems. You’d think that many brains working together would mean better solutions, but the reality is that too often problem-solving teams fall victim to inefficiency, conflict, and cautious conclusions. The two charts below will help your team think about how to collaborate better and come up with the best solutions for the thorniest challenges.
- Laura Amico is a former senior editor at Harvard Business Review.
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Higher Level Living
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How to Solve Your Own Problems
Nicole Hague / Blog + Intentional Living
One of my favorite things to do as a coach is teach people how to coach themselves in life. AKA teach them how to solve their own problems and get out of their own way 😉
This might sound silly but it’s powerful! More often than not we are our own worst enemies. We get caught up in our own heads and limit ourselves in life. Truthfully we over think and over complicate just about everything.😑
The secret to solving your problems is to remove yourself from the situation. To take a step back and look at it from a different perspective.
This activity helps you get started…
STEP 1: TAKE YOURSELF OUT OF THE EQUATION.
We can be so close to our own problems that it’s hard for us to see what’s really going on or see possible solutions clearly
STEP 2: ASK YOURSELF – WHAT IS THE PROBLEM YOU WANT TO SOLVE?
Don’t overthink it, just write it down – what problem are you struggling with?
STEP 3: NOW REFRAME IT –
If your best friend came to you for advice because they were struggling with the above problem you wrote down, what advice would you give them?
What three steps would you tell them to take?
We typically have the answers within us and know what is best but we cannot always see it because we’re too close to it, too emotionally connected to it, or we don’t want to face the solution just yet.
When you look at things externally or more objectively it’s easier to see the solution. It’s also so much easier to give advice and help other people solve problems than face the problems in your own life.
So train yourself to consider what outside perspective advice you would give when struggling with something.
And if you figure out the answers but are too afraid of the action it might be time to invest in a coach.
My role as a coach is to help you close the gap on where you are and where you want to be in life. I help you see things more clearly and take more positive action in your life.
Click here to schedule a consult call and let’s chat about ways I can help you navigate through what is holding you back in life.
Or check out my free 7- day email challenge that gives you daily activities that will elevate and energize you in life.
Here’s to your happiness and higher level living,
other posts you might enjoy:
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- How To Start Planning For 2020 Right Now
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How to improve your problem solving skills and build effective problem solving strategies
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Effective problem solving is all about using the right process and following a plan tailored to the issue at hand. Recognizing your team or organization has an issue isn’t enough to come up with effective problem solving strategies.
To truly understand a problem and develop appropriate solutions, you will want to follow a solid process, follow the necessary problem solving steps, and bring all of your problem solving skills to the table.
We’ll first guide you through the seven step problem solving process you and your team can use to effectively solve complex business challenges. We’ll also look at what problem solving strategies you can employ with your team when looking for a way to approach the process. We’ll then discuss the problem solving skills you need to be more effective at solving problems, complete with an activity from the SessionLab library you can use to develop that skill in your team.
Let’s get to it!
What is a problem solving process?
- What are the problem solving steps I need to follow?
Problem solving strategies
What skills do i need to be an effective problem solver, how can i improve my problem solving skills.
Solving problems is like baking a cake. You can go straight into the kitchen without a recipe or the right ingredients and do your best, but the end result is unlikely to be very tasty!
Using a process to bake a cake allows you to use the best ingredients without waste, collect the right tools, account for allergies, decide whether it is a birthday or wedding cake, and then bake efficiently and on time. The result is a better cake that is fit for purpose, tastes better and has created less mess in the kitchen. Also, it should have chocolate sprinkles. Having a step by step process to solve organizational problems allows you to go through each stage methodically and ensure you are trying to solve the right problems and select the most appropriate, effective solutions.
What are the problem solving steps I need to follow?
All problem solving processes go through a number of steps in order to move from identifying a problem to resolving it.
Depending on your problem solving model and who you ask, there can be anything between four and nine problem solving steps you should follow in order to find the right solution. Whatever framework you and your group use, there are some key items that should be addressed in order to have an effective process.
We’ve looked at problem solving processes from sources such as the American Society for Quality and their four step approach , and Mediate ‘s six step process. By reflecting on those and our own problem solving processes, we’ve come up with a sequence of seven problem solving steps we feel best covers everything you need in order to effectively solve problems.
1. Problem identification
The first stage of any problem solving process is to identify the problem or problems you might want to solve. Effective problem solving strategies always begin by allowing a group scope to articulate what they believe the problem to be and then coming to some consensus over which problem they approach first. Problem solving activities used at this stage often have a focus on creating frank, open discussion so that potential problems can be brought to the surface.
2. Problem analysis
Though this step is not a million miles from problem identification, problem analysis deserves to be considered separately. It can often be an overlooked part of the process and is instrumental when it comes to developing effective solutions.
The process of problem analysis means ensuring that the problem you are seeking to solve is the right problem . As part of this stage, you may look deeper and try to find the root cause of a specific problem at a team or organizational level.
Remember that problem solving strategies should not only be focused on putting out fires in the short term but developing long term solutions that deal with the root cause of organizational challenges.
Whatever your approach, analyzing a problem is crucial in being able to select an appropriate solution and the problem solving skills deployed in this stage are beneficial for the rest of the process and ensuring the solutions you create are fit for purpose.
3. Solution generation
Once your group has nailed down the particulars of the problem you wish to solve, you want to encourage a free flow of ideas connecting to solving that problem. This can take the form of problem solving games that encourage creative thinking or problem solving activities designed to produce working prototypes of possible solutions.
The key to ensuring the success of this stage of the problem solving process is to encourage quick, creative thinking and create an open space where all ideas are considered. The best solutions can come from unlikely places and by using problem solving techniques that celebrate invention, you might come up with solution gold.
4. Solution development
No solution is likely to be perfect right out of the gate. It’s important to discuss and develop the solutions your group has come up with over the course of following the previous problem solving steps in order to arrive at the best possible solution. Problem solving games used in this stage involve lots of critical thinking, measuring potential effort and impact, and looking at possible solutions analytically.
During this stage, you will often ask your team to iterate and improve upon your frontrunning solutions and develop them further. Remember that problem solving strategies always benefit from a multitude of voices and opinions, and not to let ego get involved when it comes to choosing which solutions to develop and take further.
Finding the best solution is the goal of all problem solving workshops and here is the place to ensure that your solution is well thought out, sufficiently robust and fit for purpose.
5. Decision making
Nearly there! Once your group has reached consensus and selected a solution that applies to the problem at hand you have some decisions to make. You will want to work on allocating ownership of the project, figure out who will do what, how the success of the solution will be measured and decide the next course of action.
The decision making stage is a part of the problem solving process that can get missed or taken as for granted. Fail to properly allocate roles and plan out how a solution will actually be implemented and it less likely to be successful in solving the problem.
Have clear accountabilities, actions, timeframes, and follow-ups. Make these decisions and set clear next-steps in the problem solving workshop so that everyone is aligned and you can move forward effectively as a group.
Ensuring that you plan for the roll-out of a solution is one of the most important problem solving steps. Without adequate planning or oversight, it can prove impossible to measure success or iterate further if the problem was not solved.
6. Solution implementation
This is what we were waiting for! All problem solving strategies have the end goal of implementing a solution and solving a problem in mind.
