We all know what a problem is and how difficult it can sometimes be to find the right solutions.
I wish we could give you a unique and foolproof strategy to solve them, but regretting it does not exist: every situation is unique and requires specific skills and strategies.
How to solve a problem?
We are going to take a look at some classic cognitive theories that work like problem solving strategies. We hope you find some of them useful.
1. The first step: define the problem
We know that having a problem doesn’t mean we don’t have the resources to fix it, but often times we don’t know which ones to use and how to apply them.
To be able to find the solution we must first define the problem. It sounds simple, but it isn’t always. We have to be clear about the current situation, that is, where we are going and what we want to achieve. Being clear about our goal or what needs to be done to be able to achieve it is not as easy as it may seem.
If we take a deep dive into the problems we have today and try to do the exercise to define them, we might be surprised. Defining our problem precisely will therefore be the first step.
When we are clear about the problem, the solutions can be very different. Sometimes success will depend on unlocking just one obstacle, but other times we have different ones difficulties that we have to solve gradually.
2. Algorithms and heuristics
Whatever the problem and the solution, to solve it we will always have, a priori, different options. To focus on problem solving methods, it will first be important to distinguish two concepts: “algorithm” and “heuristic”.
An algorithm is a systematic process that tells us in a concrete way how to arrive, step by step, at the solution. Heuristics appear when it is not possible to use algorithms and involve the participation of intuition. Unlike the previous ones, heuristics cannot guarantee that we will find the solution.
It seems obvious that the really complicated problems to solve are those which do not have an algorithm; we will focus on these. We will also leave out solutions that require specific knowledge, that is, problems that simply arise from a lack of knowledge and which we can only solve with previously learned strategies.
3. The trial and error method
One possibility is to use the trial and error method, consisting of go and test one or more actions and assess whether the result obtained brought us closer to our goal. This method will be useful when we do not have a guide to arrive at the solution and the lack of time is not an inconvenience.
A very basic example: if we want to open a door and we have different keys, we will try until we find the one that will open for us. The idea is that next time we can use the correct key in the first one.
Although this is a very basic example, there are many situations in our daily life that we resolve using this method and many of them are not that trivial. Young children, for exampleThey widely use this strategy in their daily activities. In our social relationships, too, we tend to change our behavior based on results obtained through trial and error.
4. The intermediate analysis method
Another possibility is to choose actions that help us reduce the distance between the current state and our goal final. For this, we highlight the method of means-end analysis, which consists in defining what is the difference between the current state and the final state that we want to reach as a solution to our problem.
hem create smaller sub-problems or sub-goals and easier to solve which will help us achieve our ultimate goal. To do this, we will set as many sub-objectives as necessary; that is, if we have obstacles to the first subproblem, we will create another and thus reduce it as much as necessary. We will give a solution to each sub-goal, one by one, until we come to the final solution to our original problem.
5. Every problem has its own solutions
In short, there is no ideal method to solve our problems, but there are different ways of dealing with them so that the solution seems simpler.
The two strategies we have discussed don’t always work and there are many more that can be perfectly suited to a particular type of problem, but we think they can be very useful as basic strategies for our daily, especially because we they make it possible to objectify the problems, to simplify and thus allowing us to face the search for solutions in a less overwhelming way.