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Try These Problem Solving Skills

Developing a few good skills can make you a more effective and creative problem solver. Knowing how to use visualization and direct your attention are two of the best. Take a look at the following examples of how to use these problem solving skills, and how to develop them further.


We can't all visualize things easily. Many of us do our mental work more with words than images. However, anyone can get better at visualization with a little practice. The payoff? More creative and sometimes quicker solutions to problems of all sorts.

For example, suppose you operate a gas station. You visualize a customer coming into your lot and pulling up to the pump. You get inside the customer's head and try to see things as he or she does. But in your mind, your nice vision of him pulling up to get gas is intruded on by another car that is in his way. Perhaps you need more gas pumps, or a better design for incoming traffic flow? Could that help increase sales? Perhaps.

You want to visualize as clearly as you can for maximum effectiveness. Clarity and detail lets your unconscious mind play with the images. Then it can suggest solutions, or point out things you haven't yet noticed consciously. There's always much thinking going on below consciousness, and this is a way to access that.

Another example: Suppose you live in a too-tiny crowded apartment. You put your problem solving skills to work by visualizing your apartment, and seeing yourself being hemmed in by the stuff there. You play with the image, and imagine the apartment empty. It doesn't seem so tiny. You get the idea that owning fewer things could be a partial solution. More efficient storage in the closets might also open up some space in the room(s).

At some point in your visualization you feel too enclosed in your crowded apartment, and you see yourself leaving, perhaps going up to the flat roof. This starts you thinking about what it means to "live" in an apartment. Just use it for eating and sleeping, and carry a few essentials with you always, and you can "live" in the small space only part-time, while spending more time in open spaces, whether roofs, parks, or cafes.

Visualization is also a way of directing of your attention, and knowing how to direct your attention is another powerful problem solving skill.

Directing Attention

I think people are essentially decent to each other. But when I pointed this out to a friend, he argued that people are essentially rude. Who is correct? Perhaps "decent" and "rude" can't be defined with enough preciseness to study the issue scientifically, but the more important question is why we differ so much in our views.

The answer to this is simple. I look around for examples of decency, and so I find them - and probably miss seeing many examples of rude behavior. My friend habitually directs his attention to people's rudeness, and is certainly not noticing many of the real examples of decent people. How we direct our attention dramatically affects what we see and believe.

To use this as one of your problem solving skills, you just need to direct your attention to possible solutions. Let's look at a simple problem: backpacker's tents get too hot in the sun. A tent designer working on this problem might start to think about cooling, and look for examples of it. He's directing his attention, so his unconscious mind will look for anything inside his mind or outside that is relevant.

He sees an air conditioning unit, but the machinery isn't practical for carrying around. He starts getting cool as he walks in the shade, and becomes aware of this because his attention is directed to notice anything like this. He realizes that a tent pitched in the shade will be cooler. It isn't a new idea, and not always practical, but then he wonders if a lightweight tarp would shade the tent as well as a tree.

His drink spills on his arm and he notices the evaporative cooling effect. It reminds him of something he once read in a book. Before refrigeration people put food in a box covered with a wet cloth, and the evaporation kept the interior of the box as much as fifteen degrees cooler than the outside air. The same process might work if a thin cloth were draped over a tent and kept wet. A new product?

We've all had experiences of seeing more of whatever we direct our attention to. In fact, start looking for red cars, and you'll suddenly realize there are more than you thought. But to use this to solve problems, be careful to direct your attention to possible solutions - not more problems. For example, focusing on the reasons you can't start a business would only make matters worse. It would be better to start looking at all the ways in which others have started businesses.

Fortunately, it is simple to develop these creative skills. Using visualization and directing one's attention are skills you already have after all. You need only use them repeatedly to develop them further.

Want to develop those problem solving skills?

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