Remember that in order for any solution to be successful, you need to help your group through all of the previous problem solving steps thoughtfully. Only then can you ensure that you are solving the right problem but also that you have developed the correct solution and can then successfully implement and measure the impact of that solution.
Project management and communication skills are key here – your solution may need to adjust when out in the wild or you might discover new challenges along the way.
7. Solution evaluation
So you and your team developed a great solution to a problem and have a gut feeling its been solved. Work done, right? Wrong. All problem solving strategies benefit from evaluation, consideration, and feedback. You might find that the solution does not work for everyone, might create new problems, or is potentially so successful that you will want to roll it out to larger teams or as part of other initiatives.
None of that is possible without taking the time to evaluate the success of the solution you developed in your problem solving model and adjust if necessary.
Remember that the problem solving process is often iterative and it can be common to not solve complex issues on the first try. Even when this is the case, you and your team will have generated learning that will be important for future problem solving workshops or in other parts of the organization.
It’s worth underlining how important record keeping is throughout the problem solving process. If a solution didn’t work, you need to have the data and records to see why that was the case. If you go back to the drawing board, notes from the previous workshop can help save time. Data and insight is invaluable at every stage of the problem solving process and this one is no different.
Problem solving workshops made easy
Problem solving strategies are methods of approaching and facilitating the process of problem-solving with a set of techniques , actions, and processes. Different strategies are more effective if you are trying to solve broad problems such as achieving higher growth versus more focused problems like, how do we improve our customer onboarding process?
Broadly, the problem solving steps outlined above should be included in any problem solving strategy though choosing where to focus your time and what approaches should be taken is where they begin to differ. You might find that some strategies ask for the problem identification to be done prior to the session or that everything happens in the course of a one day workshop.
The key similarity is that all good problem solving strategies are structured and designed. Four hours of open discussion is never going to be as productive as a four-hour workshop designed to lead a group through a problem solving process.
Good problem solving strategies are tailored to the team, organization and problem you will be attempting to solve. Here are some example problem solving strategies you can learn from or use to get started.
Use a workshop to lead a team through a group process
Often, the first step to solving problems or organizational challenges is bringing a group together effectively. Most teams have the tools, knowledge, and expertise necessary to solve their challenges – they just need some guidance in how to use leverage those skills and a structure and format that allows people to focus their energies.
Facilitated workshops are one of the most effective ways of solving problems of any scale. By designing and planning your workshop carefully, you can tailor the approach and scope to best fit the needs of your team and organization.
Problem solving workshop
- Creating a bespoke, tailored process
- Tackling problems of any size
- Building in-house workshop ability and encouraging their use
Workshops are an effective strategy for solving problems. By using tried and test facilitation techniques and methods, you can design and deliver a workshop that is perfectly suited to the unique variables of your organization. You may only have the capacity for a half-day workshop and so need a problem solving process to match.
By using our session planner tool and importing methods from our library of 700+ facilitation techniques, you can create the right problem solving workshop for your team. It might be that you want to encourage creative thinking or look at things from a new angle to unblock your groups approach to problem solving. By tailoring your workshop design to the purpose, you can help ensure great results.
One of the main benefits of a workshop is the structured approach to problem solving. Not only does this mean that the workshop itself will be successful, but many of the methods and techniques will help your team improve their working processes outside of the workshop.
We believe that workshops are one of the best tools you can use to improve the way your team works together. Start with a problem solving workshop and then see what team building, culture or design workshops can do for your organization!
Run a design sprint
- aligning large, multi-discipline teams
- quickly designing and testing solutions
- tackling large, complex organizational challenges and breaking them down into smaller tasks
By using design thinking principles and methods, a design sprint is a great way of identifying, prioritizing and prototyping solutions to long term challenges that can help solve major organizational problems with quick action and measurable results.
Some familiarity with design thinking is useful, though not integral, and this strategy can really help a team align if there is some discussion around which problems should be approached first.
The stage-based structure of the design sprint is also very useful for teams new to design thinking. The inspiration phase, where you look to competitors that have solved your problem, and the rapid prototyping and testing phases are great for introducing new concepts that will benefit a team in all their future work.
It can be common for teams to look inward for solutions and so looking to the market for solutions you can iterate on can be very productive. Instilling an agile prototyping and testing mindset can also be great when helping teams move forwards – generating and testing solutions quickly can help save time in the long run and is also pretty exciting!
Break problems down into smaller issues
Organizational challenges and problems are often complicated and large scale in nature. Sometimes, trying to resolve such an issue in one swoop is simply unachievable or overwhelming. Try breaking down such problems into smaller issues that you can work on step by step. You may not be able to solve the problem of churning customers off the bat, but you can work with your team to identify smaller effort but high impact elements and work on those first.
This problem solving strategy can help a team generate momentum, prioritize and get some easy wins. It’s also a great strategy to employ with teams who are just beginning to learn how to approach the problem solving process. If you want some insight into a way to employ this strategy, we recommend looking at our design sprint template below!
Use guiding frameworks or try new methodologies
Some problems are best solved by introducing a major shift in perspective or by using new methodologies that encourage your team to think differently.
Props and tools such as Methodkit , which uses a card-based toolkit for facilitation, or Lego Serious Play can be great ways to engage your team and find an inclusive, democratic problem solving strategy. Remember that play and creativity are great tools for achieving change and whatever the challenge, engaging your participants can be very effective where other strategies may have failed.
LEGO Serious Play
- Improving core problem solving skills
- Thinking outside of the box
- Encouraging creative solutions
LEGO Serious Play is a problem solving methodology designed to get participants thinking differently by using 3D models and kinesthetic learning styles. By physically building LEGO models based on questions and exercises, participants are encouraged to think outside of the box and create their own responses.
Collaborate LEGO Serious Play exercises are also used to encourage communication and build problem solving skills in a group. By using this problem solving process, you can often help different kinds of learners and personality types contribute and unblock organizational problems with creative thinking.
Problem solving strategies like LEGO Serious Play are super effective at helping a team solve more skills-based problems such as communication between teams or a lack of creative thinking. Some problems are not suited to LEGO Serious Play and require a different problem solving strategy.
Card Decks and Method Kits
- New facilitators or non-facilitators
- Approaching difficult subjects with a simple, creative framework
- Engaging those with varied learning styles
Card decks and method kids are great tools for those new to facilitation or for whom facilitation is not the primary role. Card decks such as the emotional culture deck can be used for complete workshops and in many cases, can be used right out of the box. Methodkit has a variety of kits designed for scenarios ranging from personal development through to personas and global challenges so you can find the right deck for your particular needs.
Having an easy to use framework that encourages creativity or a new approach can take some of the friction or planning difficulties out of the workshop process and energize a team in any setting. Simplicity is the key with these methods. By ensuring everyone on your team can get involved and engage with the process as quickly as possible can really contribute to the success of your problem solving strategy.
Source external advice
Looking to peers, experts and external facilitators can be a great way of approaching the problem solving process. Your team may not have the necessary expertise, insights of experience to tackle some issues, or you might simply benefit from a fresh perspective. Some problems may require bringing together an entire team, and coaching managers or team members individually might be the right approach. Remember that not all problems are best resolved in the same manner.
