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How To Be Better Problem Solver

If you want to be a better problem solver, there are three simple things you can do.

1. Learn problem solving techniques. The more you know, the better problem solver you can be.

2. Use the techniques repeatedly, until they are habit. This "programming" assures the power of your subconscious mind will be there to help you.

3. Allow many ideas to flow forth. You can always discard ideas later, or make them into something useful, but you have to have ideas first - and the more the better. Suspend judgment or any critical impulses until you have a list of possible solutions to look over.

Tools For The Problem Solver

The tools that you use as a problem solver are techniques, methods and approaches. As noted in item number one above, the more you know, the better your odds of finding creative and useful solutions to problems. Here is one to get you started.

Clarify The Problem

Have you ever had to stop in the middle of a project and ask "What exactly are we trying to do here?" A vague problem is a tough problem to solve, isn't it? If your spouse is unhappy with your house, for example, and you want to effectively solve that problem, you need to find out what specific things he or she is unhappy about.

Suppose you have been assigned to design a better employee scheduling system for your employer. What's better? Is it fewer hours on the payroll? Is it a schedule that makes for happier employees? These are questions that need to be asked.

To be a better problem solver you need to develop the habit of clarifying problems. Generally, this means asking the right questions. How do you ask the right questions? One way is to ask any question you can think of. For lack of a better way, this can work. It does tend to waste time, however.

What you really want is to identify the key elements of the problem. Asking "why do I care?," or "why is this problem important?" can not only clarify the problem itself, but can help to determine which problems you need to be working on first.

Working up and down the hierarchy of values is another way to clarify what the problem is. For example, suppose you start with the problem of "where to go on vacation." Asking why you need to solve this might lead you to the more important value of "wanting to have a good vacation." Looking at this may yield other solutions that resolve the "where" or make it less important.

Ask why you need a good vacation can lead you to the more important value of "having a good life." From that perspective, some might find that the vacation is an escape from an unsatisfactory job, and looking for a better career may be the more important task. In the end, you might just move your efforts back to choosing a vacation destination, but this process can help clarify why the problem needs to be solved, and suggest new ways to do that.

Clarifying what the problem is, and which is the most urgent or important problem, is a great way to be a better problem solver. Add it to your arsenal of problem solving skills.

About the Author: Copyright Steve Gillman. For many more Problem Solving Tecniques, and to get the Brain Power Newsletter and other free gifts, visit:

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