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10 Problem-solving strategies to turn challenges on their head

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What is an example of problem-solving?

What are the 5 steps to problem-solving, 10 effective problem-solving strategies, what skills do efficient problem solvers have, how to improve your problem-solving skills.

Problems come in all shapes and sizes — from workplace conflict to budget cuts.

Creative problem-solving is one of the most in-demand skills in all roles and industries. It can boost an organization’s human capital and give it a competitive edge. 

Problem-solving strategies are ways of approaching problems that can help you look beyond the obvious answers and find the best solution to your problem . 

Let’s take a look at a five-step problem-solving process and how to combine it with proven problem-solving strategies. This will give you the tools and skills to solve even your most complex problems.

Good problem-solving is an essential part of the decision-making process . To see what a problem-solving process might look like in real life, let’s take a common problem for SaaS brands — decreasing customer churn rates.

To solve this problem, the company must first identify it. In this case, the problem is that the churn rate is too high. 

Next, they need to identify the root causes of the problem. This could be anything from their customer service experience to their email marketing campaigns. If there are several problems, they will need a separate problem-solving process for each one. 

Let’s say the problem is with email marketing — they’re not nurturing existing customers. Now that they’ve identified the problem, they can start using problem-solving strategies to look for solutions. 

This might look like coming up with special offers, discounts, or bonuses for existing customers. They need to find ways to remind them to use their products and services while providing added value. This will encourage customers to keep paying their monthly subscriptions.

They might also want to add incentives, such as access to a premium service at no extra cost after 12 months of membership. They could publish blog posts that help their customers solve common problems and share them as an email newsletter.

The company should set targets and a time frame in which to achieve them. This will allow leaders to measure progress and identify which actions yield the best results.


Perhaps you’ve got a problem you need to tackle. Or maybe you want to be prepared the next time one arises. Either way, it’s a good idea to get familiar with the five steps of problem-solving. 

Use this step-by-step problem-solving method with the strategies in the following section to find possible solutions to your problem.

1. Identify the problem

The first step is to know which problem you need to solve. Then, you need to find the root cause of the problem. 

The best course of action is to gather as much data as possible, speak to the people involved, and separate facts from opinions. 

Once this is done, formulate a statement that describes the problem. Use rational persuasion to make sure your team agrees .

2. Break the problem down 

Identifying the problem allows you to see which steps need to be taken to solve it. 

First, break the problem down into achievable blocks. Then, use strategic planning to set a time frame in which to solve the problem and establish a timeline for the completion of each stage.

3. Generate potential solutions

At this stage, the aim isn’t to evaluate possible solutions but to generate as many ideas as possible. 

Encourage your team to use creative thinking and be patient — the best solution may not be the first or most obvious one.

Use one or more of the different strategies in the following section to help come up with solutions — the more creative, the better.

4. Evaluate the possible solutions

Once you’ve generated potential solutions, narrow them down to a shortlist. Then, evaluate the options on your shortlist. 

There are usually many factors to consider. So when evaluating a solution, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Will my team be on board with the proposition?
  • Does the solution align with organizational goals ?
  • Is the solution likely to achieve the desired outcomes?
  • Is the solution realistic and possible with current resources and constraints?
  • Will the solution solve the problem without causing additional unintended problems?


5. Implement and monitor the solutions

Once you’ve identified your solution and got buy-in from your team, it’s time to implement it. 

But the work doesn’t stop there. You need to monitor your solution to see whether it actually solves your problem. 

Request regular feedback from the team members involved and have a monitoring and evaluation plan in place to measure progress.

If the solution doesn’t achieve your desired results, start this step-by-step process again.

There are many different ways to approach problem-solving. Each is suitable for different types of problems. 

The most appropriate problem-solving techniques will depend on your specific problem. You may need to experiment with several strategies before you find a workable solution.

Here are 10 effective problem-solving strategies for you to try:

  • Use a solution that worked before
  • Brainstorming
  • Work backward
  • Use the Kipling method
  • Draw the problem
  • Use trial and error
  • Sleep on it
  • Get advice from your peers
  • Use the Pareto principle
  • Add successful solutions to your toolkit

Let’s break each of these down.

1. Use a solution that worked before

It might seem obvious, but if you’ve faced similar problems in the past, look back to what worked then. See if any of the solutions could apply to your current situation and, if so, replicate them.

2. Brainstorming

The more people you enlist to help solve the problem, the more potential solutions you can come up with.

Use different brainstorming techniques to workshop potential solutions with your team. They’ll likely bring something you haven’t thought of to the table.

3. Work backward

Working backward is a way to reverse engineer your problem. Imagine your problem has been solved, and make that the starting point.

Then, retrace your steps back to where you are now. This can help you see which course of action may be most effective.

4. Use the Kipling method

This is a method that poses six questions based on Rudyard Kipling’s poem, “ I Keep Six Honest Serving Men .” 

  • What is the problem?
  • Why is the problem important?
  • When did the problem arise, and when does it need to be solved?
  • How did the problem happen?
  • Where is the problem occurring?
  • Who does the problem affect?

Answering these questions can help you identify possible solutions.

5. Draw the problem

Sometimes it can be difficult to visualize all the components and moving parts of a problem and its solution. Drawing a diagram can help.

This technique is particularly helpful for solving process-related problems. For example, a product development team might want to decrease the time they take to fix bugs and create new iterations. Drawing the processes involved can help you see where improvements can be made.


6. Use trial-and-error

A trial-and-error approach can be useful when you have several possible solutions and want to test them to see which one works best.

7. Sleep on it

Finding the best solution to a problem is a process. Remember to take breaks and get enough rest . Sometimes, a walk around the block can bring inspiration, but you should sleep on it if possible.

A good night’s sleep helps us find creative solutions to problems. This is because when you sleep, your brain sorts through the day’s events and stores them as memories. This enables you to process your ideas at a subconscious level. 

If possible, give yourself a few days to develop and analyze possible solutions. You may find you have greater clarity after sleeping on it. Your mind will also be fresh, so you’ll be able to make better decisions.

8. Get advice from your peers

Getting input from a group of people can help you find solutions you may not have thought of on your own. 

For solo entrepreneurs or freelancers, this might look like hiring a coach or mentor or joining a mastermind group. 

For leaders , it might be consulting other members of the leadership team or working with a business coach .

It’s important to recognize you might not have all the skills, experience, or knowledge necessary to find a solution alone. 

9. Use the Pareto principle

The Pareto principle — also known as the 80/20 rule — can help you identify possible root causes and potential solutions for your problems.

