Problem Solving JC Clapp, English 101 North Seattle Community College

Problem Solving
JC Clapp, English 101
North Seattle Community College
All info here heavily borrowed from:
Stages of Problem Solving
Steps to
Identifying the Problem
• Objective = something we
have decided we need to
• Obstacle = anything that
prevents us from achieving
our objective.
Objective + Obstacle
What’s your Problem?
Objective + Obstacle = Problem
• Think about your life (work, school, family,
community, etc.) and write down a list of all of
your frustrations or complaints. What
problems do you face?
• Under each frustration or complaint you list,
write down the objective and the obstacle
that work together to make it a problem.
Steps to
Defining the Problems
by Collecting Information
To deal with a problem effectively , describe it as
something you can act upon – collect information about
the situation. You can . . .
• identify a tangible target or outcome
• reduce complex problems to a series of smaller
• explain the problem to others who can help in its
• decide the type of information you require
• define criteria for measuring the potential
effectiveness of various solutions.
Go through the list of problems you have written, and
choose one to define in more depth. Write down the
causes and definitions of the problems.
Steps to
Causes of the Problem
What caused the problem? You can’t solve a
problem that you don’t thoroughly understand,
so brainstorm with your peers and then write
down what all of the various causes are to your
Steps to
Identifying Possible Solutions
A few ways to start coming up with ideas for
solutions are . . .
• Free-association
• Day-dreaming
• Discussion
• Research
Talk with your peers and then write down every
single solution you can think of (no matter how
crazy it may sound) – get creative!
Blocks to Solving Problems
A block is anything which prevents you from
finding an effective solution to a problem. They
are . . .
– perceptual
– emotional
– intellectual
– expressive
– environmental
– cultural
Perceptual Blocks
• Seeing only what you expect to see
• Stereotyping For example, if someone isn't working hard we
may see the person as lazy and overlook the possibility that
boredom with monotonous work is the problem.
• Not seeing the problem in perspective Taking too narrow a
view of the situation and failing to recognize how different
parts of the problem are related
• Mistaking cause and effect Many problems are recognized by
their effects or the absence of expected results. If cause and
effect are confused then we are unlikely to find an effective
Overcoming Perceptual Blocks
• defining and analyzing problems adequately
• collecting all the relevant information
• questioning your assumptions about what is
and isn't relevant
• asking for other people's points of view
Take a minute and look at your list of problems
and potential solutions. Are perceptual blocks
in your way?
Emotional Blocks
• Fear of making mistakes or looking foolish
• Impatience We tend to grab the first solution which comes
along, without adequate analysis of the problem
• Avoiding anxiety We tend to avoid risks, struggle with
situations which are not 'black and white', and avoid
challenging the status quo.
• Need for order. It can lead to an inability to cope with the
frustration of situations which are not clear cut or where
ambiguities exist.
• Lack of challenge This may arise when the problem is routine
or the benefits/losses don’t matter to us. The result is that
either we don't tackle the problem or we take the easiest,
quickest route to solution.
Overcoming Emotional Blocks
• accept that if you are looking for new, better ways of doing
something, some mistakes are almost inevitable
• remember that many great thinkers have been ridiculed for what
turned out to be great inventions
• if you still fear looking foolish, try to develop your ideas into a
practical form before you show them to anyone
• following a strictly methodical approach will automatically curb
• to avoid anxiety, tackle problems in small, easily manageable steps
• if you don't want to take risks, identify the worst possible
consequences, and how likely they are to occur, and then try to find
ways of preventing them
Are emotional blocks in your way?
Intellectual Blocks
• Lack of knowledge or skill in the problem solving process
• Lack of creative thinking
• Inflexible thinking This is a difficulty in switching from analysis
to idea generation or from verbal to visual thinking.
• Not being methodical
• Lack of knowledge or skill in using the 'Language' of the
problem If a problem involves a language that we cannot
understand or cannot use, such as specialist jargon or
statistical analysis, we will not be able to tackle the problem
• Using inadequate information
Overcoming Intellectual Blocks
To overcome the intellectual blocks:
• learn to be methodical
• practice using different types of
“language” to tackle problems –
get help, if needed
• practice using various analytical
and creative techniques
Are intellectual blocks in your way?
Expressive Blocks
• Using the wrong language
• Unfamiliarity with a particular application of a language For example,
many people have difficulty making a speech, even though they can write
their ideas effectively on paper.
• Inadequate explanations These can result from a real lack of information
about what you are trying to convey, or from assuming that your audience
already has some of the information when, they don't.
• A passive style A situation where we are reluctant to exert influence may
prevent us communicating our ideas effectively.
• A dominant style This is when we exert oppressive control, either
deliberately or unconsciously, and can make those we are communicating
with automatically reluctant to accept what we say.
Overcoming Expressive Blocks
Overcoming these blocks involves learning to
• identify which language is most likely to help you solve a
particular problem and then using them in different ways,
for example, use diagrams to represent problems normally
described verbally
• ensure that when you explain ideas you have all the
relevant information, it is accurate, and that you convey it
all clearly
• develop a style which is not too forceful (so that people are
more willing to listen to you) and not too passive (so that
you learn how to influence people); showing enthusiasm
for your ideas can help by infecting others with enthusiasm.
Are expressive blocks in your way?
Environmental Blocks
• Oppressive interactions If our ideas are dismissed constantly
with comments such as 'No, it wouldn't work because ...',we
soon give up trying.