If you’re a solo entrepreneur, peer groups, coaches and mentors can also be invaluable at not only solving specific business problems, but in providing a support network for resolving future challenges. One great approach is to join a Mastermind Group and link up with like-minded individuals and all grow together. Remember that however you approach the sourcing of external advice, do so thoughtfully, respectfully and honestly. Reciprocate where you can and prepare to be surprised by just how kind and helpful your peers can be!
- Solo entrepreneurs or small teams with low capacity
- Peer learning and gaining outside expertise
- Getting multiple external points of view quickly
Problem solving in large organizations with lots of skilled team members is one thing, but how about if you work for yourself or in a very small team without the capacity to get the most from a design sprint or LEGO Serious Play session?
A mastermind group – sometimes known as a peer advisory board – is where a group of people come together to support one another in their own goals, challenges, and businesses. Each participant comes to the group with their own purpose and the other members of the group will help them create solutions, brainstorm ideas, and support one another.
Mastermind groups are very effective in creating an energized, supportive atmosphere that can deliver meaningful results. Learning from peers from outside of your organization or industry can really help unlock new ways of thinking and drive growth. Access to the experience and skills of your peers can be invaluable in helping fill the gaps in your own ability, particularly in young companies.
A mastermind group is a great solution for solo entrepreneurs, small teams, or for organizations that feel that external expertise or fresh perspectives will be beneficial for them. It is worth noting that Mastermind groups are often only as good as the participants and what they can bring to the group. Participants need to be committed, engaged and understand how to work in this context.
Coaching and mentoring
- Focused learning and development
- Filling skills gaps
- Working on a range of challenges over time
Receiving advice from a business coach or building a mentor/mentee relationship can be an effective way of resolving certain challenges. The one-to-one format of most coaching and mentor relationships can really help solve the challenges those individuals are having and benefit the organization as a result.
A great mentor can be invaluable when it comes to spotting potential problems before they arise and coming to understand a mentee very well has a host of other business benefits. You might run an internal mentorship program to help develop your team’s problem solving skills and strategies or as part of a large learning and development program. External coaches can also be an important part of your problem solving strategy, filling skills gaps for your management team or helping with specific business issues.
Now we’ve explored the problem solving process and the steps you will want to go through in order to have an effective session, let’s look at the skills you and your team need to be more effective problem solvers.
Problem solving skills are highly sought after, whatever industry or team you work in. Organizations are keen to employ people who are able to approach problems thoughtfully and find strong, realistic solutions. Whether you are a facilitator , a team leader or a developer, being an effective problem solver is a skill you’ll want to develop.
Problem solving skills form a whole suite of techniques and approaches that an individual uses to not only identify problems but to discuss them productively before then developing appropriate solutions.
Here are some of the most important problem solving skills everyone from executives to junior staff members should learn. We’ve also included an activity or exercise from the SessionLab library that can help you and your team develop that skill.
If you’re running a workshop or training session to try and improve problem solving skills in your team, try using these methods to supercharge your process!
Active listening is one of the most important skills anyone who works with people can possess. In short, active listening is a technique used to not only better understand what is being said by an individual, but also to be more aware of the underlying message the speaker is trying to convey. When it comes to problem solving, active listening is integral for understanding the position of every participant and to clarify the challenges, ideas and solutions they bring to the table.
Some active listening skills include:
- Paying complete attention to the speaker.
- Removing distractions.
- Avoid interruption.
- Taking the time to fully understand before preparing a rebuttal.
- Responding respectfully and appropriately.
- Demonstrate attentiveness and positivity with an open posture, making eye contact with the speaker, smiling and nodding if appropriate. Show that you are listening and encourage them to continue.
- Be aware of and respectful of feelings. Judge the situation and respond appropriately. You can disagree without being disrespectful.
- Observe body language.
- Paraphrase what was said in your own words, either mentally or verbally.
- Remain neutral.
- Reflect and take a moment before responding.
- Ask deeper questions based on what is said and clarify points where necessary.
Active Listening #hyperisland #skills #active listening #remote-friendly This activity supports participants to reflect on a question and generate their own solutions using simple principles of active listening and peer coaching. It’s an excellent introduction to active listening but can also be used with groups that are already familiar with it. Participants work in groups of three and take turns being: “the subject”, the listener, and the observer.
All problem solving models require strong analytical skills, particularly during the beginning of the process and when it comes to analyzing how solutions have performed.
Analytical skills are primarily focused on performing an effective analysis by collecting, studying and parsing data related to a problem or opportunity.
It often involves spotting patterns, being able to see things from different perspectives and using observable facts and data to make suggestions or produce insight.
Analytical skills are also important at every stage of the problem solving process and by having these skills, you can ensure that any ideas or solutions you create or backed up analytically and have been sufficiently thought out.
Nine Whys #innovation #issue analysis #liberating structures With breathtaking simplicity, you can rapidly clarify for individuals and a group what is essentially important in their work. You can quickly reveal when a compelling purpose is missing in a gathering and avoid moving forward without clarity. When a group discovers an unambiguous shared purpose, more freedom and more responsibility are unleashed. You have laid the foundation for spreading and scaling innovations with fidelity.
Trying to solve problems on your own is difficult. Being able to collaborate effectively, with a free exchange of ideas, to delegate and be a productive member of a team is hugely important to all problem solving strategies.
Remember that whatever your role, collaboration is integral, and in a problem solving process, you are all working together to find the best solution for everyone.
Marshmallow challenge with debriefing #teamwork #team #leadership #collaboration In eighteen minutes, teams must build the tallest free-standing structure out of 20 sticks of spaghetti, one yard of tape, one yard of string, and one marshmallow. The marshmallow needs to be on top. The Marshmallow Challenge was developed by Tom Wujec, who has done the activity with hundreds of groups around the world. Visit the Marshmallow Challenge website for more information. This version has an extra debriefing question added with sample questions focusing on roles within the team.
Being an effective communicator means being empathetic, clear and succinct, asking the right questions, and demonstrating active listening skills throughout any discussion or meeting.
In a problem solving setting, you need to communicate well in order to progress through each stage of the process effectively. As a team leader, it may also fall to you to facilitate communication between parties who may not see eye to eye. Effective communication also means helping others to express themselves and be heard in a group.
Bus Trip #feedback #communication #appreciation #closing #thiagi #team This is one of my favourite feedback games. I use Bus Trip at the end of a training session or a meeting, and I use it all the time. The game creates a massive amount of energy with lots of smiles, laughs, and sometimes even a teardrop or two.
Creative problem solving skills can be some of the best tools in your arsenal. Thinking creatively, being able to generate lots of ideas and come up with out of the box solutions is useful at every step of the process.
The kinds of problems you will likely discuss in a problem solving workshop are often difficult to solve, and by approaching things in a fresh, creative manner, you can often create more innovative solutions.
Having practical creative skills is also a boon when it comes to problem solving. If you can help create quality design sketches and prototypes in record time, it can help bring a team to alignment more quickly or provide a base for further iteration.
The paper clip method #sharing #creativity #warm up #idea generation #brainstorming The power of brainstorming. A training for project leaders, creativity training, and to catalyse getting new solutions.
Critical thinking is one of the fundamental problem solving skills you’ll want to develop when working on developing solutions. Critical thinking is the ability to analyze, rationalize and evaluate while being aware of personal bias, outlying factors and remaining open-minded.