Although it’s not a mathematical law, it’s a principle found throughout many aspects of business and life. For example, 20% of the sales reps in a company might close 80% of the sales. 

You may be able to narrow down the causes of your problem by applying the Pareto principle. This can also help you identify the most appropriate solutions.

10. Add successful solutions to your toolkit

Every situation is different, and the same solutions might not always work. But by keeping a record of successful problem-solving strategies, you can build up a solutions toolkit. 

These solutions may be applicable to future problems. Even if not, they may save you some of the time and work needed to come up with a new solution.


Improving problem-solving skills is essential for professional development — both yours and your team’s. Here are some of the key skills of effective problem solvers:

  • Critical thinking and analytical skills
  • Communication skills , including active listening
  • Decision-making
  • Planning and prioritization
  • Emotional intelligence , including empathy and emotional regulation
  • Time management
  • Data analysis
  • Research skills
  • Project management

And they see problems as opportunities. Everyone is born with problem-solving skills. But accessing these abilities depends on how we view problems. Effective problem-solvers see problems as opportunities to learn and improve.

Ready to work on your problem-solving abilities? Get started with these seven tips.

1. Build your problem-solving skills

One of the best ways to improve your problem-solving skills is to learn from experts. Consider enrolling in organizational training , shadowing a mentor , or working with a coach .

2. Practice

Practice using your new problem-solving skills by applying them to smaller problems you might encounter in your daily life. 

Alternatively, imagine problematic scenarios that might arise at work and use problem-solving strategies to find hypothetical solutions.

3. Don’t try to find a solution right away

Often, the first solution you think of to solve a problem isn’t the most appropriate or effective.

Instead of thinking on the spot, give yourself time and use one or more of the problem-solving strategies above to activate your creative thinking. 


4. Ask for feedback

Receiving feedback is always important for learning and growth. Your perception of your problem-solving skills may be different from that of your colleagues. They can provide insights that help you improve. 

5. Learn new approaches and methodologies

There are entire books written about problem-solving methodologies if you want to take a deep dive into the subject. 

We recommend starting with “ Fixed — How to Perfect the Fine Art of Problem Solving ” by Amy E. Herman. 

6. Experiment

Tried-and-tested problem-solving techniques can be useful. However, they don’t teach you how to innovate and develop your own problem-solving approaches. 

Sometimes, an unconventional approach can lead to the development of a brilliant new idea or strategy. So don’t be afraid to suggest your most “out there” ideas.

7. Analyze the success of your competitors

Do you have competitors who have already solved the problem you’re facing? Look at what they did, and work backward to solve your own problem. 

For example, Netflix started in the 1990s as a DVD mail-rental company. Its main competitor at the time was Blockbuster. 

But when streaming became the norm in the early 2000s, both companies faced a crisis. Netflix innovated, unveiling its streaming service in 2007. 

If Blockbuster had followed Netflix’s example, it might have survived. Instead, it declared bankruptcy in 2010.

Use problem-solving strategies to uplevel your business

When facing a problem, it’s worth taking the time to find the right solution. 

Otherwise, we risk either running away from our problems or headlong into solutions. When we do this, we might miss out on other, better options.

Use the problem-solving strategies outlined above to find innovative solutions to your business’ most perplexing problems.

If you’re ready to take problem-solving to the next level, request a demo with BetterUp . Our expert coaches specialize in helping teams develop and implement strategies that work.

Boost your productivity

Maximize your time and productivity with strategies from our expert coaches.

Elizabeth Perry, ACC

Elizabeth Perry is a Coach Community Manager at BetterUp. She uses strategic engagement strategies to cultivate a learning community across a global network of Coaches through in-person and virtual experiences, technology-enabled platforms, and strategic coaching industry partnerships. With over 3 years of coaching experience and a certification in transformative leadership and life coaching from Sofia University, Elizabeth leverages transpersonal psychology expertise to help coaches and clients gain awareness of their behavioral and thought patterns, discover their purpose and passions, and elevate their potential. She is a lifelong student of psychology, personal growth, and human potential as well as an ICF-certified ACC transpersonal life and leadership Coach.

8 creative solutions to your most challenging problems

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Growth Mind Academy

Problem-solving Made Easy: Proven Strategies for Better Results

  • Post author: Samir Saif
  • Post published: March 20, 2023
  • Post category: marketing skills
  • Post comments: 4 Comments
  • Post last modified: December 7, 2023
  • Reading time: 11 mins read

You are currently viewing Problem-solving Made Easy: Proven Strategies for Better Results

Problem-solving is an essential ability in both personal and professional life. It’s no secret that life is full with challenges and hurdles to overcome, and our capacity to do so decides whether we succeed or fail.

Today, we’ll discuss why solving problems is important, how to approach it, and how to become a better problem solver.

Table of Contents

The problem-solving process

There are other approaches to problem solving, however we will concentrate on a five-step process:

  • Define the issue: Identify the problem at hand and define its parameters.
  • Collect information: Gather as much information as possible to properly comprehend the problem.
  • Create solutions: Create potential solutions and assess their viability.
  • Put a solution in place: Choose the best solution and implement it.
  • Examine the solution: Determine the effectiveness of the solution and make any necessary changes.

Proven Problem-Solving Strategies for Better Results

Picture of a couple with Problem-Solving Strategies written on top

When presented with an issue, having a variety of problem-solving skills at your disposal might be beneficial. Each method has advantages and disadvantages, and selecting the best one is dependent on the nature of the problem you are attempting to address.

For example, if you’re trying to come up with new ideas, brainstorming might be the best approach. A root cause analysis, on the other hand, may be more effective if you are attempting to understand the underlying causes of an issue.

Fishbone Diagram

A fishbone diagram is a visual tool used to identify and organize the origins of an issue or effect. It is widely used to identify the cause of an issue in quality management and process improvement.

The graphic is shaped like a fish skeleton, with the effect or problem as the ‘head’ and the potential causes branching off as the ‘bones’.

By identifying and categorizing potential reasons in this manner, the fishbone diagram supports an organized approach to issue solving. The diagram is often made on a whiteboard or a piece of paper, and it is frequently the product of a brainstorming session with a group of people who have knowledge and experience in the subject matter under consideration.

By identifying and arranging potential causes, the diagram supports a methodical approach to problem solving.

“Also read: What Are Soft Skills? (Definition, Examples and Resume Tips “

SWOT Analysis Made Easy

Image of a person leaning on a shoulder with SWOT Analysis written on it

A SWOT analysis can be effective for evaluating the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats associated with a certain issue. This might assist you in identifying potential solutions or risk-mitigation strategies.

