Definition of Problem Solving
6 key points
6 key points
A working definition of problem solving can help clarify what constitutes a problem. Perhaps an obvious place to start is to recognise that a problem must be “problematic”, if a solution is clear then you don’t have a problem to solve, you have a decision to make!
It’s relatively easy to find straightforward definitions of problem solving. Perhaps something like this, from the Cambridge Dictionary:
the process of finding solutions to problems
However if you actually need to solve problems, it’s far more useful to think a little deeper. Here are six factors which will help you go beyond simple definitions. Think of problem solving as:
What may be most surprising about this extended definition is the idea that problems should be regarded as opportunities. The very word “problem” tends to be viewed with purely negative connotations, implying that something is just, well… wrong.
However, a more positive mindset can often reveal the potential for improvement in problems, that they are really opportunities in disguise. Opportunities to make something better or do something better, or perhaps help someone to become better.
For example, common problems can be found in all areas of our work, such as:
All of these can be seen as problems but could equally be regarded as opportunities. How? Well, perhaps it’s not enough just to define problem solving. It’s just as important to think about what problem solving really means, and to reflect on our attitude towards ‘problems’. Seeing problems as opportunities starts to change how we define a problem.
To further illustrate this point it’s worth contrasting problem solving with a definition of decision making. They both have similarities, and of course you must have decision making as part of a problem solving process. However, decisions tend to be about making choices from alternatives that look forward, prompting action. Whereas a problem solving process, certainly in its early steps, tends to focus our attention on the past. We ask ourselves what has happened in order to understand what is happening. There is nothing wrong with thinking about what’s wrong, but we mustn’t let it frame or dominate our attitude.
The words we use to create definitions of problem solving matter, especially when they help us to recognise problems are really opportunities.
Go back to our problem solving Knowledge Hub for more articles and problem solving tips. You’ll find a detailed process with links to tools to help you solve problems in: Seven Step Problem Solving Process or if you are short of time, the essential steps are in: 7 problem solving steps.
To help you think differently we’ve developed an e-guide packed with problem solving exercises. “What’s the problem” is designed to help you find the right problems then take steps to address them.
What’s the Problem is a comprehensive guide to problem solving, complete with these 9 essential tools:
I think you’re a genius in problem solving 🙂