The Ultimate Guide to Improve Problem-Solving Skills

It’s a fact that problem-solving is a never-ending circle. When you solve one issue another one arises. There is a lifetime supply of problems. Learning how to improve problem-solving skills will lead to more success in your life

Take a look at the interesting results below of a survey conducted by The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE). They surveyed what skills employers are looking for in new hires and the results may shock you a little. 

Attribute% of Respondents
Problem-solving skills91.2%
Ability to work in a team86.3%
Strong work ethic80.4%
Analytical/quantitative skills79.4%
Communication skills (written)77.5%
Communication skills (verbal)69.6%

That’s right, 91.2% of employers said they were looking for strong problem-solving skills. It was the number one sought-after skill in this survey. 

Like any other skill, you can build on this skill and make it stronger. There are two parts to the learning process: learning the theoretical and practice. I hope to provide you with enough information in this article to improve your problem-solving skills. Then all that will be left is to put your knowledge to practice. So let’s get into it.

Problem-Solving Models

Six-Step Problem-Solving Model

Image depicting the steps of the six-step problem solving model

1. Identify the Problem.

Many times we know there is a problem but we don’t stop to ask ourselves what the problem is. We get caught up trying to fix or band-aid all the symptoms of the problem. 

That’s why the first step of this problem-solving model is to define the problem. Instead of focusing on the issues, the problem is causing, focus on what the problem is. You’ve probably heard many times that to fix a problem, you have to first admit there is a problem. That holds true in problem-solving.

2. Determine the Root Cause.

Now that a problem has been defined, the next step is to determine the root cause. What is truly causing the problem? It’s important in this stage to get to the true cause of the problem and not focus on the superficial causes.

There are many ways to do root cause analysis. The 5 whys is a root cause analysis that works by asking yourself why is this issue a problem. Then you ask why that is happening. You continue digging deeper with the question of why at least 5 times until you get to the root cause.

In this stage, you develop alternative solutions for your problem. You want to develop as many solutions as possible to get the best solution. Don’t disregard any solutions at this time. Even if they may seem ridiculous at first, they may just need a little tweaking to be a good solution. 

3. Develop Potential Solutions.

improve problem-solving skills

One of the best ways to come up with a lot of solutions in a short amount of time is to have a group discussion or group brainstorming session. It’s important to have somebody, if not you, taking notes and writing down all the possible solutions. 

4. Select a Solution.

Now that there are plenty of solutions on the table, it’s time to select one. Ask yourself “Which solution is the best fit? Which solution has the least negative impact? How are other people affected by the solution feel about it?” 

Answering these questions will help determine if it’s the best solution. It’s important to account for and communicate with other stakeholders in the selection of a solution. Stakeholders are everyone else involved in this solution from subordinates to supervisors. These people will help determine if a solution is truly feasible. 

5. Implement Chosen Solution.

After a solution is chosen, it needs to be implemented. Communication is vital in this stage as well because everyone involved needs to be on the same page. Ensuring everyone involved will significantly increase the odds of success. 

In this stage, you want to create a plan for how the solution will be implemented and follow through with that plan. It’s important to stick with the decision until certain the decision is a failure or a better opportunity arises. Teetering back and forth can be just as bad if not worse than making the wrong call.

6. Monitor the Outcome.

This stage’s focus is on monitoring the solution. This means monitoring that the solution or process is being followed by everyone and also the solution is working as intended. Feedback should also be conducted in this stage to determine what is working and what is not working. 

Hurson’s Productive Thinking Model

This is another six-step problem-solving model. The steps consist of:

  1. Ask “What is going on?”
  2. Ask “What is success?”
  3. Ask “What is the question?”
  4. Generate answers.
  5. Forge the solution.
  6. Align resources.

Step 1: What’s Going On

Image of a person questioning for hot improve problem solving skills.

Much like the previous problem-solving model, in this step, you determine what the problem is. Get a good understanding of what you are trying to deal with. Determine the impacts of your problem. What information do you have and what information do you need before moving forward with the problem-solving process?

Step 2: What Is Success

How do you know when the problem is solved? What makes your solution a success? Are there any personal or professional values you need the solution to not violate? What are you willing to give up in your pursuit of success? For example, it may not be advantageous to eliminate your problem if it causes multiple other problems because you had to invest too much of your time into it.

Step 3: What is the Question

This step is all about generating a list of questions about your problem. For example, let’s say your problem is an over-extended budget this month. You may have questions like “How can I generate more income this month” or “How can I spend less income this month”. The answers to these questions should bring you to your solution. Don’t focus on answering the questions yet, just focus on building the list of questions in this stage.