Whatever issue-solving style you employ, it is critical to approach the situation with an open mind and a readiness to consider alternative viewpoints. You can improve your chances of finding an effective solution to the situation at hand by employing these several tactics.

8D Problem-Solving Method

The 8D problem-solving method is a methodical and successful problem-solving methodology that follows an eight-step structured procedure to detect, correct, and prevent reoccurring problems.

The 8D process starts with step one, which is to form a team to handle the problem. Individuals with diverse talents and expertise, as well as representatives from all departments and levels of the company, should form the team.

The second phase is detailing the problem, including its impact on the organization, customers, and stakeholders. This assists the team in having a comprehensive picture of the situation and its implications.

The third phase is to contain the problem to keep it from worsening while the team works on a solution. This could include halting the production line, recalling defective products, or shutting down a malfunctioning machine.

In step four, the team uses approaches such as the fishbone diagram or the 5 Whys to determine the fundamental cause of the problem. This aids in determining the root cause of the problem rather than simply treating the symptoms.

Step five entails developing and implementing corrective actions to address the problem’s primary cause. The team may also put these solutions to the test to ensure their efficacy.

Step six entails putting in place a long-term remedy to prevent the problem from repeating. This may entail altering processes, procedures, or systems in order to address the underlying source of the problem.

Step seven is appreciating the team’s efforts and sharing the lessons learned with the company in order to avoid similar difficulties in the future.

Finally, in step eight, the entire process is reviewed to confirm that the problem has been thoroughly resolved and to identify any areas for improvement in the problem-solving process.

The benefits of the 8D problem-solving method include improved problem-solving skills, increased collaboration and teamwork, better communication , and a focus on continuous improvement.

“Also read: Unleashing Your Career Growth Potential: Strategies, Opportunities, and Goals “

A3 Problem-Solving Template

Image of a person holding a pen and a girl holding a laptop

The A3 problem-solving template is a lean management technique for breaking down complicated problems into manageable components. It is made up of a single sheet of paper, usually the size of an A3 sheet, that follows an organized approach to problem solving.

The A3 template includes the problem description, current state analysis, root cause analysis, countermeasures, implementation strategy, and follow-up plan.

Each section takes the team through a step-by-step process for comprehending the problem, identifying its root causes, and devising solutions.

A3 Problem-Solving Example

Assume, for example, that a manufacturing company has a high rate of product faults. To begin, the team would complete the problem description section, which would explicitly explain the problem, its impact on the business, and the desired conclusion.

Following that, the present state analysis portion would be finished in order to comprehend the existing process and identify the symptoms of the problem.

The root cause analysis section would then be utilized to determine the underlying reasons of the faults. This information would then be used by the team to design countermeasures under the countermeasures portion. The implementation plan would subsequently be established to carry out the countermeasures and assure their long-term viability.

Finally, the team would complete the follow-up plan section to monitor the results and make any required changes to ensure that the problem was completely resolved. Overall, the A3 problem-solving template is a useful tool for teams to employ when confronted with difficult challenges, and it can assist in ensuring that they are solved in a structured and efficient manner.

Problem-Solving Book Recommendations

Image of a young man lighting a lamp and a girl sitting on a sofa written above it Problem-solving

There are many excellent problem-solving books available, but here are a few suggestions:

  • Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking, Fast and Slow” presents a detailed explanation of the two modes of thought that affect our judgments and conclusions, as well as practical tips for improving our problem-solving abilities.
  • “The Art of Possibility” by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander – This book delves into the notion of “possibility thinking” and provides inspiring anecdotes as well as practical techniques for fostering creativity and innovation.
  • “ Growth Marketing Hack ” Tools, skills and the most important strategies. Samir Saif wrote this. The book is designed to be a great resource for anyone interested in learning about growth hacking ideas and how to apply them in their marketing efforts.
  • “Cracking the Coding Interview” by Gayle Laakmann McDowell – A must-read for anybody preparing for technical interviews, this book provides step-by-step instructions on how to approach and solve coding tasks.
  • “The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking” by Edward Burger and Michael Starbird This book provides practical ways for developing a more effective and innovative mindset, building on concepts from mathematics, physics, and the arts.

These books provide varied viewpoints on problem-solving and can be excellent tools for anyone wishing to improve their problem-solving skills.

Critical Thinking vs. Problem Solving

Critical thinking and problem solving are two cognitive processes that are applied in a variety of contexts, including personal, academic, and professional settings.

Critical thinking is the ability to assess and evaluate information, arguments, or ideas in a methodical and impartial manner. It entails examining evidence, identifying assumptions, analyzing different perspectives, and reaching reasoned judgments or conclusions.

Problem-solving, on the other hand, refers to the act of finding solutions to specific issues or obstacles. It entails recognizing the problem, obtaining pertinent information, developing potential solutions, assessing those solutions, and deciding on the best course of action.

Problem-solving necessitates imagination, adaptability, and the ability to adapt to changing conditions. Although critical thinking and problem solving are independent concepts, they are intertwined and frequently complement one another.

Critical thinking is critical for effective issue solving because it assists individuals in identifying and evaluating the information required to discover a solution. In turn, problem-solving allows for the application of critical thinking abilities to real-world circumstances and the testing of assumptions and conclusions.

Furthermore, critical thinking can assist people in approaching problem resolution in a more systematic and successful manner. Critical thinking can help individuals develop more accurate and creative solutions by breaking difficult problems down into smaller components, discovering pertinent information, and considering alternative views.

Overall, critical thinking and problem-solving are fundamental cognitive processes that are required for success in a variety of areas of life. While they are different concepts, they frequently collaborate to assist individuals in making informed decisions, solving complex challenges, and achieving their goals.

Tips for becoming an effective problem solver

Picture of a couple trying to solve a problem with Tips for becoming an effective problem solver written on it

Let’s speak about ways to improve your problem-solving skills. Here are a few pointers to help you enhance your problem-solving abilities:

  • Maintain your cool: Maintaining your cool allows you to think more clearly and handle challenges objectively.
  • Active listening involves paying close attention to the ideas and perspectives of others in order to obtain a better grasp of the problem.
  • Be inventive: Consider alternative ways and answers to the problem, even if they appear unusual.
  • Don’t give up: Problem-solving can be difficult, so it’s critical to endure and keep trying until a solution is discovered.
  • Learn from previous experiences: Reflect on previous experiences to determine what worked and what didn’t, and then apply that knowledge to future situations.

Understanding the importance of problem-solving

To begin, consider why problem-solving is so important. Life is unpredictable, and difficulties might arise at any time. Professionally, organizations require problem solvers to identify and resolve challenges that develop in their operations.