Defining and analyzing problems without deploying critical thinking skills can mean you and your team go down the wrong path. Developing solutions to complex issues requires critical thinking too – ensuring your team considers all possibilities and rationally evaluating them.
Agreement-Certainty Matrix #issue analysis #liberating structures #problem solving You can help individuals or groups avoid the frequent mistake of trying to solve a problem with methods that are not adapted to the nature of their challenge. The combination of two questions makes it possible to easily sort challenges into four categories: simple, complicated, complex , and chaotic . A problem is simple when it can be solved reliably with practices that are easy to duplicate. It is complicated when experts are required to devise a sophisticated solution that will yield the desired results predictably. A problem is complex when there are several valid ways to proceed but outcomes are not predictable in detail. Chaotic is when the context is too turbulent to identify a path forward. A loose analogy may be used to describe these differences: simple is like following a recipe, complicated like sending a rocket to the moon, complex like raising a child, and chaotic is like the game “Pin the Tail on the Donkey.” The Liberating Structures Matching Matrix in Chapter 5 can be used as the first step to clarify the nature of a challenge and avoid the mismatches between problems and solutions that are frequently at the root of chronic, recurring problems.
Though it shares lots of space with general analytical skills, data analysis skills are something you want to cultivate in their own right in order to be an effective problem solver.
Being good at data analysis doesn’t just mean being able to find insights from data, but also selecting the appropriate data for a given issue, interpreting it effectively and knowing how to model and present that data. Depending on the problem at hand, it might also include a working knowledge of specific data analysis tools and procedures.
Having a solid grasp of data analysis techniques is useful if you’re leading a problem solving workshop but if you’re not an expert, don’t worry. Bring people into the group who has this skill set and help your team be more effective as a result.
All problems need a solution and all solutions require that someone make the decision to implement them. Without strong decision making skills, teams can become bogged down in discussion and less effective as a result.
Making decisions is a key part of the problem solving process. It’s important to remember that decision making is not restricted to the leadership team. Every staff member makes decisions every day and developing these skills ensures that your team is able to solve problems at any scale. Remember that making decisions does not mean leaping to the first solution but weighing up the options and coming to an informed, well thought out solution to any given problem that works for the whole team.
Lightning Decision Jam (LDJ) #action #decision making #problem solving #issue analysis #innovation #design #remote-friendly The problem with anything that requires creative thinking is that it’s easy to get lost—lose focus and fall into the trap of having useless, open-ended, unstructured discussions. Here’s the most effective solution I’ve found: Replace all open, unstructured discussion with a clear process. What to use this exercise for: Anything which requires a group of people to make decisions, solve problems or discuss challenges. It’s always good to frame an LDJ session with a broad topic, here are some examples: The conversion flow of our checkout Our internal design process How we organise events Keeping up with our competition Improving sales flow
Most complex organizational problems require multiple people to be involved in delivering the solution. Ensuring that the team and organization can depend on you to take the necessary actions and communicate where necessary is key to ensuring problems are solved effectively.
Being dependable also means working to deadlines and to brief. It is often a matter of creating trust in a team so that everyone can depend on one another to complete the agreed actions in the agreed time frame so that the team can move forward together. Being undependable can create problems of friction and can limit the effectiveness of your solutions so be sure to bear this in mind throughout a project.
Team Purpose & Culture #team #hyperisland #culture #remote-friendly This is an essential process designed to help teams define their purpose (why they exist) and their culture (how they work together to achieve that purpose). Defining these two things will help any team to be more focused and aligned. With support of tangible examples from other companies, the team members work as individuals and a group to codify the way they work together. The goal is a visual manifestation of both the purpose and culture that can be put up in the team’s work space.
Emotional intelligence is an important skill for any successful team member, whether communicating internally or with clients or users. In the problem solving process, emotional intelligence means being attuned to how people are feeling and thinking, communicating effectively and being self-aware of what you bring to a room.
There are often differences of opinion when working through problem solving processes, and it can be easy to let things become impassioned or combative. Developing your emotional intelligence means being empathetic to your colleagues and managing your own emotions throughout the problem and solution process. Be kind, be thoughtful and put your points across care and attention.
Being emotionally intelligent is a skill for life and by deploying it at work, you can not only work efficiently but empathetically. Check out the emotional culture workshop template for more!
As we’ve clarified in our facilitation skills post, facilitation is the art of leading people through processes towards agreed-upon objectives in a manner that encourages participation, ownership, and creativity by all those involved. While facilitation is a set of interrelated skills in itself, the broad definition of facilitation can be invaluable when it comes to problem solving. Leading a team through a problem solving process is made more effective if you improve and utilize facilitation skills – whether you’re a manager, team leader or external stakeholder.
The Six Thinking Hats #creative thinking #meeting facilitation #problem solving #issue resolution #idea generation #conflict resolution The Six Thinking Hats are used by individuals and groups to separate out conflicting styles of thinking. They enable and encourage a group of people to think constructively together in exploring and implementing change, rather than using argument to fight over who is right and who is wrong.
Being flexible is a vital skill when it comes to problem solving. This does not mean immediately bowing to pressure or changing your opinion quickly: instead, being flexible is all about seeing things from new perspectives, receiving new information and factoring it into your thought process.
Flexibility is also important when it comes to rolling out solutions. It might be that other organizational projects have greater priority or require the same resources as your chosen solution. Being flexible means understanding needs and challenges across the team and being open to shifting or arranging your own schedule as necessary. Again, this does not mean immediately making way for other projects. It’s about articulating your own needs, understanding the needs of others and being able to come to a meaningful compromise.
The Creativity Dice #creativity #problem solving #thiagi #issue analysis Too much linear thinking is hazardous to creative problem solving. To be creative, you should approach the problem (or the opportunity) from different points of view. You should leave a thought hanging in mid-air and move to another. This skipping around prevents premature closure and lets your brain incubate one line of thought while you consciously pursue another.
Working in any group can lead to unconscious elements of groupthink or situations in which you may not wish to be entirely honest. Disagreeing with the opinions of the executive team or wishing to save the feelings of a coworker can be tricky to navigate, but being honest is absolutely vital when to comes to developing effective solutions and ensuring your voice is heard.
Remember that being honest does not mean being brutally candid. You can deliver your honest feedback and opinions thoughtfully and without creating friction by using other skills such as emotional intelligence.
Explore your Values #hyperisland #skills #values #remote-friendly Your Values is an exercise for participants to explore what their most important values are. It’s done in an intuitive and rapid way to encourage participants to follow their intuitive feeling rather than over-thinking and finding the “correct” values. It is a good exercise to use to initiate reflection and dialogue around personal values.
The problem solving process is multi-faceted and requires different approaches at certain points of the process. Taking initiative to bring problems to the attention of the team, collect data or lead the solution creating process is always valuable. You might even roadtest your own small scale solutions or brainstorm before a session. Taking initiative is particularly effective if you have good deal of knowledge in that area or have ownership of a particular project and want to get things kickstarted.
That said, be sure to remember to honor the process and work in service of the team. If you are asked to own one part of the problem solving process and you don’t complete that task because your initiative leads you to work on something else, that’s not an effective method of solving business challenges.
