The Art of Effective Problem Solving

Updated: Nov 4, 2016

In either case, the term “problem solving” is a mental process that seeks to overcome obstacles – a problem, or a doubtful or difficult matter requiring a solution – by finding the best solution to that problem; it involves identifying a problem, then analyzing and solving that problem through what is known as the “Problem-Solving Cycle,” which includes the development of strategies and organization of thought and action.

Problem solving is a highly regarded (and much-needed) skill in the working or business world – in fact, poor problem-solving practices can do much hard to business relationships and a business’ success. 

The Art of Problem Solving

So students in the academy are often given problem-solving assignments to hone this particular skill set. The opportunities for problem solving are so ubiquitous, coming every day to most people, that many do it quite naturally – and yet very effectively.

In either case, the term “problem solving” is a mental process that seeks to overcome obstacles – a problem, or a doubtful or difficult matter requiring a solution – by finding the best solution to that problem; it involves identifying a problem, then analyzing and solving that problem through what is known as the “Problem-Solving Cycle,” which includes the development of strategies and organization of thought and action.

Problem-Solving Cycle 

Finding the best strategy to solve a problem depends on the problem itself. Often it is best if students were given an assignment that requires the implementation of their problem-solving skills, that they first learn all they can about the issue surrounding or even causing the problem; then using that knowledge of the issue to assess the problem for possible solutions. Planning and structuring are critical in problem solving. Of course, in other instances, creativity, collaboration and sound judgment may serve the student best in problem-solving practices.


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All problems have two key features – a goal and a barrier. Without a barrier preventing one from reaching a goal, there would be no problem in the first place. And problem solving involves overcoming these barriers and obstacles that prevent the immediate achievement of these goals.

Steps to Solving the Problem

As mentioned above, there is a series of steps a student can follow to determine the most effective solution to their problem. 

Step 1. To solve a problem, a student must recognize that there is a problem, and define it. Although this seems an obvious step, it’s not always a simple task. It’s too easy to identify the wrong problem or even the wrong source of the problem, so the student must initially consider all possible problems. 

Step 2. The student should keenly search to identify the causes of the problem. 

Step 3. It is crucial that before the student brainstorms all possible solutions that contribute or create the problem, they should first organize all available information, and ask “What do I know about the problem? What do I not know?” Subsequently, choose the best solution to solve the problem.

Step 4. The student has to implement or incorporate that solution to solve their particular problem.

Step 5. The student must then evaluate and monitor the implementation of this solution – the results – to see if the problem has been solved. This stage of the problem-solving cycle involves determining if the process was successful, through monitoring any changes that occurred that might have led to the student achieving their goal in solving their problem. It may be best to keep a record of outcomes and additional problems that occurred using each solution. 

If the solution you think is right does not work, or if it does not solve the problem at hand, you will have to consider implementing other solutions and, therefore, complete the cycle again and again until the problem is ultimately solved. 

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