Being a good problem solver can lead to better decision-making, fewer stress, and a happier life in general. As a result, the capacity to solve issues efficiently is critical.


Finally, problem-solving is an important talent that can have an impact on both our personal and professional lives.

We may handle obstacles with confidence and achieve our goals by understanding the importance of problem-solving, tackling it with an organized strategy, and implementing recommendations to become a more successful problem solver.

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Problem Solving Best Practices

man writing on whiteboard

The scenario: Your business is going through some challenges and you called a meeting with your colleagues to problem solve and get to a solution fast. You are well prepared, you have set an agenda, presented the problem statement and now you are asking your colleagues to brainstorm. What was supposed to be a productive meeting turns quickly into a foggy swamp, where your colleagues are at turns disengaged, annoyed, or shooting down proposed ideas.

Why do you think this happens? There are several reasons behind this and most have to do with our mental attitude and the problem-solving techniques we employ. In this series, we explore the barriers to and the best methods for effective problem solving and what skills differentiate good problem solvers.

Here are the most common barriers to successful problem solving:

  • Confirmation Bias: The tendency to only search for or interpret information that confirms a person's existing ideas. People misinterpret or disregard data that doesn't align with their beliefs.
  • Mental Set: People's inclination to solve problems using the same tactics they have used to solve past problems. While this can sometimes be a useful strategy, it often limits inventiveness and creativity.
  • Functional Fixedness: This is another form of narrow thinking, where people become "stuck" thinking in a certain way and are unable to be flexible or change perspective.
  • Unnecessary Constraints: When people are overwhelmed with a problem, they can invent and impose additional limits on solution avenues.
  • Groupthink: Be wary of the tendency for group members to agree with each other — this might be out of conflict avoidance, choosing a path of least resistance, or fear of speaking up. While this agreeableness might make meetings run smoothly, it can stunt creativity and idea generation, therefore limiting the success of your chosen solution.
  • Irrelevant Information: The tendency to pile on multiple problems and factors that may not even be related to the challenge at hand. This can cloud the team's ability to find direct, targeted solutions.

These barriers are examples of mental rigidity. You may have heard these examples appear in the form of common phrases like 'We've never done it before,' or 'We've always done it this way.' This rigidity is a natural human response. Our brain likes repetition and continuity and it will resist addressing challenges if this requires a fundamental change.

The key for anyone looking to become a master problem solver is to focus on the content (i.e., writing a good problem statement and good problem-solving techniques) and the context (e.g., the mindset of those involved as well as one's own).

Let's start with the problem statement. A problem statement is a statement of a current issue or challenge that requires timely action and a long-term resolution. A good problem statement has the following characteristics:

  • Concise and Clear - It explains concisely an issue needing resolution or a current condition that needs improvement. It also identifies what our desired state would be.
  • Free from Bias - The statement is as free as possible from bias, focusing only on the problem's facts and leaving out any subjective opinions.
  • Well Structured - It should make explicit the who, what, when, where and why of the issue so that anyone reading can quickly make sense of the current situation.
  • Focused on Business Impact -  The problem statement should clarify the consequences of action or inaction. That way, the reader can quickly assess the risk associated with the problem at hand.

An old saying declares that “ a problem well stated is a problem half solved .” While that may be somewhat optimistic, having the right pieces in place certainly helps.

Our next article will cover the best problem-solving techniques that you can use when working with a team.

For additional information on how to develop your problem solving skills, email us at [email protected] .

Image Courtesy of Pexels . 

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7 ways to cultivate students’ problem-solving skills.

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Parents, teachers, and other adults have developed a lot of skills and knowledge that can make it easy for us to solve problems. We’ve seen the situation before, and the solution may seem obvious to us, but young people are likely encountering the challenge for the first time. How do we help them tackle the problems themselves so that they develop the expertise they’ll need to solve other problems in the future?

Use these tips to help you think about how you support young people in solving challenges they encounter.

  • Encourage “playing with” the problem. Encourage young people to throw out lots of ideas, make conjectures, and consider many different possibilities–even some that are outlandish. Look at the problem from many perspectives. This flexible thinking is an important skill for forming better solutions than the first that come to mind.
  • Guide the young person to break a big problem into its parts. Then focus on aspects of the problem that the young person doesn’t understand or that seem like they have more potential to be solved.
  • Ask the young person to work through the problem out loud. Not only does this help you coach the young person, but it also slows down the thinking process.
  • Model and talk about the problem solving process, rather than focusing on getting the right answer. Talk through the steps you take and ask the young person to do the same so that it’s easier to learn.
  • Have the student work through the problem on her or his own. Give only as much assistance as you need to when the young person is really stuck. And when you do so, limit your guidance to questions or suggestions that will help the young person move through a specific issue without solving the whole problem for her or him.
  • Ask open-ended questions. Instead of, “Do you think that will fit in there?” you might ask a more open-ended question, such as, “What do you think it will take to get everything to fit inside?” Ask follow-up questions that encourage the young person to articulate their problem-solving process. This not only helps you learn and guide, but it reinforces the skills.
  • Give positive reinforcement when young people overcome an obstacle or master a new problem-solving skill. Be specific in highlighting what they have done or learned.

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Barton Goldsmith Ph.D.

10 Useful Tips for Emotional Problem Solving

Right now, we all have more than our fair share of problems..

Posted August 12, 2020 | Reviewed by Gary Drevitch

Right now, we all have more than our fair share of problems: not just the pandemic, inequality, and the economy but also interpersonal issues, which can loom much larger with all of this. Here are some tips for staying emotionally balanced and getting those annoying problems solved.

