Your problem solving strategies determine how effectively you deal with everything from creating new ideas to solving the routine problems of life and business. There are many specific techniques for solving problems, but a good strategy is a more general “plan of attack” that makes it all work. Here are three.
The Problem Solving Triage Strategy
Emergency personal use triage as a strategy to decide which patients to attend to first. The questions that determine this are, “Who’ll die regardless of treatment?” “Who’ll survive without immediate treatment?” and “Who’ll survive only if they get treatment soon?” Of course, the latter are treated first.
In general problem solving, the important triage questions are:
1. In this problem, which parts are unlikely to have any solutions of value?
2. In this problem, which parts aren’t too serious?
3. In this problem, which parts can be most profitably solved?
This problem solving strategy starts then, by breaking a problem into it’s components and first working on those in the third category. Then you work on those in the second. Unsolvable parts of the problem can be given another look later.
An example: Suppose 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 tasks.” That latter may be unresolvable for the moment (category 1), so you ignore it. Messiness may not be a big problem by itself (category 2), so you start with the problem with the most biggest potential payback: “not enough time.” New habits and procedures which free up time mean getting more work done, and having more time to work on the other parts of the problem.
A Group Strategy
Many problems just are too much for one person to solve. You may need to use a group of people to help. They might brainstorm initially, to get more ideas. Later you can assign various parts of the problem to individuals of the group.
Suppose your problem is “finding new ways to raise money for your environmental group.” You could have one person research and list all the various ways that non-profit organizations raise funds. One person could look at various business strategies that might be used in some way. A third member of the group might look at what you have done in the past, to see which methods worked before.
Using Problem Solving Techniques Systematically
One of the simplest problem solving strategies is to just systematically apply ten or so of your favorite techniques. Create a list of those that have worked best for you, and use each one to get as many ideas as you can. After this creative process is finished, you can sort through the possible solutions to see which are most likely to work.
For example, if you need to design a better car, you start with the first problem solving technique on your list, which could be “assumption challenging.” This involves challenging all assumptions, like the one that a car needs tires or doors. The next technique might be “changing perspective,” so you try that one for a while. Work through ten techniques, and you’ll have a lot of ideas and potential solutions, making this perhaps the most fun of these problem solving strategies.