• Distractions Excessive noise and interruptions are detrimental
• Physical discomfort
• Lack of support
• Stress
• Lack of communication
• Monotonous work
• Expectations of others
Overcoming Environmental Blocks
• if there is a climate of criticism, develop the strengths
of your ideas before you propose to help avoid
premature criticism
• conduct your problem solving in an environment which
suits you, ie comfortable and free of distractions likely
to hinder you
• if you feel people may not provide the help needed, try
to identify the benefits to them in solving the problem
• set aside a time when you are alone to tackle the
Are environmental blocks in your way?
Cultural Blocks
• Unquestioning acceptance of the status quo
• Dislike of change
• Belief that fantasy and humor are not
• Assumptions that feelings, intuition and
subjective judgments are unreliable
• Over-emphasis on competition or
• Taboos
Overcoming Cultural Blocks
• critically question existing ideas
• identify constraints and question their validity
• if you dislike change, ask yourself what would be the consequences of taking a
new approach.
• if you think fantasy and humor have no place in problem solving, practice using
your day dreams to develop your ideas; next time someone cracks a joke about
a situation, think about what new perspectives it creates
• if you think intuition is unreliable, think back over recent problems you have
solved; did that first hunch turn out to be part of the final solution?
• if you are in a competitive environment, explain your ideas to people
competing with you and emphasize the likely benefits to them
Are cultural blocks in your way?
Steps to
Six Steps to Evaluating Solutions
1. Define the “ideal” solution – avoid blocks!
2. Eliminate unviable solutions (those which
do not meet the constraints)
3. Evaluate the remaining solutions against
the results required
4. Assess the risks associated with the “best”
solution and, if acceptable . . .
5. Make the decision – write down the
solution you will pursue
Steps to
Once you have decided on a solution to a particular
problem you may need to obtain other people's
cooperation, approval or authority in order to
implement it. It is important though that you:
• understand the reasons why people may oppose
and possibly reject your solution
• prepare a presentation which optimizes the
chances of your solution being accepted
• deliver your presentation effectively
Write down how you plan to implement your
Understanding your Audience
To present your solution persuasively you need to know how
the people involved are likely to react to it. The first step is to
list the attributes of the problem and your solution which
affect other people. The following questions will help you to
explore some of the major factors:
• Who does the problem affect?
• What adverse effects are they experiencing?
• Which of these adverse effects does the solution remove?
• Does the solution call for major changes, and who will be
affected most?
• Does the solution have adverse side-effects, and for whom?
• Is the solution unusual, and in what ways?
Write down who your audience is and their views
Your Audience’s Needs
How are people likely to react to the solution?
• Do any aspects of the problem or its solution have special significance for them?
• does it infringe on their area of operation or detract from their authority; does it
compete with their needs for resources?
• In what way will they want the situation to change when the problem is solved, and
does the solution achieve this?
• Will they gain or lose with this solution, how and by how much?
• Will they want to achieve or gain something for themselves or others through this
• Do they hold particularly strong views on any aspect of the problem or its solution?
• Do they have stereotyped views?
• What is their personal opinion of me?
• Are our views of the situation likely to coincide or differ, by how much, and in what
Write down the answers to the above questions – consider your audience carefully
Choosing a Presentation Form
Consider the needs of your audience, and
determine what form your presentation should
take. Some possibilities include:
• A letter, email or personal correspondence
• An oral presentation
• A formal proposal/report
Write down what form you
feel is best for your proposal
Collect your Materials
• Do whatever research you need to do
• Understand the formatting requirements of
the form you’ve chosen to use for your
• Solicit allies – are there people who can help?
Write down what research you need to do to get
Steps to
Write your Draft
No matter what form your proposal takes, the
draft will likely be structured like this:
1. Explain the Problem: Convince your audience
the problem exists and that they should care
2. Provide a solution to the problem
3. Convince your audience the solution solves
the problem and that it’s affordable,
reasonable, doable, and effective
Revise your Draft
Persuading people to accept your solution involves giving
them reason to accept it rather than oppose it. This is
achieved in a variety of ways, so make sure you . . .
• Anticipate opposition
• Be prepared to listen to objections
• Get them involved
• Get them interested
• Demonstrate the importance of the problem
• Appeal to their self-Interest
• Justify the resources you want to use
• Explain your solution effectively
• Show enthusiasm for your solution
• Be flexible
• Be prepared to make concessions
Polish your Draft
• Seek feedback and listen to suggestions for
• Revise as necessary
• Seek more feedback
• Revise more
• Edit and proofread very carefully – it should
be perfect (you need ethos, and typos don’t
enhance your ethos)
Deliver your Proposal
• Give the presentation, mail the letter, etc.
• Listen to and accept the reaction and
response of your audience
• If your proposal is not accepted, ask if there
are adjustments that could be made so that it
would be
Reasons for Opposition to the Solution
• A poor solution
• Nature of the problem - When a problem is having serious
consequences for the people listening to your proposal (or they have
a good knowledge of the problem) they will scrutinize it.
• Individual needs and expectations
• Resistance to change
• Mistrust of the solution - Many people have an in-built suspicion of
innovative solutions
• Poor presentation
• Poor timing
• Unsolicited ideas - If you have taken it upon yourself to solve a
particular problem or exploit an opportunity and have not mentioned
this to the people involved or affected, your solution will come as a
complete surprise and could be received poorly
• Interpersonal conflict
Steps to
Why People Fail at Solving Problems
not being methodical
lack of commitment to solving the problem
misinterpreting the problem
lack of knowledge of the techniques and processes
involved in problem solving
inability to use the techniques effectively
using a method inappropriate to the particular
insufficient or inaccurate information
inability to combine analytical and creative thinking
failure to ensure effective implementation