  • Step away from a problem that is vexing you at the moment, and do something completely different. This is a tried-and-true way of giving yourself the mental room to find an answer or let one come to you. Just remember to return to whatever you were working on after you take a break. (I am now going to put up the patio umbrella and will come back to this in a few minutes).
  • Create a comfortable space just to be and relax (like the patio) and spend some time there —not specifically to solve the problem du jour but to relax or even space out for a little while. Again, this works very well for most people and often leads to creative ideas.
  • Verbalize the problem to yourself. No, you are not crazy if you talk to yourself. I often read my columns aloud before I finalize them. Sometimes you hear something that you need or something that you should let go of. Either way, the process is a solid one, as long as it doesn’t become your only means of communication!
  • Talk to a friend, a companion, or a therapist if you need to sort out some issues. We all know therapy works if you put a little energy into it, and advice from a trusted friend is also reliable. Talking through a problem with another person is how most people figure things out. Weigh what you hear with what you know, and find a balance.
  • Don’t put your problems out on social media . Doing it is truly like jumping into shark-infested waters with a bucket of chum. I have seen people get ripped to shreds by trolls and haters, and if you are in a sensitive emotional place, that can damage your spirit. If you do message with friends about your pain, be sure to ask them to keep it private.
  • Figure out where the problem is coming from. Is this a problem because of the pandemic, or have you been dealing with this forever and are just sick and tired of being sick and tired? Some problems take more time to solve than others, and other problems are just inside our own heads. Isolate the source to make it easier to deal with.
  • Adjust your point of view. Perhaps you are being triggered by pain of the past or fears of the future, either of which can influence the way you perceive a problem. Imagine how you would resolve things if life were back to normal, and get your priorities in order. People are more important than things—always.
  • Set a timeline. We can spend more time than it’s worth trying to figure out how to resolve a problem. If 90 percent of your energy is going into one issue, you won’t have the presence of mind needed to deal with the world in its current chaotic state. If you can’t figure things out in a couple of days, put it on hold and come back to it later.
  • Be willing to walk away. Sometimes the only way to peacefully resolve an uncomfortable issue is to simply walk away from it. That might go against your normal thinking, but if you are never going to get what you need, you should look for it somewhere else.
  • Trust that the answers are inside you. If you sit quietly and let the answers come to you, they will. Being calm like this allows your mind to create a reasonable path to solving any problem.

Moving from one problem to the next, hopefully as gracefully as possible, is how we navigate through this thing called life. We all have problems. How we deal with them is what makes the difference between a very difficult time and one that is not so bad.

Barton Goldsmith Ph.D.

Barton Goldsmith, Ph.D., LMFT is a licensed psychotherapist, a columnist, and the author of 7 books, including Emotional Fitness for Couples.

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16 Practical Tips for Solving Your Problems More Easily

What’s the best way to solve a problem?

I really don’t think there is one way to do it. And the ways you can use to solve a problem depends on the problem.

But I have found a few tips that have helped me solve problems more easily. I seldom use all of the tips for solving one problem and they aren’t arranged in any special order.

However, I find doing some of these things early on can really help you solve the problem faster and with less struggle and pain.

1. Accept the problem.

An image of a person solving a Rubicks cube.

This is the one I try to do first when I run into a problem and I use it almost every time.

When you accept that the problem already exists and stop resisting then you also stop putting more energy into the problem and feeding it.

Now it just exists (well, more or less, you might still feel a bit down about it).

And you can use the energy you previously fed the problem with – the energy that probably made the problem look bigger than it was – to find creative solutions to the challenge.

2. Ask yourself: what’s the worst that can happen?

This is another one to do early on. You can easily to use your mind to blow problems all out of proportion.

By asking this question you can restore the problem to it’s original size. And realize that the worst case scenario – if you actually define it – is perhaps not so pleasant but something you can handle and solve.

3. Gather some good knowledge.

An image of a person reading a book.

Information about your problem can often decrease that uncertain anxiety and fear we face when we are challenged with something.

Knowledge wisps away the clouds of fear around a problem. And we often find that the problem might not be as bad as we thought.

4. Try to figure out possible problem along the way.

This is something you can do before the problem even arises. Be prepared.

When you research – as described in point # 3 – also try to find out what others in the same situation ran into, what kind of challenges they faced. Ask people what they did.

If you don’t have anyone to ask then books, forums and blogs are good resources for gathering the personal experience of people.

Also, be on the lookout for local groups and organizations. Google it and see what you find. If you keep your eyes and ears open you are sure to find something helpful.

5. Ask for help.

An image of a girl helping a boy up after he has fallen.

You can ask people for advice on what to do and what they did in similar situations like yours. But you can also ask for more practical help.

You don’t have to solve every problem on your own and sometimes it feels better to have someone by your side, even if it is just for emotional support.

6. Let go of the need to be right.

Open your mind to a solution that may work and try it out instead of just making snap judgments based on little information and experience.

The need to be right can make you disregard solutions that are just what you need for far too long.

7. Come up with more than one solution.

An image of someone explaining something with his hands.

You don’t know what will actually work before you try it. What may seem like a good solution in theory doesn’t always work in reality.

So brain-storm and come up with at least a few solutions. If the first didn’t work, try the next one.

8. Redefine failure.

This is important both to handle fear of failure for the whole problem and to get you start trying different solutions without too much hesitation.

The definition of failure we are brought up with in society might not be the best and most useful to have. If you look at the most successful people you quickly notice that they have a different response to failure than the more common one.

They don’t take failure or rejection that seriously. They know it’s not the end of the world if they fail. Instead they look at each failure and see the good part about it : what they can learn from it and improve next time.

They have an abundance-mentality. They know that if their first business-venture fails it feels like crap for a while but it’s ok in the long run. They learn from it and then they try again. Redefine failure as feedback and as a natural part of a successful life.

9. Break down the problem into smaller pieces.

An image of a digital camera taken apart into its individual pieces.

Completing a task or solving a problem can seem overwhelming and impossible if you take it all in at once. To decrease anxiety and think more clearly try to break the problem down.

Try to identify the different things and people it consists of. Then figure out one practical solution you can take for each of those pieces. Try those solutions.

They may not solve the whole problem immediately. But they might solve a few pieces of it.

And then you can keep trying other solutions for the rest of the pieces until there are none left.

10. Use the 80/20 rule.

Use 80 percent of your time to find solutions and only 20 percent to complain, worry and whine.

It might not always be easy but focusing your energy, time and thoughts in this way is much more beneficial to you and others than doing the opposite.

11. Use Parkinson’s Law.

This law says that a task will expand in time and seeming complexity depending on the time you set aside for it.

For instance, if you say to yourself that you’ll come up with a solution within a week then the problem will seem to grow more difficult and you’ll spend more and more time trying to come up with a solution.

Combine this law with the 80/20 rule to find solutions quickly. Focus your time on finding solutions. Then just give yourself an hour (instead of the whole day) or the day (instead of the whole week) to solve the problem.

This will force your mind to focus on solutions and action.

12. Find the lesson or opportunity within the problem.

There is almost always a good side of a problem.

Perhaps it alerts us to a great way to improve our business. Or teaches us how our lives perhaps aren’t as bad as we thought.

Finding this more positive part of the problem reduces its negative emotional impact and you may even start to see the situation as a great opportunity for you.

When you are faced with a problem ask yourself:

  • How can I use this?
  • What is the good thing about this?
  • What can I learn from this?
  • What hidden opportunity can I find within this problem?

13. Actually talk about the problem and communicate clearly.

Many problems arise because someone misinterpreted what someone else said.

