Challenges are inevitable in life! Critical thinking, finding what is the root cause of the problem, and lateral thinking are all great problem solving strategies. Understand the problem solving process well.
It will help you overcome any obstacle that crosses your path. This is exactly why I decided to write an article about it today.
Whether the problem is related to your personal life or business. These problem solving strategies will help you handle them like a pro.
My first exposure to problem solving as a science was in my early 20’s, when I attended a workshop by Dr. Edward De Bono. One of the greatest minds that ever lived in this world. He invented the pseudo-science of lateral thinking.
I’ll be honest with you, I had no idea who the gentleman was when I signed-up for it. My Dad was the Advertising, Marketing and PR Director in a popular newspaper at the time. They had run a few ads for the workshop and he strongly advised me to attend.
The words “lateral thinking” caught my fancy. I had never heard the term but since everything related to the human mind intrigues me I signed up.
I was shocked to find out that he was an elderly gentleman, with a very calm demeanor. Honestly, I have never learned so much from anyone in such a short time in my life.
Problems are everywhere and learning lateral thinking was the start of my journey. It drove me to learn more problem solving strategies. Here we’ll cover everything I have learned about problem solving.
This article won’t be as long as some of my other articles. It will be a condensed version of knowledge acquired over the years, and in some areas we will get technical!
Lateral Thinking As One Of The Problem Solving Strategies
Since lateral thinking was my portal into problem solving as a science it made sense to start with it!
So what is lateral thinking? It’s one of the problem solving strategies that involves a more creative approach. Like the name indicates, you don’t solve the problem traditionally. The bottom up or top down problem solving process don’t work here.
You’ll see me use this approach often when writing how to make money articles. If you’ve been reading my work for a while…
I would like to think there was a moment when you thought to yourself “Hmm, interesting, I never thought of that”. Or at least “I never looked at it that way”.
In a nutshell lateral thinking is out of the box solutions to typical problems. For example in my article about online freelancing jobs I gave a great example.
Traditionally “experts” will tell you sign up to XYZ website and post a gig, do the job, make money. With lateral thinking on the other hand…
I came up with a suggestion where you turn this into full fledged business. You get the work and outsource it yourself to other freelancers. In essence you create a virtual agency for yourself.
However, this is a very shallow example. Let’s see how this can apply to your personal life…
Take any problem you have, think of every traditional solution to that problem and throw it to one side. Now think of the mirror opposite!
For example imagine you have an event coming up but you don’t have the funds to make it as spectacular as you desire. Let’s assume the event is your sister’s 30th birthday!
The traditional approach would be to lower the cost, and in turn, make it less spectacular than you hoped. This solution is the most practical one. However, it doesn’t deliver the results and goals you are aiming for, right?
With lateral thinking, we put on our creative hats. What I would do is maybe sell something I don’t need, but that’s still not creative, and so lame, don’t you think? I agree! So, let’s think of something else.
Note that what I am doing here is taking you through a live example of lateral thinking.
I would start thinking about contacting her closest friends, family members, etc.
Then I would ask them to chip in. Ok, but I don’t want this to turn into a charity, or look like I needed handouts for her birthday.
Then I need to make them an offer they can’t resist and this is exactly what I did on someone’s 30s birthday! I went and arranged the venues, stretch limo, etc.
Then I went and told our friends they can get everything free all night at the event if they pay a small (VIP guest) amount. In exchange they got to be part of the fancy limo ride as the entourage and paid nothing that night.
40 people attended, and if I remember correctly 35 paid. The other 5 happened to respond too late so we couldn’t fit them in the limo. Instead I offered them to pay a little less and get the “free” stuff package.
I managed to do everything I had planned. A birthday that spanned the entire night and the event was a success. But most importantly, everyone had a memorable night. All this for the same budget I had planned or even a little less.
The same problem solving process can be applied to any problem. All you have to do is take yourself out of the problem. Look at it from the outside, and think “what resources/options do I have here”.
It’s literally that simple my friend!
The Critical Thinking Problem Solving Process
Lateral thinking is not the only way to solve a problem. Critical thinking is a very handy tool from the various problem solving strategies that you should have in your arsenal.
So, in the previous approach we used creativity to solve the problem. The critical thinking approach, however, is somewhat the mirror opposite. In fact it uses the opposite side of your brain for the most part, the half that takes care of logic and information.
Following this approach will require us to depend on facts, knowledge, and data to solve the problem. Ask yourself “what do I know about this issue”?
You need to think about the problem critically as the name indicates. In this problem solving strategy you analyze the problem and process it effectively on a cognitive level.
In the book “Psychology” by Carole Wade, published in 1995. Under “Using writing to develop and assess critical thinking. Teaching of Psychology”. She explained that there are 8 aspects involved in critical thinking.
I find that these 8 best describe this problem solving strategy. I’ve listed them below according to my interpretations. So these are not direct quotes or anything like that.
1. Asking Questions In Critical Thinking:
By asking questions and being somewhat cynical, we become more critical of the situation. Like we mentioned earlier about asking yourself what do I know about this problem?
Be inquisitive and let your mind wonder as you explore the problem in depth.
2. Critical Thinking & Problem Definition:
Through the process of asking questions the problem will begin to crystallize in your mind. As it becomes clear, you start defining the problem and all its parts.
Through critical thinking you get to see the problem with intricate detail. You know the saying that “the first step in solving the problem is knowing and acknowledging it”.