15% Solutions #action #liberating structures #remote-friendly You can reveal the actions, however small, that everyone can do immediately. At a minimum, these will create momentum, and that may make a BIG difference. 15% Solutions show that there is no reason to wait around, feel powerless, or fearful. They help people pick it up a level. They get individuals and the group to focus on what is within their discretion instead of what they cannot change. With a very simple question, you can flip the conversation to what can be done and find solutions to big problems that are often distributed widely in places not known in advance. Shifting a few grains of sand may trigger a landslide and change the whole landscape.
A particularly useful problem solving skill for product owners or managers is the ability to remain impartial throughout much of the process. In practice, this means treating all points of view and ideas brought forward in a meeting equally and ensuring that your own areas of interest or ownership are not favored over others.
There may be a stage in the process where a decision maker has to weigh the cost and ROI of possible solutions against the company roadmap though even then, ensuring that the decision made is based on merit and not personal opinion.
Empathy map #frame insights #create #design #issue analysis An empathy map is a tool to help a design team to empathize with the people they are designing for. You can make an empathy map for a group of people or for a persona. To be used after doing personas when more insights are needed.
Being a good leader means getting a team aligned, energized and focused around a common goal. In the problem solving process, strong leadership helps ensure that the process is efficient, that any conflicts are resolved and that a team is managed in the direction of success.
It’s common for managers or executives to assume this role in a problem solving workshop, though it’s important that the leader maintains impartiality and does not bulldoze the group in a particular direction. Remember that good leadership means working in service of the purpose and team and ensuring the workshop is a safe space for employees of any level to contribute. Take a look at our leadership games and activities post for more exercises and methods to help improve leadership in your organization.
Leadership Pizza #leadership #team #remote-friendly This leadership development activity offers a self-assessment framework for people to first identify what skills, attributes and attitudes they find important for effective leadership, and then assess their own development and initiate goal setting.
In the context of problem solving, mediation is important in keeping a team engaged, happy and free of conflict. When leading or facilitating a problem solving workshop, you are likely to run into differences of opinion. Depending on the nature of the problem, certain issues may be brought up that are emotive in nature.
Being an effective mediator means helping those people on either side of such a divide are heard, listen to one another and encouraged to find common ground and a resolution. Mediating skills are useful for leaders and managers in many situations and the problem solving process is no different.
Conflict Responses #hyperisland #team #issue resolution A workshop for a team to reflect on past conflicts, and use them to generate guidelines for effective conflict handling. The workshop uses the Thomas-Killman model of conflict responses to frame a reflective discussion. Use it to open up a discussion around conflict with a team.
Solving organizational problems is much more effective when following a process or problem solving model. Planning skills are vital in order to structure, deliver and follow-through on a problem solving workshop and ensure your solutions are intelligently deployed.
Planning skills include the ability to organize tasks and a team, plan and design the process and take into account any potential challenges. Taking the time to plan carefully can save time and frustration later in the process and is valuable for ensuring a team is positioned for success.
3 Action Steps #hyperisland #action #remote-friendly This is a small-scale strategic planning session that helps groups and individuals to take action toward a desired change. It is often used at the end of a workshop or programme. The group discusses and agrees on a vision, then creates some action steps that will lead them towards that vision. The scope of the challenge is also defined, through discussion of the helpful and harmful factors influencing the group.
As organisations grow, the scale and variation of problems they face multiplies. Your team or is likely to face numerous challenges in different areas and so having the skills to analyze and prioritize becomes very important, particularly for those in leadership roles.
A thorough problem solving process is likely to deliver multiple solutions and you may have several different problems you wish to solve simultaneously. Prioritization is the ability to measure the importance, value, and effectiveness of those possible solutions and choose which to enact and in what order. The process of prioritization is integral in ensuring the biggest challenges are addressed with the most impactful solutions.
Impact and Effort Matrix #gamestorming #decision making #action #remote-friendly In this decision-making exercise, possible actions are mapped based on two factors: effort required to implement and potential impact. Categorizing ideas along these lines is a useful technique in decision making, as it obliges contributors to balance and evaluate suggested actions before committing to them.
Some problem solving skills are utilized in a workshop or ideation phases, while others come in useful when it comes to decision making. Overseeing an entire problem solving process and ensuring its success requires strong project management skills.
While project management incorporates many of the other skills listed here, it is important to note the distinction of considering all of the factors of a project and managing them successfully. Being able to negotiate with stakeholders, manage tasks, time and people, consider costs and ROI, and tie everything together is massively helpful when going through the problem solving process.
Working out meaningful solutions to organizational challenges is only one part of the process. Thoughtfully documenting and keeping records of each problem solving step for future consultation is important in ensuring efficiency and meaningful change.
For example, some problems may be lower priority than others but can be revisited in the future. If the team has ideated on solutions and found some are not up to the task, record those so you can rule them out and avoiding repeating work. Keeping records of the process also helps you improve and refine your problem solving model next time around!
Personal Kanban #gamestorming #action #agile #project planning Personal Kanban is a tool for organizing your work to be more efficient and productive. It is based on agile methods and principles.
Conducting research to support both the identification of problems and the development of appropriate solutions is important for an effective process. Knowing where to go to collect research, how to conduct research efficiently, and identifying pieces of research are relevant are all things a good researcher can do well.
In larger groups, not everyone has to demonstrate this ability in order for a problem solving workshop to be effective. That said, having people with research skills involved in the process, particularly if they have existing area knowledge, can help ensure the solutions that are developed with data that supports their intention. Remember that being able to deliver the results of research efficiently and in a way the team can easily understand is also important. The best data in the world is only as effective as how it is delivered and interpreted.
Customer experience map #ideation #concepts #research #design #issue analysis #remote-friendly Customer experience mapping is a method of documenting and visualizing the experience a customer has as they use the product or service. It also maps out their responses to their experiences. To be used when there is a solution (even in a conceptual stage) that can be analyzed.
Managing risk is an often overlooked part of the problem solving process. Solutions are often developed with the intention of reducing exposure to risk or solving issues that create risk but sometimes, great solutions are more experimental in nature and as such, deploying them needs to be carefully considered.
Managing risk means acknowledging that there may be risks associated with more out of the box solutions or trying new things, but that this must be measured against the possible benefits and other organizational factors.
Be informed, get the right data and stakeholders in the room and you can appropriately factor risk into your decision making process.
Decisions, Decisions… #communication #decision making #thiagi #action #issue analysis When it comes to decision-making, why are some of us more prone to take risks while others are risk-averse? One explanation might be the way the decision and options were presented. This exercise, based on Kahneman and Tversky’s classic study , illustrates how the framing effect influences our judgement and our ability to make decisions . The participants are divided into two groups. Both groups are presented with the same problem and two alternative programs for solving them. The two programs both have the same consequences but are presented differently. The debriefing discussion examines how the framing of the program impacted the participant’s decision.
No single person is as good at problem solving as a team. Building an effective team and helping them come together around a common purpose is one of the most important problem solving skills, doubly so for leaders. By bringing a team together and helping them work efficiently, you pave the way for team ownership of a problem and the development of effective solutions.
In a problem solving workshop, it can be tempting to jump right into the deep end, though taking the time to break the ice, energize the team and align them with a game or exercise will pay off over the course of the day.