One way to make sure that you and everyone else have the same interpretation of for instance a project is to have people repeat back their view of the project and their part in it. See if your and their view matches.

If a conflict arises then maybe you need to just talk it out, let go of a bit of steam, emotion and tension instead of everyone bottling it up. After that the discussion may be less emotionally charged.

And it becomes easier to communicate clearly and reach a good solution for everyone involved.

14. Create fewer problems.

A lot of our problems are created by ourselves.

You save yourself a lot of trouble by being proactive, thinking before you speak and trying to avoid creating or complicating problems more than necessary.

One way to decrease problems is to follow – as much as you can – Dale Carnegie’s wise words: “Never criticize, complain or condemn”.

Many problems are somehow connected to relationships with other people so a good way to create less problems is to improve your social skills. Check out Do You Make These 10 Mistakes in a Conversation?

And go down to your local library and borrow a copy of How to Win Friends and Influence People.

15. Use the power of words to your advantage.

Our minds respond more than one may think to what words that are used to describe something.

A problem is a negatively charged word. To make it easier to handle the problem use the more neutral or positive word challenge instead.

This may sound like some empty and in reality just useless advice. But, at least to me, I have found that doing this small change has some impact on how negatively/positively I view a situation.

16. Keep your motivation up.

It’s easy to be discouraged, especially if you fear failure and your first and second solution to a problem didn’t work. You might feel like just giving up .

Then it’s time to give yourself a boost of motivation . Changing your mental state to a brighter, more positive and more motivated one can make all the difference in the world.

It will keep you going . Even though you might just a few minutes earlier felt like all hope was gone.

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About the Author

suggestions on problem solving

Comments on this entry are closed.

it is interesting to see the problems as problems beyond emotions as base.

thanks man its really good.. Intially i just searched this for ma assignment but its really worth and useful.. u hav mentioned lot of different and useful things.. keep up the good work..

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3 Tips for Effective Problem Solving

September 14, 2018.

Jay Vanderboon

Written By:

Jay Vanderboon | ASQ Certified Six Sigma Black Belt

3 Tips for Effective Problem Solving

The team at DISHER loves to problem solve. We take on many roles with clients where we put our hours of problem-solving training and experience to work. Some of our favorite structured methods include: Six Sigma, Shainen, KT, Practical Problem Solving, A3 problem solving, and 8D problem Solving. However, the complete list of problem-solving tools is endless. Each process is excellent with countless anecdotes for saving time and money— and for making epic breakthroughs.

3 Tips for Effective Problem Solving

Sometimes problem-solving training may create false expectations. Keep these three tips in mind as you go through the process.

3 Problem Solving Tips

Broken Lever Case Study

Let’s take a look at a recent project of mine which perfectly illustrates each point.

The problem statement : Two different plastic levers are breaking at a much lower-than-required cycle testing during validation.

The problem-solving journey : To solve the lever-breaking problem, the team dove in using effective problem-solving tools such as: Ishikawa’s, 5-Why’s, Is-Is/Not’s, and others. In addition, we used sophisticated technology, X-ray equipment, Failure Effects Analysis (FEA), and Strain Gages.

1. Not every problem solving is immediately successful

Problems aren’t always solved correctly the first time. Over a period of months using our problem-solving tools and engineering analysis, the team determined optimum materials and two new designs. An FEA indicated both designs were expected to pass testing without issue, with Lever 1 having lower strength characteristics. Lever 1 was available for testing, but it would take some time to get samples of Lever 2. Crunched for time, the team tested the weaker lever. The weakest lever passed (3x’s) the accelerated life testing without issue. After a lot of high-fives, the team considered the problem solved. Then samples of Lever 2 arrived, and PV testing began. Approximately one fourth of the way through testing, the unthinkable happened. Lever 2, the stronger lever, broke. What was thought to be the successful solution, turned into another data point.

2. Problem-solving is a learned skill

How many of you have heard the statement, “We don’t have time for that, we need a fix NOW!” Too often people resort to knee-jerk solutions, shotgun approaches, or the pull the trigger and hope something hits the target plan. It is likely you’ve experienced a response like this when suggesting a proven process for problem-solving, (i.e. Six Sigma, PDCA, DMAIC, KT, and Shainen).

Don’t be afraid to explore different problem-solving processes but be sure to use a process. Problem solving is a learned skill that will influence better solutions. The more a team navigates through the process, the more learning will take place. Both for the specific problem at hand and for future problem-solving navigation.

Do not be tempted to skip steps in the process. Always walk the GEMBA walk— even if it was done in previous iterations of the process. Diligence and focus are key differentiators to problem-solving success. In our example, during GEMBA walk 20 (of which 19 of them felt like a “waste of time”), the team finally had a break through. A team member noticed a slight bounce (vibration), during validation cycling where the actuator engaged with the levers. It was very slight, and not on every cycle; however, it was there. The solution to the problem was in the bounce. Strain-gage testing revealed that the bounce was adding many times more stress and many times more cycles than intended for validation.

Be encouraged to stick with your process and don’t give up! The team that was working on the levers stayed with the process and had to start over multiple times. Each lesson learned added clarity and focus to the problem statement.

3. Not every problem solving is successful in the way a team would like it to be.

The team wanted the enhanced design and the new material to be the solution, not the bounce in the testing. Nevertheless, the problem-solving process was successful. From the beginning of validation, the bounce created a condition where we were over-testing the parts. This resulted in the team overdesigning the parts. To verify the hypothesis, parts from the original failed lots were tested appropriately without the bounce and both passed.

Problems are often messy, with no clear lines to the solution. Expect a problem-solving effort to be iterative. Problem solving is a learned process that requires focus and commitment. The process requires the constant input of new data. Go where the data leads … even if it’s not what the team expects (or wants). The answer is the answer.

I’d love to hear what problem-solving methods you use regularly with success! If your organization is looking for ways to strengthen your quality processes and outcomes, give us a call. We are like a problem-solving SWAT team ready to go to work for you. We not only have the degrees and certifications, but real-world experience to take your operation to the next level of productivity and performance.

Written By: Jay Vanderboon, ASQ Certified Six Sigma Black Belt

Jay has an Associate’s in Electrical Engineering, a Bachelor’s in Business Management, and an MBA in Project Management. He is also an AIAG certified APQP/PPAP Specialist, KT Certified Problem-Solving and Decision-Making Practitioner, ASQ Certified Quality Engineer, and ASQ Certified Six Sigma Black Belt. In his spare time, Jay enjoys his 3 kids, participates in Tae Kwon Do tournaments, runs a Korean Martial Arts Club, and prepares tax statements.

