How to Solve Problems With Critical and Creative Thinking
People constantly deal with a wide range of problems in their lives and work. It’s always necessary to solve problems — whether they are internal or for a customer, large or small, simple or complex. Learning better ways to solve problems can also benefit your work performance. Since problems are at the center of what many people do at work every day, having good problem-solving skills can make a huge difference to your career.
A lot of the work in problem-solving involves understanding what the underlying issues of the problem really are — not only the symptoms. Dealing with a customer complaint is part of the problem that needs to be solved. The employee dealing with the complaint should also be asking what has caused the customer to complain in the first place to remove it from occurring in the future.
You’ll find that problem solving is much more effective if you begin with clarity and the right focus. It’s also important not to rush directly to the solution process. This course will help you gain clarity on a problem before you try to solve it.
Ask anyone in the workplace if problem-solving is part of their daily work and the answer is “Yes!” Problem-solving is a critical element of our work, but do we know how to do it effectively?
What you’ll learn in this Article
You’ll learn how you can solve problems using a five-step problem-solving process. You’ll focus on work-related problems that you can influence, control, and resolve, with a view to helping you be more proactive and effective at work.
Before you begin …
People constantly deal with a wide range of problems in their lives and work. Learning better ways to solve problems can benefit your performance at work and just about everywhere else. And given the agile way of working, being skilled at problem-solving helps you get over hurdles quickly and move on to the next challenge.
The problem-solving process
This article takes you through a creative and analytical approach for defining problems, articulating the problem statement, identifying the root cause for a problem, and ways to select and implement the best solution for a problem. This five-step process helps recognize and avoid common pitfalls that can harm the intended result. It helps you to think through a problem and arrive at a suitable solution and gauge if the solution works.
Once you understand the five steps of problem-solving, you can build your skill level in each one. Some people are naturally good at a couple of steps and not as naturally good at others. Some people are great at generating ideas but struggle to implement them. Other people have great execution skills but can’t make decisions on which solutions to use. Knowing the different problem-solving steps allows you to work on your weak areas, or team up with someone whose strengths complement yours.
The five-step problem-solving process
Identify: What is the problem?
The first step of the process is Identify, in which you identify and clarify the problem. This step involved critical thinking to figure out what is going wrong. Critical thinking in this context involves using facts and logic to identify and analyze the problem.
Analyze: What is really going on?
This is followed by the second step, Analyze, in which you examine what’s happening and why. This step also involves critical thinking. This is where you figure out what you might do about the problem.
Explore: What are the options?
The third step of the process is to Explore, where creative thinking is used to come up with several possible ideas as a solution. Creative thinking in this context involves devising potential ways to solve the problem.
Select: What is the best solution?
As you move to the fourth step, Select, the problem-solving process shifts back to critical thinking. This is where you choose the best solution for the problem.
Implement: What will success look like?
The final step of the five-step process is Implement, in which you put that solution into practice and define how you’ll measure its success. You’ll decide which of the possible solutions will be most effective and then figure out how to put it to work.
What problems do you focus your time and energy on?
You face different kinds of problems on a daily basis, some of which you can influence and resolve and some that you have no control over. Stephen Covey, an American educator, author, businessman, and keynote speaker, has explained this concept, which is widely known as the Circle of Concern and the Circle of Influence.
- The Circle of Concern comprises all your problems. This includes some that you can influence and some that you cannot.
- The Circle of Influence is a smaller circle of influence that falls within your circle of concerns. It includes all problems that you can influence, control, and resolve.
When faced with these two types of problems, it isn’t the best use of your time to focus your attention on problems that fall outside your Circle of Influence — things that you have no control over, such as traffic, economy, or organizational changes.
What does make sense is to focus on things that you can control. Highly effective people prefer to focus their time and energy on issues where they can actually make a difference, and you are encouraged to do the same.
Solving problems requires a combination of critical and creative thinking
Critical thinking involves convergent thinking (tending to come together or merge) and focuses on coming up with a single solution to a problem. Creative thinking involves divergent thinking (tending to differ in opinion or branch off) and generates many creative ideas by exploring many possible solutions. Together, critical and creative thinking give you powerful ways to solve problems.
Critical thinking means identifying and analyzing a problem and then using facts and logic to evaluate ideas to decide which potential solution is likely to deliver the best outcome.
This method applies convergent thinking because you begin with pieces of information and converge around a solution.
Creative thinking means generating creative ideas by brainstorming potential ways to solve a problem.
This method applies divergent thinking because you begin with a prompt or question and generate many solutions.
How can you solve problems in an agile way?
These three agile principles enable you to work out the best solution without getting stuck. Agile ways of working encourage you to:
- Begin with clarity of outcome
- Listen, iterate, and course-correct
- Be self-directed
An agile approach to problem-solving means that you:
- Clearly understand the problem before trying to solve it
- Keep improving the solution
- Take the lead in tackling problems head-on instead of avoiding them
Key learning points in this topic
- Problems are at the center of what many people do at work every day, so learning better ways to solve problems can benefit your work performance.
- This course explores a five-step problem-solving process. It includes a creative and analytical approach for defining problems, articulating the problem statement, identifying the root cause of a problem, and ways to select and implement the best solution for any problem.
- The Circle of Concern comprises all your problems, which includes some that you can influence and some that you cannot.
- The Circle of Influence is a smaller circle of influence that falls within your circle of concerns. It includes all problems that you can influence, control, and resolve. Highly effective people focus energy on the circle of influence.
- Critical thinking involves convergent thinking and focuses on coming up with a single solution to a problem.
- Creative thinking involves divergent thinking and generates many creative ideas by exploring many possible solutions.
- Using agile principles encourages you to begin with an understanding of the problem; listen, iterate, and course-correct; and be self-directing, individually or as a team.
What do you think?
What are some areas where problem-solving can help you personally?
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