Remember that you will likely go through the problem solving process multiple times over an organization’s lifespan and building a strong team culture will make future problem solving more effective. It’s also great to work with people you know, trust and have fun with. Working on team building in and out of the problem solving process is a hallmark of successful teams that can work together to solve business problems.
9 Dimensions Team Building Activity #ice breaker #teambuilding #team #remote-friendly 9 Dimensions is a powerful activity designed to build relationships and trust among team members. There are 2 variations of this icebreaker. The first version is for teams who want to get to know each other better. The second version is for teams who want to explore how they are working together as a team.
The problem solving process is designed to lead a team from identifying a problem through to delivering a solution and evaluating its effectiveness. Without effective time management skills or timeboxing of tasks, it can be easy for a team to get bogged down or be inefficient.
By using a problem solving model and carefully designing your workshop, you can allocate time efficiently and trust that the process will deliver the results you need in a good timeframe.
Time management also comes into play when it comes to rolling out solutions, particularly those that are experimental in nature. Having a clear timeframe for implementing and evaluating solutions is vital for ensuring their success and being able to pivot if necessary.
Improving your skills at problem solving is often a career-long pursuit though there are methods you can use to make the learning process more efficient and to supercharge your problem solving skillset.
Remember that the skills you need to be a great problem solver have a large overlap with those skills you need to be effective in any role. Investing time and effort to develop your active listening or critical thinking skills is valuable in any context. Here are 7 ways to improve your problem solving skills.
Share best practices
Remember that your team is an excellent source of skills, wisdom, and techniques and that you should all take advantage of one another where possible. Best practices that one team has for solving problems, conducting research or making decisions should be shared across the organization. If you have in-house staff that have done active listening training or are data analysis pros, have them lead a training session.
Your team is one of your best resources. Create space and internal processes for the sharing of skills so that you can all grow together.
Ask for help and attend training
Once you’ve figured out you have a skills gap, the next step is to take action to fill that skills gap. That might be by asking your superior for training or coaching, or liaising with team members with that skill set. You might even attend specialized training for certain skills – active listening or critical thinking, for example, are business-critical skills that are regularly offered as part of a training scheme.
Whatever method you choose, remember that taking action of some description is necessary for growth. Whether that means practicing, getting help, attending training or doing some background reading, taking active steps to improve your skills is the way to go.
Learn a process
Problem solving can be complicated, particularly when attempting to solve large problems for the first time. Using a problem solving process helps give structure to your problem solving efforts and focus on creating outcomes, rather than worrying about the format.
Tools such as the seven-step problem solving process above are effective because not only do they feature steps that will help a team solve problems, they also develop skills along the way. Each step asks for people to engage with the process using different skills and in doing so, helps the team learn and grow together. Group processes of varying complexity and purpose can also be found in the SessionLab library of facilitation techniques . Using a tried and tested process and really help ease the learning curve for both those leading such a process, as well as those undergoing the purpose.
Effective teams make decisions about where they should and shouldn’t expend additional effort. By using a problem solving process, you can focus on the things that matter, rather than stumbling towards a solution haphazardly.
Create a feedback loop
Some skills gaps are more obvious than others. It’s possible that your perception of your active listening skills differs from those of your colleagues.
It’s valuable to create a system where team members can provide feedback in an ordered and friendly manner so they can all learn from one another. Only by identifying areas of improvement can you then work to improve them.
Remember that feedback systems require oversight and consideration so that they don’t turn into a place to complain about colleagues. Design the system intelligently so that you encourage the creation of learning opportunities, rather than encouraging people to list their pet peeves.
While practice might not make perfect, it does make the problem solving process easier. If you are having trouble with critical thinking, don’t shy away from doing it. Get involved where you can and stretch those muscles as regularly as possible.
Problem solving skills come more naturally to some than to others and that’s okay. Take opportunities to get involved and see where you can practice your skills in situations outside of a workshop context. Try collaborating in other circumstances at work or conduct data analysis on your own projects. You can often develop those skills you need for problem solving simply by doing them. Get involved!
Use expert exercises and methods
Learn from the best. Our library of 700+ facilitation techniques is full of activities and methods that help develop the skills you need to be an effective problem solver. Check out our templates to see how to approach problem solving and other organizational challenges in a structured and intelligent manner.
There is no single approach to improving problem solving skills, but by using the techniques employed by others you can learn from their example and develop processes that have seen proven results.
Try new ways of thinking and change your mindset
Using tried and tested exercises that you know well can help deliver results, but you do run the risk of missing out on the learning opportunities offered by new approaches. As with the problem solving process, changing your mindset can remove blockages and be used to develop your problem solving skills.
Most teams have members with mixed skill sets and specialties. Mix people from different teams and share skills and different points of view. Teach your customer support team how to use design thinking methods or help your developers with conflict resolution techniques. Try switching perspectives with facilitation techniques like Flip It! or by using new problem solving methodologies or models. Give design thinking, liberating structures or lego serious play a try if you want to try a new approach. You will find that framing problems in new ways and using existing skills in new contexts can be hugely useful for personal development and improving your skillset. It’s also a lot of fun to try new things. Give it a go!
Encountering business challenges and needing to find appropriate solutions is not unique to your organization. Lots of very smart people have developed methods, theories and approaches to help develop problem solving skills and create effective solutions. Learn from them!
Books like The Art of Thinking Clearly , Think Smarter, or Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow are great places to start, though it’s also worth looking at blogs related to organizations facing similar problems to yours, or browsing for success stories. Seeing how Dropbox massively increased growth and working backward can help you see the skills or approach you might be lacking to solve that same problem. Learning from others by reading their stories or approaches can be time-consuming but ultimately rewarding.
A tired, distracted mind is not in the best position to learn new skills. It can be tempted to burn the candle at both ends and develop problem solving skills outside of work. Absolutely use your time effectively and take opportunities for self-improvement, though remember that rest is hugely important and that without letting your brain rest, you cannot be at your most effective.
Creating distance between yourself and the problem you might be facing can also be useful. By letting an idea sit, you can find that a better one presents itself or you can develop it further. Take regular breaks when working and create a space for downtime. Remember that working smarter is preferable to working harder and that self-care is important for any effective learning or improvement process.
Want to design better group processes?
Over to you
Now we’ve explored some of the key problem solving skills and the problem solving steps necessary for an effective process, you’re ready to begin developing more effective solutions and leading problem solving workshops.
Need more inspiration? Check out our post on problem solving activities you can use when guiding a group towards a great solution in your next workshop or meeting. Have questions? Did you have a great problem solving technique you use with your team? Get in touch in the comments below. We’d love to chat!
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Facilitation skills can be applied in a variety of contexts, such as meetings, events, or in the classroom. Arguably, the setting in which facilitation skills shine the most is the design and running of workshops. Workshops are dedicated spaces for interaction and learning. They are generally very hands-on, including activities such as simulations or games designed to practice specific skills. Leading workshops is an exciting, rewarding experience! In this piece we will go through some of the essential elements of workshop facilitation: What are workshops? Workshops are a time set aside for a group of people to learn new skills, come up with the best ideas, and solve problems together.…
So, you’ve decided to convene a workshop, a special time set aside to work with a team on a certain topic or project. You are looking for brilliant ideas, new solutions and, of course, great participation. To begin the process that will get you to workshop success, you’ll need three ingredients: participants willing to join, someone to facilitate and guide them through the process (aka, you) and a detailed agenda or schedule of the activities you’ve planned. In this article we will focus on that last point: what makes a good agenda design? Having a good agenda is essential to ensure your workshops are well prepared and you can lead…
What are facilitation skills and how to improve them?
