How to solve problems

We are surrounded by problems every minute of the day and they have to be coped with. They’re all different but for most I use the same technique; review the problem, gather all the information you can, state it in your own terms, evolve a solution (and a way of testing the solution) and after gathering what you need just do it. There are some problems that can’t be solved that easily, those involving other human beings or fast moving objects for example, but when you have the urge to scream and toss other people things or yourself out the window take a deep breath and try this first. You may want to think of a problem you have and try this technique right now.

The word “solve” comes from a Latin phrase meaning “dissolve and coagulate”. First you must dissolve the elements of a problem in your mind then let them combine together into a statement of the problem. I do this by collecting all I can find out about the problem, letting it swish around in my brain and then writing a paragraph about it. This lets you separate the essential elements from the distractions. Once you have your 3 to 5 sentence paragraph in front of you you can move on to building a solution and a way of testing it.

You have to build your solution, not just visualize it. A flash of insight, no matter how brilliant, won’t give you a complete solution – make sure it works or live with the consequences. And that’s why testing is an essential part of the process. Read your problem statement and think of the steps involved. List each of them under it. Beside each step write what it depends on – what is the person, place, thing or event without which it won’t work. You may find that one step breaks down into several steps. Refer back to your problem statement and use it to see if each new element is needed. Don’t rush this (but don’t delay) because there is only one thing more expensive that doing it right and that is doing it wrong.

Life is hard and any real problem requires more work than you think. By understanding the problem, making a plan and testing it in advance you can reduce the amount of work you need to do and use that energy for solving the NEXT problem.



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