Problem Solving

Problem Solving

Problem solving is the process of identifying a problem and working toward a solution.

You solve problems every day. Imagine that a closet door won't close: "What's wrong with this thing? Is something blocking it? Is there a problem with the hinges, the doorknob, the latch?" You figure out where the problem is and think of ways to fix it. You gather tools and get to work. Afterward, you check to see if the closet will close and repeat the process until the problem is solved.

If you can use this process on small problems like closet doors, you can use it on big problems on the job and in life.

In this toolkit

Problem Solving-Process

Problem solving switches back and forth between critical thinking and creative thinking.

  • Critical thinking carefully focuses inward, breaking a topic into parts and seeing how the parts fit together.

  • Creative thinking reaches outward for possibilities, imagining and inventing and discovering.

Problem Solving

The diagram below shows how you use both kinds of thinking as you move through the stages of problem solving.

Critical Thinking

Creative Thinking

Defining the Problem

Problem solving starts by defining the problem. First, answer the 5 W’s and H about it, and then analyze its causes and effects.




Brainstorming Solutions

Next you need to come up with many ways to solve the problem. Brainstorming is thinking rapidly and without restraint, gathering possibilities.


Planning the Solution

After gathering possible solutions, you need to decide which is the best for the situation. Then you need to plan your solution, considering your goals and the tasks, time, team, and tools involved.



Applying the Solution

After planning, you need to dive into the task of creating your solution. Be ready for surprises and setbacks, and don’t get sidetracked.


Evaluating the Solution

After the solution has been applied, you need to evaluate it. You do so by checking it against your plan and rating the success of each part. Think about ways to improve your solution.



Making Improvements

After evaluating the solution, make improvements. A basic set of activities and questions will guide your work.

Solving Problems

No matter what field you work in, you probably recognize this process. Engineers use it to design new systems and machines. Architects use it to create buildings. Police use it to investigate and report. Scientists use it to design experiments and determine outcomes. Each of these fields uses its own version of problem solving.

You can find specific strategies for each step of the problem-solving process:

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