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Answering Problem-Solving Interview Questions: Tips and Examples

Answering Problem-Solving Interview Questions: Tips and Examples

Problem-solving skills are difficult to describe and quantify: they’re a combination of different hard and soft skills such as logical inference, technical knowledge, adaptability and innovation, leadership potential, decision-making, productivity, and collaboration.

All are crucial for developing expertise and delivering results at work — especially when the going gets tough.

And because problem-solving is so important, you’re almost guaranteed to get asked about it in a job interview. Read on, and make sure no problem-solving question catches you off guard.

In this article, you’ll learn:

  • How to answer problem-solving job interview questions
  • Types of problem-solving questions
  • Why recruiters ask these questions and what your answers might reveal
  • Sample answers for the main types of problem-solving questions

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How to Answer Problem-Solving Job Interview Questions

Here’s how to understand the intention behind problem-solving interview questions and create an informative answer that will highlight your expertise and potential.

Understand the problem-solving question and why recruiters ask it

Hiring managers and recruiters want to know how you identify roadblocks, analyze information, and overcome challenges. These challenges can vary from specific, technical issues to more general issues like improving company processes or handling interpersonal relationships.

To put these skills to the test, recruiters use “problem-solving” job interview questions, also known as analytical questions. Here are some common ones:

  • Tell me about a situation where you had to solve a difficult problem.
  • Give me a specific example of a time when you used good judgment and logic in solving a problem.
  • Describe a time when you didn’t know how to solve a problem. What did you do?
  • Describe how you approach a complex or difficult problem.

Here’s what these questions help recruiters discover:

Your adaptability and innovation

Are you an out-of-the-box thinker who’s open to new ideas and who can handle uncharted waters easily?

Efficiency and productivity

Are your problem-solving skills contributing to the team’s performance, removing bottlenecks, smoothing out processes, and keeping projects on track?

Collaboration and communication

Are you successfully collaborating with others to find solutions? Are you handling people-related problems effectively?


Can you efficiently evaluate different options and reach a decision independently? Can you make sound decisions to minimize risks and maximize benefits and opportunities?

Leadership potential

Are your problem-solving skills so good that they open up new opportunities for you to move in the leadership direction ?

Problem-solving interview questions are not tied to a specific role and industry. Mastering your problem-solving skills will help you stand out from the competition and be more successful in your role, whatever it may be.

And if you need help with answering other common interview questions, sign up for our free course !

Reflect on your thought process

Be mindful of your thought processes when you face a difficult problem.

Is your initial reaction to panic or are you calm and enthusiastic to tackle it? Is the problem stopping you from focusing on everything else you’re working on? Do you look at the problem as a whole or do you break it down?

Understanding how you think and approach the problem will help you know yourself and improve your problem-solving skills, but it’ll also make it easier to answer these tricky questions during an interview.

Be specific

Tailor your answers to problem-solving interview questions so that you cover specific details, actions, and skills relevant to the position. If possible, list the results and share lessons learned from an experience you’re describing.

We’re not saying you should lie and make up a story about your problem-solving skills for each position you apply for; remember that this is a broad set of skills and you surely have something relevant from your past experience that you can bring up.

💡 For example, if you’re a Customer Service Representative applying for the same role in another company, you can speak about how you solved a customer’s problem or how you helped the team switch to a new CRM tool and transfer all the data.

💡 If you’re applying for a leadership role in the customer service field, you can speak about how you handled an interpersonal problem within a team or how you spotted bottlenecks and modified processes to make the team more efficient.

💡 If you’re moving to a Sales position, you can highlight your selling experience and talk about a time when you had to solve a customer’s problem and you managed to upsell them in the process.

Follow up with clear outcomes

Prove you have outstanding problem-solving skills by listing clear outcomes for every problem you solved. They can be quantitative or qualitative.

💡 Fixed a process? Say that it improved team productivity by X%.

💡 Handled a difficult client? If they became a VIP customer later on, mention it.

💡 Resolved a conflict? Describe how the experience helped you strengthen the bonds in a team.

💡 Solved a complex technical problem? Say that you got a bonus for it, or that you expanded and improved the existing documentation to help coworkers in the future.

Use the STAR method

Whenever possible, use the STAR (situation-task-action-result) method in your answer:

  • (S) ituation: Describe the situation and provide context.
  • (T) ask: What tasks you planned on doing to tackle the issue, your contribution.
  • (A) ction you took (step-by-step).
  • (R) esult of your efforts.

It’ll help you create a well-rounded answer that’s informative and engaging. Plus, using this method to prepare answers in advance will help you memorize the story quickly and easily.

✅ Bear in mind that not every problem-solving interview question can be answered with a STAR method. Some questions will be very specific and will ask for quick and short information about a certain tool or similar. Other questions, the ones beginning with “Give me an example when…” or “Tell me about a time when…” will be the perfect opportunity to use the STAR method.

Also, remember that there’s never a single correct answer to a problem-solving question, just like there usually are multiple solutions to a given problem — a study on the hospitality industry revealed that the most successful problem-solving strategies applied in the workplace were always very specific to given circumstances.

Questions about your problem-solving skills are just one group of the standard interview questions, you can be almost sure you will get asked. Prepare for other interview “classics” with our dedicated guides:

  • Tell Me About Yourself: Sample Answers
  • Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years?
  • Why Did You Leave Your Last Job?
  • What Are Your Strenghts?
  • What Is Your Greatest Weakness?
  • How Do You Handle Conflict?
  • Why Should We Hire You?
  • Why Do You Want to Work Here?

If prepping for a video interview, learn what to expect from this guide: Video Interviewing Tips & Tricks

And if you’re interested in interviewing for specific positions, see:

  • Sales Interview Questions and Answers
  • Customer Service Interview Questions and Answers
  • Customer Service Manager Interview Questions and Answers
  • Behavioral Interview Questions for Customer Service

Types of Problem-Solving Job Interview Questions

1. general problem-solving questions.

These questions aim to discover your general approach to problems and challenges.

How do you approach complex problems?

Interviewers want to know how you approach the process of solving complex problems. Do you jump straight into it or do you take a step back, break the problem down into manageable components, analyze the info you have, and then dive in?

Can you provide an example of a challenging issue you’ve encountered and how you resolved it?

Can you assess a situation and find the most appropriate solution? Can you handle the pressure? Do you take the lead during difficult times? Are you able to take responsibility for the outcomes?

This question is more specific than the previous one, so make sure you think about a situation in advance and prepare your answer using the STAR method.