Facilitation skills are the abilities you need in order to master working with a group. In essence, facilitation is about being aware of what happens when people get together to achieve a common goal, and directing their focus and attention in ways that serve the group itself. When we work together at our best, we can achieve a lot more than anything we might attempt alone. Working with others is not always easy: teamwork is fraught with risks and pitfalls, but skilled facilitation can help navigate them with confidence. With the right approach, facilitation can be a workplace superpower. Whatever your position, career path, or life story, you probably have…
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This teacher shortage solution has gone viral. But does it work?
From Hechinger Report
School custodian Jenna Gros is teaching a group of fourth-graders how to convert fractions to decimals.
"How would you write 6/100 in decimal form?" she asks, and then waits patiently for them to come up with the correct answer.
Gros, pronounced "grow," has been a custodian at Wyandotte Elementary School in St. Mary Parish, La., for more than 18 years, and now she's also a teacher in training.
"Everything is about kids and relationships. We don't just do garbage," she says, laughing.
For Gros, helping children learn is a dream come true — and it wouldn't be possible if not for a Grow Your Own program, an alternative pathway to becoming an educator. She's working toward a bachelor's degree in education, and as part of her studies, she has to get 15 hours a week of in-class training, which can include observing a teacher, tutoring students or helping design lessons. Best of all, the fees for her schooling are minimal: $75 a month.
Gros' school principal, Celeste Pipes, is eager for Gros to complete her training. She thinks Gros will be a wonderful teacher, and Pipes has also been struggling to fill teacher positions.
"I remember when I started teaching 20 years ago. I didn't know if I was guaranteed a job," Pipes says. "And in just that short amount of time, we are pulling people literally off the streets to fill spots in a classroom."
6 things to know about U.S. teacher shortages and how to solve them
Across the U.S., many principals face a similar challenge. There are an estimated 55,000 vacant teaching positions in U.S. schools, according to the tracker teachershortages.com . One possible solution has gone viral: Grow Your Own programs. According to researchers, as of the spring of 2022, an estimated 900 U.S. school districts were using these programs to try to ease their teacher shortages.
Grow Your Own programs aim to recruit future teachers from the local community, and state and federal governments have made hundreds of millions of dollars available to pay for them. Michigan has invested more than $175 million in recent years, Tennessee has invested more than $20 million, and Grow Your Own teacher apprenticeship programs now have access to millions of dollars in federal job-training funds through new U.S. Labor Department guidance .
There's just one problem, researchers say: It's unclear whether these programs actually work.
Grow Your Own programs have been celebrated as a catchall solution
"This term, 'Grow Your Own program,' has really caught on fire in the last five years," says Danielle Edwards, an assistant professor of education at Old Dominion University in Virginia.
These programs have been around for decades, but Edwards says they've "exploded" in number in recent years.
Some help people earn bachelor's degrees or complete their teacher certification, while others simply aim to increase interest in the teaching profession. One program may target school employees, like Gros, who don't have college degrees or degrees in education, while another may focus on military veterans , college students or even K-12 students , with some starting as young as middle school .
As teacher shortages loom, one district grows future educators in high school
Grow Your Own programs have been celebrated as a way to ease teacher shortages, increase retention, make degrees more accessible and diversify an overwhelmingly white workforce. But researchers say there isn't much data to show that these programs consistently do any of that.
"We're seeing [Grow Your Own programs] as a silver bullet ... but we just don't know if the programs themselves induced people to become teachers," says Edwards.
"There's very, very little empirical evidence about the effectiveness of these pathways," says Roddy Theobald, deputy director of the Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research.
That hasn't stopped education agencies from going all in. Here's U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona back in January, at an event outlining his priorities: "For the first time, we're putting millions into ensuring Grow Your Own programs [are] developed to bring the talent into the profession. ... We know those programs work, and we're putting money and support behind it."
Why it's hard to know whether these programs work
Part of the problem is Grow Your Own programs can vary widely. One program may involve just a short high school career day presentation, while another gives out scholarships to traditional teacher training schools and yet another offers apprenticeship programs that are completely free. Some are in person, while others are online or hybrid. Some are run by universities; others are run by independent nonprofits.
"States and districts use 'Grow Your Own' to mean wildly different things in wildly different settings," Theobald says. That makes it hard to measure their effectiveness.
Theobald says another challenge is that Grow Your Own programs rarely target the specific needs of schools. Some states, for example, have staffing shortages only in, say, special education or STEM fields, and local programs may not be graduating teachers in those areas, leading to a "misalignment."
"Sometimes they result in even more teachers to teach courses that the state doesn't actually need."
And finally, Edwards says we don't know whether Grow Your Own programs translate into more teacher diversity — a big priority given that public school students are mostly children of color, while teachers are mostly white.
Yet the U.S. Department of Education continues to invest in and promote these programs. When NPR asked the department to comment on the lack of evidence, the department cited research — from New America , the Learning Policy Institute and the department's own Institute of Education Sciences — that outlines examples of higher retention rates, improved teacher diversity and better student outcomes connected to Grow Your Own programs.
But Edwards says those studies don't provide direct evidence of the effectiveness of Grow Your Own programs. Some, for example, don't include information on dropout rates for teachers in training. Some programs in the studies recruit teachers more broadly (most recruit college graduates) and aren't focused just on members of the local community, the hallmark of Grow Your Own programs. And none of the studies cited provides a counterfactual, which means we don't know whether these individuals would have become teachers in the absence of a Grow Your Own program. The programs may be selecting individuals who would have become teachers anyway, Edwards says.
It also isn't clear whether these teachers are more effective. Edwards believes much more research is needed, given the high "interest and investment."
"We want to know whether teachers who participate in Grow Your Own programs have higher contributions to student test scores, whether they have higher contributions to the likelihood of kids graduating high school, whether [the students] graduate college and their income when they become adults."
Research always lags behind
David Donaldson says it's too soon to write off these programs. He founded the National Center for Grow Your Own nonprofit and worked on the issue while he was at the Tennessee Department of Education.
He agrees that there is no shared definition of Grow Your Own programs and that this makes it tricky to measure their effectiveness. "These are not apples-to-apples comparisons," he says.
Being a new teacher is hard. Having a good mentor can help
But he says research always lags behind practice. "Any time you're trying something new, there isn't going to be research. There isn't going to be evaluation."
And Donaldson believes these programs can do a lot to increase teacher diversity, in terms of both race and class, by removing financial barriers and expanding the pool of potential educators who have long been overlooked. He cites his own mother as an example of the untapped potential within school communities: "My mom was my school cafeteria worker, but she also taught Sunday school and vacation Bible school for over two decades. She could not afford to go to college to become a teacher."
This was also true for Towanna Edwards, 47, who lives in rural eastern Arkansas. She has been trying for years to become a teacher, but she never managed to finish her training because life got in the way.
"I'm a single mother with three children, two grandchildren. And I have two jobs as well," she says. She works as a secretary for an education nonprofit and also at an after-school program.