This is exactly why defining the problem is an important step in this problem solving process.
3. Evidence Examination Through Critical Thinking:
Exactly like the problem definition we now need to examine the evidence available to us.
The evidence here is not just proof of the problem’s existence. We’re now looking at the evidence tying in the causes of the problem.
You see, a problem in most cases, is a symptom and not the root cause.
In critical thinking we closely examine the evidence and circumstances around the problem’s occurrence(s) so we can pin point what led to it.
4. Assumption & Bias Analysis:
You cannot solve a problem based exclusively on assumptions. However, understanding the assumptions around it can help you significantly.
First of all we need to look at the assumptions behind some of the evidence. Not all evidence is based on scientific clear cut facts, even science experiments are often based on some assumptions.
One major problem with assumptions is they usually come from internal biases. It is often best to rule out assumptions all together simply because of the biases behind them.
To solve a problem with reason, biases would always be a hindrance.
5. Emotional Exclusion:
Emotions and reason never go hand in hand. This is why you need to exclude them from this problem solving process. Emotions are driven by feelings and chemical processes in your body. Not by the cognitive rational part of the brain.
Which, defeats the whole point of critical thinking.
You’ve probably heard it before. Emotions contaminate decisions with feelings of fear, anger, love, etc.
What decisions need from you are facts, information, and uncompromising tact.
Decisions are a central part in the problem solving process. If your decisions are blurred by emotions, your problem solving strategies will suffer!
6. Oversimplification Avoidance
People have a tendency of confusing breaking down a problem with simplifying problems. If a problem is a problem, then nothing about it is simple, no matter how simple its solution is.
A problem is constructed of many smaller elements. The right course of action is to examine the problem with scrutiny like untangling a knot.
You look at all the strings from all angles. Strings that when combined together resulted in the problem (knot) you see.
Oversimplification is the skipping of the exercise in the previous paragraph. Stop thinking it’s a knot, how hard can it be to untangle?
If you looked at the strings and released them one at a time the knot will eventually untangle itself.
This is how you want to look at your problems, look at all the elements making up the problem and solve them. Never downplay the complexity of a problem, otherwise solving it will be that much harder.
7. Different Interpretations
No one has the full irrefutable truth, this is a fact of life. To assume that your interpretation is the only correct interpretation is both vain and a hindrance to your problem solving process.
You need to take into consideration all other interpretations to the problem. In personal life or in dealing with employees…
Different interpretations could be the problem. You see this often between new couples for example.
Where, one interprets something in a way while the other sees it as meaning the opposite. The Result? A conflict happens.
Examining alternative interpretations can be a very effective in your problem solving strategies. It allows you to look at the problem from other angles that you would have never considered.
If you’re anything like me this may be the hardest thing to do. It involves you stepping outside your comfort zone. Your points of view have served you well throughout your life.
Thus you are comfortable depending on them. When solving problems the limitations of our knowledge and experience can really stand in the way of our problem solving efforts.
8. Higher Ambiguity Tolerance
One of the biggest challenges in the problem solving process is trying out new things. This ties in well with the last paragraph of the previous section.
Once again we need to step out of our comfort zone and the safety of the “known” into uncharted territory.
You need to not only tolerate ambiguity but also be comfortable with it. Sometimes you have to take decisions that lead you directly into uncertainty.
This is not necessarily a bad thing, often times you’d find that uncertainty is where all the magic happens.
Let’s look at the relationship example again and then see how it applies to business. Someone is in a toxic relationship, with time they build up the courage to end it and walk away.
There is no evidence or proof that they will find love again. Yet somehow they end up finding the love of their life and live a blissful life.
Sometimes in business you will be faced with decisions that take you into the unknown. Opening in a new country, testing out a daring marketing campaign or “publicity stunt”.
You don’t know if it will be a success for sure, but the alternative is to stay struggling with making ends meet. There are so many examples of such stunts.
Many companies managed to turn around their results and achieved previously unimaginable success.
What Is The Root Cause Of A Problem & How To Find It?
As we mentioned earlier in this article, the occurrence of a problem is rarely the ailment. It’s usually a symptom.
The root cause of a problem is the underlying problem. Which, is usually not visible at first glance or that the problem is blocking it out of view.
More often than none the key to solving a problem is in finding out what is the root cause of it in the first place.
The root cause is the origin of the problem, or the foundation on which the problem is actually built.
If you know what is the root cause of any problem and resolve it, solving the problem will become easier. In fact sometimes fixing the root cause will eliminate the problem all together.
Think of it like this if you can’t walk on one leg all of a sudden. You go to a doctor, they run some tests to establish what is the root cause of your temporary disability.
The doctor then prescribes you a nervous infection cure and in some time you can walk on your leg again. The root cause was cured and as a result the problem went away on its own.
In another future article we will delve deeper into the root cause tools and techniques. Once it’s published I will link it here for your reference.
Concluding the Problem Solving Strategies
As you can see the problem solving process is an entire science in its own right. It involves psychology and other physiochemical processes.
In this article we barely scratched the surface here. We’ll dig deeper into it in our articles until we cover everything there is to know about it.
If you have any questions, thoughts, or suggestions drop them in the comments section below. Let’s engage in a discussion!
Until the next article, good luck my friend!
Evolve Your Wealth,
Founder & CEO