Step 4: Generate Answers

This is where you answer all the questions you built in the last stage. Many times there will be more than one answer to each question. Once again the purpose of this stage is to generate as many answers to the question as you can brainstorm. Continue the process of answering all the questions even if you think you stumbled upon the perfect solution. Cutting this stage off early might lead to you missing a better solution. Each answer will be either a potential solution or part of a potential solution.

Step 5: Forge the Solution

The purpose of this stage is to choose the best solution. Weigh the pros and cons of each solution. Utilize the idea of success in step 2 to determine which solutions fit into that criteria. If you have multiple solutions that fit into your idea of success, choose which one solves the problem the best with the least negative effects.

Step 6: Align Resources

Now determine what resources you need to implement your solution and start building a plan. For larger projects, you will want to utilize project management tools to help you build and implement a solid plan. 

How to Improve Problem-Solving Skills

In this section, we are going to discuss personal growth strategies that will increase your problem-solving skills before a problem arises. 

Image of 2 people jumping in joy

Get Creative

Embrace your inner creativity and watch as your ability to think outside the box flourishes. Don’t worry if you don’t consider yourself artistic; creativity comes in many forms, and it’s a skill you can develop with practice. Start by trying your hand at painting, sketching, or even constructing something like a picnic table. These activities not only engage your creative brain but also provide a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.

As you continue to explore your creative side, you’ll notice the benefits spilling over into other aspects of your life. Problem-solving will become easier, and you’ll be better equipped to tackle challenges head-on with innovative solutions. Remember, creativity is a muscle that grows stronger with use. So, keep experimenting with new projects, and soon you’ll be amazed at your ability to think outside the box with ease.

Don’t Jump to Conclusions

In the heat of problem-solving, it’s vital to remain calm and consider every aspect of the situation. Resist the temptation to jump to conclusions, as this can lead to misguided solutions that create more problems than they solve. Instead, take a step back and methodically evaluate the issue at hand. By doing so, you’ll be more likely to find an effective solution and avoid setbacks in your problem-solving journey.

Remember, patience is a key component of successful problem-solving. Take the time to gather all relevant information, weigh the pros and cons of each potential solution, and consult with others if necessary. By approaching the issue thoughtfully and deliberately, you’ll find yourself better equipped to tackle problems and less likely to stumble upon false solutions that could derail your progress.

Talk to Others

Recognize that you’re not alone in facing challenges. Others grapple with problems just like you do. Engaging in conversations about these issues can be incredibly valuable, as it offers insights into how others tackle similar obstacles. This exchange of information helps you build a strong theoretical foundation in problem-solving, equipping you with the knowledge to face future challenges head-on. It’s like gaining experience vicariously through the trials and tribulations of others.

Make an effort to actively listen and learn from the experiences of those around you. By doing so, you’ll not only expand your problem-solving toolset but also foster empathy and understanding. This enables you to approach future obstacles with a more open mind and a broader perspective. So, embrace the power of shared experiences, and watch as your problem-solving skills grow stronger and more versatile.

Read More

Image of a book.

Dive into the world of reading and discover how it can significantly improve your problem-solving skills. As you immerse yourself in various texts, your brain is constantly at work, processing information and making connections that enhance your cognitive abilities. By exploring different subjects, like the content found on informative blogs, you not only entertain yourself but also gain valuable knowledge that can be applied to various aspects of your life.

The internet offers a treasure trove of resources on an array of topics, making it easier than ever to expand your horizons and learn new things. Embrace this endless source of knowledge to fuel your curiosity and enhance your problem-solving skills. As you continue to read and learn, you’ll find that your ability to tackle challenges and think critically will grow exponentially, setting you up for success in both your personal and professional life.

Work Out Your Brain with Puzzles

Engaging in brain puzzles, such as Sudoku and Chess, can greatly enhance your ability to think ahead, a vital skill for any leader. These games challenge you to strategize and anticipate potential obstacles, honing your foresight and adaptability. When it comes to problem-solving, being able to predict and address issues before they escalate is invaluable, allowing you to tackle them more effectively.

By consistently practicing brain puzzles, you’ll develop a keen sense of observation and sharpen your critical thinking skills. As a result, you’ll be better equipped to identify potential problems in their early stages, preventing them from turning into larger, more complex issues. Embrace the power of these mind-stimulating activities to become a more proactive and effective problem-solver, and watch as your leadership skills soar to new heights.

Stay Healthy

Embracing a healthy lifestyle is key to ensuring that your brain functions at its best. This involves making smart choices about your diet and engaging in regular physical activity. Since your brain consumes around 20 percent of your daily calorie intake, it’s essential to fuel your body with high-quality nutrients. Research has demonstrated that the food you consume has a direct impact on cognitive abilities, focus, and memory retention. All vital components of effective problem-solving.