Edwards was able to restart teacher training in 2021 when she found a Grow Your Own program that was low cost and offered online classes during the evenings and weekends. "That is the very first reason I joined, absolutely. [It was] affordable," she says. The other reason was that it worked well with her schedule.
These stories show how Grow Your Own programs can help get more people to consider becoming educators, Donaldson says. "It allows us to have a different conversation about who gets to become a teacher and how they are prepared. That's the power of Grow Your Own."
A school custodian feels the power of Grow Your Own
Efforts are underway to start gathering data that might answer the questions that Danielle Edwards and other researchers are raising. But in the meantime, schools have immediate needs.
And custodian Jenna Gros, at Wyandotte Elementary, is eager to help. As she walks the school hallways, sweeping, spraying and shelving, she stops constantly to wave at children who shout out, "Miss Jenna!"
Gros says she wouldn't have become a teacher if not for her Grow Your Own program. She makes $22,000 a year as a janitor. After she graduates, debt free, in 2024, her salary will more than double.
Best of all, she expects to get a teaching job at this same elementary school, which means she can keep her accrued benefits as a district employee.
Gros loves how a teacher can shape a child's future for the better. "That's what a teacher is — a nurturer trying to provide them with the resources that they are going to need for later on in life. I think I can be that person," she says, and then pauses. "I know I can."
This story was produced in collaboration with The Hechinger Report , a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education.
Edited by Nicole Cohen Visual design and development by LA Johnson Audio story produced by Lauren Migaki
Think Twice Before Using Bug Bombs To Solve Your Cockroach Problem
Posted: October 30, 2023 | Last updated: October 30, 2023
Bug bombs or foggers may seem like an easy way to get rid of unwanted roaches , but they likely won't be effective and could cause more harm than good. These pesticide bombs contain dangerous chemicals, and because of the way foggers work, the flooring, counters, furniture, and objects in your home will be covered in the toxic materials. Once a bug bomb has been activated, you'll have to leave the area for at least several hours or risk breathing in the pesticides. If inhaled, bug bombs can cause nausea, problems breathing, and dizziness, according to the Washington State Department of Health . The chemicals in roach bombs may also be troublesome for those with asthma.
Cockroaches are masters of hiding and making their nests in hard-to-reach places, and the pesticides inside foggers are often not able to get into these tight spots. "Bug bombs are not killing cockroaches," Zachary DeVries, a researcher who published a 2019 study on the efficacy of bug bombs on cockroaches in BMC Public Health , explained to North Carolina State University News . "[T]hey're putting pesticides in places where the cockroaches aren't; they're not putting pesticides in places where cockroaches are, and they're increasing pesticide levels in the home," DeVries said. "In a cost-benefit analysis, you're getting all costs and no benefits."
Read more: 8 Best Ways To Get Rid Of Bed Bugs
How Dangerous Are Bug Bombs?
Not only are foggers unable to reach cockroaches in those tight spaces, but they "actually push the majority of them further into their safer hiding places," as noted by Native Pest Management , which will only exasperate the issue. Besides being ineffective in eliminating an infestation, bug bombs can be harmful to the health of your family and pets.
According to an article in HHS Public Access , children are more likely to be harmed by the residual chemicals because they put objects in their mouths and spend time on the floor, where the pesticides have settled. In fact, according to the review, infants and children "will get a larger dose per unit size of chemicals they are exposed to in their environment" when compared to adults because of their small size.
The chemicals in these pest control devices are also highly flammable. An active pilot light on a stove or water heater combined with pesticides could cause an explosion in your home. Although bug bombs are not helpful in eliminating a roach problem altogether, many people reach for them in a desperate attempt to, at the very least, temporarily fix a pest problem. If you do decide to use a fogger, make sure you keep animals out of the house, remove all toys and uncovered food from the area, and closely follow the safety directions on the label.
Better Alternatives For Exterminating Cockroaches
Ridding your home of cockroaches can be extremely tough, and if you've been dealing with a serious infestation, it's best to call a professional pest control agency. One simple way to start eliminating cockroaches from your home is to cut off access to food and water.
Making sure there are no crumbs or grease splatters on your kitchen counters can encourage these pests to leave, and because roaches love to hide, getting rid of clutter around the house will cut down on places for these insects to comfortably nest.
If you notice any cracks in exterior walls or small openings near windows where cockroaches could sneak inside, you'll need to seal them with caulk. Gel bait can be great for starting to curb the infestation if other methods don't seem to be working. According to the 2019 BMC Public Health study, gel baits are similar in price to foggers but far more effective and less dangerous.
Read the original article on House Digest .
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‘Dim-witted’ pigeons use the same principles as AI to solve tasks
Study shows power of associative learning in challenging situations.
A new study provides evidence that pigeons tackle some problems just as artificial intelligence would – allowing them to solve difficult tasks that would vex humans.
Previous research had shown pigeons learned how to solve complex categorization tasks that human ways of thinking – like selective attention and explicit rule use – would not be useful in solving.
Researchers had theorized that pigeons used a “brute force” method of solving problems that is similar to what is used in AI models, said Brandon Turner , lead author of the new study and professor of psychology at The Ohio State University .
But this study may have proven it: Turner and a colleague tested a simple AI model to see if it could solve the problems in the way they thought pigeons did – and it worked.
“Our findings suggest that in the pigeon, nature may have found a way to make an incredibly efficient learner that has no ability to generalize or extrapolate like humans would.”
Turner conducted the study with Edward Wasserman, a professor of psychology at the University of Iowa. Their results were published recently in the journal iScience .
In the study, pigeons were shown a stimulus, which could include lines of various widths and angles, concentric rings and sectioned rings. They had to peck a button on the right or left to indicate to which category it belonged to. If they got it correct, they received a food pellet – if they were wrong, they received nothing.
There were four different tasks in the study, some harder than the others. Results showed that, through trial and error, the pigeons improved their ability to make the correct choices in one of the easier experiments from about 55% to 95% of the time. Even in a more difficult scenario, their correct responses improved from 55% to 68%.
Researchers believed the pigeons used what is called associative learning, which is linking two phenomena with each other. For example, it is easy to understand the link between “water” and “wet.” People teach their dogs to link sitting when they are commanded with receiving a treat.
But those associations are relatively easy.
“Associative learning is frequently presumed to be far too primitive and rigid to explain complex visual categorization like what we saw the pigeons do,” Turner said.
But that’s exactly what the researchers found.
The researchers’ AI model tackled the same tasks using just the two simple mechanisms that pigeons were presumed to use: associative learning and error correction. And, like the pigeons, the AI model learned to make the right predictions to significantly increase the number of correct answers.
For humans, the challenge when given tasks like those given to pigeons is that they would try to come up with a rule or rules that could make the task easier.
“But in this case, there were no rules that could help make this any easier. That really frustrates humans and they often give up on tasks like this,” he said.
“Pigeons don’t try to make rules. They just use this brute force way of trial and error and associative learning and in some specific types of tasks that helps them perform better than humans.”
What’s interesting, though, is that pigeons use this method of learning that is very similar to AI designed by humans, Turner said.
“We celebrate how smart we are that we designed artificial intelligence, at the same time we disparage pigeons as dim-witted animals,” he said.
“But the learning principles that guide the behaviors of these AI machines are pretty similar to what pigeons use.”
The research was supported by the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health .
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