Three Problem Solving Strategies
A strategy is a general "plan of attack." There
are perhaps hundreds of specific techniques for solving problems,
but relatively few basic strategies for putting those techniques
to work. Here are three good problem solving strategies to try.
Problem Solving Triage
Medical emergency personal use triage as a strategy to decide
which patients get their attention. They ask, "Who here
will die regardless of treatment?" "Who will survive
regardless of treatment?" and "Who will survive only
if they get treatment?" The latter are treated first, of
In the numerous problems of life and business, the important
triage questions are:
1. Which parts of the problem are unlikely to have solutions
of any value?
2. Which parts of the problem aren't too serious and can wait?
3. Which parts of the problem are likely to yield the most valuable
outcome if solved?
To use this problem solving strategy then, you have to break
a problem into it's components and work on those in the third
category first. Only once these are solved do you work on those
in the second. The parts that seem unsolvable can be given another
look after these others.
For example, if your problem is disorganization in your office,
the smaller problems of which it is composed might include, "too
messy," "not enough space, " "not enough
time," "hard to find things," and "too many
projects." That last one may be unresolvable for the moment
(category 1), so you ignore it for now. A mess may not be a big
problem of itself (category 2), so you start with the problem
with the most biggest payback: "not enough time." Procedures
and habits which free up time mean getting more work done, and
having more time to work on the other components of the problem.
Use a Group of People
Some problems just aren't very likely to get solved on your
own. In these cases, you may need to use a group of people. This
can be in the form of brainstorming initially, to get more ideas.
Then you can assign various parts of the problem to individuals.
For example, if your problem is "finding new ways to
raise funds for your environmental group," you might have
one person research and list all the various ways that non-profit
organizations raise money. Another person can look at various
business strategies that might be used. A third person could
look at what your group has done in the past, to see which methods
Systematically Use Many Techniques
This may be the easiest of these problem solving strategies.
You just systematically apply ten or so of your favorite techniques
to the problem. Make a list of those that have worked best for
you, and then use each one to get as many ideas as you can. Later
you can sort through them to see which are most usable.
Suppose, for example, your problem is "designing a better
car." Use the first problem solving technique on your list.
It might be the "assumption challenging," which involves
challenging all assumptions, like the one that a car needs tires.
Then you move to the next technique, which might be "changing
perspective." By the time you work through ten techniques,
you'll have a lot of potential solutions and ideas. This may
also be the most fun strategy.