As you make strides to improve your overall health, you’ll notice the positive effects on your mental acuity and capacity for problem-solving. A well-nourished and active body leads to a sharper, more agile mind, allowing you to tackle challenges with ease and confidence. Don’t underestimate the power of a healthy lifestyle; it can truly transform your ability to think critically and creatively, paving the way for personal and professional success.


Meditation is a wonderful way to center yourself. It is scientifically proven that meditation relieves stress, reduces anxiety, and may even decrease blood pressure among many other benefits. 

This is something that can be done in the privacy of your own home and takes little time to do. A 5-15 minute meditation session a day can have humongous impacts on your emotional, physical, and mental health.


Image a person doing yoga on the beach.

Looking for a workout that combines fitness and mindfulness? Look no further than yoga! This ancient practice offers the best of both worlds, allowing you to get your heart pumping while also promoting relaxation and inner peace. While yoga may not burn as many calories as high-intensity cardio, it still provides a great workout, with the stretching movements helping to release tension and promote flexibility.

By incorporating yoga into your fitness routine, you’ll not only reap physical benefits but also mental ones. The meditative aspect of yoga allows you to focus on your breath and quiet the mind, which can be a welcome break from the stresses of daily life. So why not give it a try? Whether you’re a seasoned yogi or a beginner, yoga is a fantastic way to nourish both your body and soul.

Be Ready For a Solution (idea journal)

You can’t always predict when inspiration will strike, and often, the most brilliant solutions to problems emerge when you least expect them. It’s crucial to be prepared to capture these fleeting moments of clarity, whether by keeping a journal close at hand or using your phone to jot down your thoughts. By recording your ideas as they arise, you’ll ensure that no valuable insight goes to waste.

Being proactive in documenting your thoughts can make all the difference in solving problems effectively. It’s all too easy for a great idea to slip away if you don’t take the time to record it. So, be diligent in preserving your ideas, no matter when they come to you. In doing so, you’ll create a valuable resource of innovative solutions that can help you navigate challenges with confidence and creativity.

Play Sports

If you’re looking for a fun way to challenge both your body and your mind, sports can be an excellent choice. Take basketball, for instance. Every time you make a move on the court, you’re engaging in a complex mental process that involves geometric calculations and problem-solving. To succeed, you must calculate the best angle for your shot and anticipate the movements of your opponents, all while keeping your physical skills sharp.

By playing sports regularly, you’ll not only improve your physical fitness but also your cognitive abilities. The mental agility required to excel in sports can translate to other areas of your life, helping you to think more critically, react more quickly, and solve problems more effectively. So, why not grab a ball and hit the court? You’ll be giving both your body and your mind a workout that’s sure to leave you feeling energized and invigorated.

Build Emotional Intelligence

Developing emotional intelligence is an essential aspect of becoming an effective leader, particularly when it comes to problem-solving. The ability to see issues from different perspectives, including those of your colleagues and team members, is invaluable in finding well-rounded solutions. Emotional intelligence helps you empathize with others and understand their viewpoints, making collaboration and effective communication much easier.

By focusing on sharpening your emotional intelligence, you’ll not only improve your problem-solving skills but also enhance your leadership qualities. This personal growth will allow you to connect with others on a deeper level, making it easier to work together to overcome challenges. Investing time and effort into developing your emotional intelligence will undoubtedly pay off, leading to better decision-making, stronger relationships, and ultimately, greater success in both your personal and professional life.

Problem Solving Apps

Image of various app icons.

If you’re looking for a fun and easy way to exercise your brain and improve your problem-solving skills, consider trying out some of the many brain training apps available. These apps, such as Luminosity, Fits Brain Trainer, and Happify, are designed to help you build important cognitive skills like memory and mental agility. They also offer a variety of games and exercises that challenge your problem-solving abilities.

The best part? Many of these brain training apps are completely free and can be easily downloaded onto your phone or tablet. So, if you’re tired of wasting time on mindless activities, give one of these apps a try. Not only will you be keeping your brain sharp, but you’ll also be making the most of your free time with a fun and engaging activity.

Final Words on How to Improve Problem-Solving Skills

One of the biggest things when it comes to problem-solving is to not be afraid of a problem. Fear can paralyze us, make us fight when we shouldn’t, or even make us run away. You want to keep a level head to the best extent possible. The right mindset will make a problem a lot smaller than it could be.

Use the knowledge you’ve gained in this article to conquer your next problem. You can and will succeed. 

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