Problem Solving 101

There are four steps in the creative problem solving process. Any professional can use the process outlined below to problem solve better and faster.

  1. Preparation
  2. Incubation
  3. Illumination
  4. Verification/Implementation

Anatomy of a Problem Solving Process

Stage I: Preparation (Research/Gather ideas)

  1. Describe a challenge or problem that you’re having. Writing down the problem makes it more concrete for you. Make sure that your problem statement is not too broadly or narrowly defined
  2. Develop a set of decision criteria to judge the quality of the solutions
  3. Describe the root causes (not symptoms) of the problem or challenge. Uncover the facts surrounding the problem
  4. Who do you know that has experienced a similar problem? If you know someone:
    1. How did they resolve the problem?
    2. Would that solution work for you?
  5. Collect all the information that you can find relating to possible solutions
    1. Look for case studies in your industry and unrelated industries
    2. Conduct research on the internet
    3. Interview subject matter experts
    4. Brainstorm with colleagues
    5. Conduct focus group interviews
  6. Read all the information gathered and synthesize them
  7. Extract all the relevant information by distilling the facts pertinent to your problem
  8. Formulate options and test alternatives

Stage II: Incubation (Lay the issue aside for a period of time)

  1. Mull it over
  2. Take a break, or work on another project
  3. Let all the information sit for a while

Stage III: Illumination (The moment when the new solution (idea) emerges)

  1. You have an aha moment
  2. You see the problem in a completely different light
  3. Or a solution (s) comes to you
  4. You now have an opening to develop a strategy to resolve your problem

Stage IV: Verification/Implementation (Test out the idea then apply it)

  1. Test the idea to see if it’s a workable solution to your problem
  2. Use the criteria you developed in Stage I to judge the quality of the solution
  3. Refine the idea if you have to
  4. Implement the solution
  5. Evaluate the solution
  6. If you find that the solution doesn’t work, go through the process again

Reverse Problem Solving

There are times when you have a specific outcome or end result for a problem. In such instances, you have to reverse the problem solving process, that is, work backwards methodically and fill in the missing information.

To reverse problem solve, there are six steps:

  1. Define the problem
    1. What are the knowns?
    2. What are the unknowns?
  2. What is the end result (goal)?
  3. Develop a strategy to achieve the goal (solve the problem)
  4. What are the necessary steps to achieve the goal?
  5. Solve the problem using the steps identified to achieve the goals
  6. Does the solution make sense? Is it the best solution? Check the solution by working forwards

Even though you are working backwards to solve the problem, it is still important to understand the regular problem solving process, especially if you have to gather information to develop the strategy and identify the steps to achieve the end result.

The problem solving process outlined is solid and has been used successfully for decades. The entire process can take hours or it can take months depending on the complexity of the problem.

Author's Bio: 

Avil Beckford, Chief Invisible Mentor, writer and researcher with over 15 years of experience is the published author of Tales of People Who Get It and its companion workbook Journey to Getting It. Subscribe to the Invisible Mentor Blog for great information to ignite your hidden genius, and explore the Resources page for free white papers and an e-book.