From the first caveman to use a stone tool, problem solving has been part of the human experience. Our creative nature makes problem solving both enjoyable and necessary. No matter what career path you find yourself on, problems are bound to require solving. Sometimes problems seem daunting, confusing, or even unsolvable. However, when you break the problem down using problem solving techniques, you will find it must easier to tackle the problem.

Problem solving involves four basic steps:

Defining the Problem. It may sound obvious, but of course you can't solve a problem without defining it first! It is crucial to fully study the problem, so that you understand all of its aspects. Only with this understanding will you be able to generate an effective, comprehensive solution. Some tools and techniques for defining problems include root cause analysis, cause and effect diagrams, and systems diagrams.

Finding Alternatives. As you search for a solution to your problem, be sure to include all possible options. Be creative, and don't limit yourself by predefining characteristics that the solution must have. Don't rule anything out until you've analyzed it. It may turn out that you can combine different aspects of various solutions in order to create the one perfect solution that best meets your needs and solves the problem. Possible techniques include brainstorming, star bursting, and metaphorical thinking. If you are working in a group, take advantage of that fact by doing group brainstorming and bouncing ideas off one another.

Evaluating Options. If you're lucky, you will end up with several possible solutions to your problem. In order to choose between them, you will need to find some method of evaluating their strengths and weaknesses. Possible methods include pro and con lists, risk analysis, and impact analysis. If finances are a concern, you will also need to consider cost/benefit analysis, cash flow forecasting, and break-even analysis. You will also need to consider your (or your company's) value system. Even if a certain solution makes perfect sense financially, if it does not jibe with your value system it is not an acceptable solution.

Implementing Solutions. Once you have chosen a solution, you need to figure out how to implement it. Depending on the complexity of the solution, you may need to consult with multiple parties or individuals in order to produce a plan for implementation. If the solution is controversial, you will need to get support for it before implementation. Ways of getting support include using stakeholder analysis and influence maps to discover who the key players in the implementation project will be. Once these individuals are identified, you can begin working with them to plan and endorse the project.

Even after the solution is in place and the problem is solved, you will need to evaluate it and make sure it is successful. You can do this by testing it and listening carefully to feedback from users.

Most of these problem solving steps are intuitive. With small problems, you probably go through all of these steps without even realizing it. However, if your problem is larger or involves a whole bunch of other people, you would do well to use these techniques.

Author's Bio: 

Jill Magso is a member of the Silva Team and contributes to spreading enlightened ideas and sharing teachings about meditation practices. The Silva Method encompasses a variety of powerful exercises that take you deep into Alpha and Theta levels of the mind so that you can work within your subconscious as well as your conscious mind.
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