The Definitive Guide On How To Improve Problem Solving Skills

It’s a fact that problem solving is a never-ending circle. When you solve one problem 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%
Leadership72.5%
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.

Table of Contents

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.

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 on 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 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 will 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

Being more creative helps build your ability to think outside the box. Even if you are not artistic, you can build your creative side. Things like painting, drawing, even building things like a picnic table are great ways to work out your creative side in your brain.

Don?t Jump to Conclusions

When you are in the middle of solving a problem it’s important to think everything through. Jumping to conclusions can get you in trouble. It will lead to false solutions that may do more harm than good or at the least set you back in your problem solving process.

Talk to Others

Other people face problems just like you and people like to talk about the problems they face. This information can be useful when you end up facing the same problem in the future. This is another way of building your theoretical knowledge of problem solving. It’s like gaining experience without facing the problem yourself. 

Read More

Image of a book.

Reading is another great way to enhance your problem solving skills. Not only does it work out your brain to increase your brain power but it also can give you a lot more knowledge if you’re reading something like oh I don’t know, this blog. You can find a wealth of information on the internet about any topic.

Work Out Your Brain with Puzzles

Brain puzzles like Suduko and Chess require you to think ahead. Thinking ahead is a crucial skill set for any leader. Especially when it comes to problem solving. If you can see a problem before it becomes a bigger problem, it will be much easier to solve.

Stay Healthy

Our brains function optimally when we practice a healthy lifestyle. This means eating right and being physically fit. Our brains use 20 percent of the calories we intake. Research shows that the things you put into your body affect brain functions like cognitive abilities, focus, and memory retention. All crucial for problem solving. 

Meditate

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.

Yoga

Image a person doing yoga on the beach.

Yoga is like working out while meditating. While yoga doesn’t burn as many calories as something like jogging or riding a bike, your heart rate will rise. Therefore you will burn more calories than nothing and yoga helps your body stay less tense through the stretching movements. 

Be Ready For a Solution (idea journal)

You never know when a solution to a problem will come. A lot of times the solution will come when you are not even thinking about your issue. Either have a journal nearby or take note of it in your phone. The important part is to take the note as the idea is happening or you run the risk of forgetting about it.

Play Sports

Sports are another excellent way of working your body and your mind. Let’s take basketball for example, every time you drive the ball or shoot, you are doing geometric equations in your head to find the best angle. You are also performing an accelerated problem solving process in your head. The problem is you want to get the ball in the basket.

Build Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is another important leadership skill that is helpful for problem solving. As useful as it is to ask others about problems, it can be just as useful to be able to see problems through other people’s eyes. That is a big component of emotional intelliegence. Understanding emotional intelliegence and building it within yourself will boost your problem solving abilities.

Problem Solving Apps

Image of various app icons.

There are also many brain training apps that help build skills like memory, mental agility, and of course, problem solving. Some of the more popular apps are Luminosity, Fits Brain Trainer, and Happify. These apps are free and if nothing else will be better time killers than many other activities we do.

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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The Definitive Guide On How To Improve Problem Solving Skills
The Definitive Guide On How To Improve Problem Solving Skills