Problem Solving

 by Brad Bell

Problem solving is an important topic in psychology that is relevant to everyday life.   What is problem solving?   Below is one problem solving definition:

Problem solving can be defined as the process of finding solutions to problems. 

Problems can vary from being relatively simple (e.g., finding one’s keys), to complex problems that may involve goals that may take a significant amount of time to achieve (e.g., finding a new job).

There may not be any solutions that are applicable to all problems.  Nonetheless, there may be some general problem-solving strategies that are relevant to many problems.  In this article, I will present three basic strategies: developing subgoals, redefinng the problem, and thinking in a creative manner.

Developing Subgoals

What is a subgoal?  A subgoal is simply a more specific goal that is part of the more general goal that one wishes to achieve.  Developing subgoals may be helpful because it may make the problem seem more manageable.   Also, striving to achieve one subgoal may facilitate the achievement of another subgoal.

 Here is one example.  Imaging that you are having writer’s block and you cannot seem to get started writing your novel.  You could develop subgoals in writing the novel.  These subgoals could involve certain elements of the novel.  The elements of the novel, which can be viewed as subgoals, may include the themes, dialogue, plot, and characters.  If you are having trouble with the plot, you could start with thinking of themes or developing the personalities of the characters.  The themes may help you to develop a coherent plot consistent with the themes.  Moreover, after you have a clear idea of the personalities of the characters, you may be able to develop clearer ideas about the plot by imagining how the characters would act in certain situations.  If you are having trouble with the dialogue, you may wish to start with creating the personalities of the characters. This may help by imagining what the characters would say in certain situations.

Redefining the Problem

 It is important to consider how one has defined the problem.  This could influence what solutions would be applied to the problem, and whether the problem is fully addressed.  Perhaps the problem is too narrowly conceptualized, and it may be a broader problem than one had imagined.

 Here is an example.  Imagine that a person has become unemployed and is considering a change in a career.  The person may define the problem as finding a job consistent with his or her values, interests, and ablilities.  However, the person may have some difficulty finding an ideal job.  There may be ways in the advertised jobs are not compatible with some of the person’s certain central values, do not involve a full utilization of the person’s talents, or only involve some of the person’s interests.  A possible solution to this problem is to redefine the problem.  The problem could be defined as finding a job or developing a business consistent with the person’s values, interests, and ablility.  It is possible that the person may develop an idea for a business that would be more consistent with his or her values, abilities, and interests than any of the advertised jobs.

Thinking in a Creative Manner

 Thinking in a creative manner may help to solve some problems.  For example, imagine that you wish to write a nonfiction book that will be accepted by a publisher.   You will be writing a book on a topic in which there are other books on the same topic.  You could consider how your proposed book may be different from other books on the same topic.  Perhaps you could present a new thesis in the book, organize the ideas in the book in a unique way, or include information in the book that is not included in other books.