Big Interview’s Answer Builder can help you shape your answer. You’ll be able to list and filter the points you’d like to mention, add details and rearrange the order to create a compelling story.

Plus, you’ll get bite-sized tips on how to answer the most common interview questions while you’re in the Builder.

How do you prioritize multiple tasks when faced with tight deadlines?

Recruiters want to know how you set criteria based on which you’ll set priorities, how and if you juggle between multiple tasks, and how you communicate and collaborate with other people involved.

General problem-solving sample answer

“Tell me about a time when you faced a difficult problem at work. How did you solve it?”

Behavioral questions about problem-solving

Behavioral questions ask for specific situations from your past in which you displayed a certain behavior. Based on it, recruiters hope to predict how you’ll perform in the future.

Tell me about a time when your team faced a problem and you helped to find a solution

This one’s asked to assess your teamwork and cooperation skills in tough situations.

Interestingly, a 2015 study on problem-solving in the workplace showed that when it comes to expertise-related problems, employees rarely relied on trial-and-error or information retrieval as modes of problem-solving.

Instead, they mostly relied on help from others, that is, their coworkers who they believed were experts on the subject matter.

This puts emphasis on the importance of teamwork and collaboration in problem-solving. And you certainly noticed how easier it gets to solve a problem (or brainstorm a new idea) as a group, when different individuals bring fresh, unique ideas to the table.

So, recruiters want to know if you’d be cooperative and open to a teamwork experience, and these factors might hint at how you’ll fit in with the team.

Describe a situation in which you received criticism for your solution to a problem. How did you handle that?

This one checks how you handle feedback and criticism — it’s challenging, but it’s essential for growth.

In your answer, make sure you depict a situation in which you demonstrated that growth mindset and the ability to see that taking criticism is not a sign of weakness (or a personal attack on you) but a unique opportunity to learn something new.

Can you provide an example of when you had to collaborate with a team to solve a work-related problem?

Similarly to the first question in this group, this one aims to see how you perform in a team and solve problems collectively.

According to a study , in a team, task completion can be independent , when each team member completes their own activities, sequential , when activities go from one team member to another, reciprocal , when activities are done back-and-forth between team members, or intensive , when all team members work on activities and problem-solving simultaneously.

Recruiters want to get to know more about your ideal teamwork process model and how you connect with others to solve problems.

Your answer will tell them if you’re a good team problem-solver, team player, and if you’re able to give and share credit, as well as take responsibility if something goes wrong.

Behavioral problem-solving sample answer

“Can you describe a situation where you had to use your problem-solving skills to make a decision?”

Situational problem-solving questions

Situational problem-solving questions put you in a hypothetical situation, present a problem, and ask for your opinion/solution.

Even if you haven’t encountered a similar situation in the past, it will help you to draw parallels from your experience to create answers to these questions.

How would you respond if a high-priority project was suddenly delayed, jeopardizing the deadline?

Your answer to this question will tell recruiters about your flexibility, time and task organization, prioritization, as well as how you handle pressure.

An ideal employee will be able to think quickly and adapt to unforeseen circumstances, all the while remaining calm and composed. You’ll want to aim at displaying these qualities in your answer.

Imagine a scenario where your manager was unavailable, but a client had an urgent issue – what would you do?

Taking the lead and taking calculated risks shows that a person has outstanding problem-solving skills and is not afraid to take initiative, which shows leadership potential.

Your answer to this question needs to demonstrate your ability to quickly analyze information, weigh pros and cons of a situation, and make decisions on the spot. This is especially important if you’re applying for leadership positions, like a team leader or a project manager.

If you encountered a high-stress situation that required you to stay calm and focused, how would you handle it?

Recruiters and hiring managers want to assess your ability to handle stress, make rational decisions, and maintain a focused approach in tricky, high-pressure situations.

Make sure to provide them with relevant examples from your past that will paint a picture of your skills and abilities. This is especially relevant for high-pressure positions such as police officers, lawyers, financial analysts, and similar.

Situational problem-solving sample answer

“Imagine you’re faced with a tight deadline, but you’ve encountered a significant roadblock. How would you handle this situation?”

Technical questions about problem-solving

Technical problem-solving questions are based on the technical knowledge that underlies each role. They aim to check your expertise or the means by which you connect the dots or obtain information if you don’t possess it.

Will you sort through the documentation to find a solution? Or is your first reaction to recall a past experience? Perhaps you prefer connecting with an expert or a coworker with more experience than you. Or you’re the type of person to synthesize your existing knowledge and try to find a solution through trial and error. Maybe you’ll turn to a book or a course? Whatever it is, recruiters would like to know.

There are many ways to solve these problems and your preferred strategies will give recruiters insight into how you think and act.

Examples of technical questions about problem-solving are:

  • How would you assess and resolve a performance issue in a web application?
  • Describe your approach to troubleshooting a networking issue that spans multiple devices.
  • How would you approach debugging a piece of software with limited documentation?
  • How would you deal with an angry VIP customer if your boss was away?
  • What would you do if you noticed a decline in the ROI of your team?

💡 Bear in mind that, with the rapid development of AI, the majority of technical tasks might be overtaken by robots in the future. That’s why it’s important that you work on your non-technical skills, too. Employers are already admitting that problem-solving skills are the second most important skill they’re looking for. For this reason, researchers are working hard to find and develop frameworks for helping people improve their problem-solving capabilities — you can read more about it in this paper on problem-solving skills among graduate engineers .

Technical problem-solving sample answer

“How would you troubleshoot an error in a software product that has been released to customers?”

✅ Pro tip: Practicing in advance is the only way to make sure your answer is flawless! The Mock Interview Tool will help you record your answer and get instant feedback on its quality and delivery. From power words and your pace of speech to “ummm” counter and eye contact, you’ll get help on how to improve in no time!

Our tool helped AJ land his first job in tech and get 7 job offers in the process . “I think Big Interview was super helpful in that aspect of having canned answers for every possible scenario and being in the moment of answering those questions.”, said AJ.

Big Interview Mock Interview Tool

Problem-Solving Interview Questions: Popular Opinions vs. Expert Advice

Now that we covered different types of problem-solving questions and how to answer them, we decided to dive into popular forums and see what job-seekers have to say on this topic. We picked pieces of advice that resonated with the community and confronted them with expert-backed best practices. Let’s see where we stand.

IndianaJones Jr on Reddit said : “If I was an interviewer asking this question, I would expect a personalized answer relevant to yourself, not to specific projects. At least that’s my interpretation.

“What are your experiences in problem-solving?” 

Sample answer: Generally, when I’m working on a project I find it’s easier to start at the end and work backwards. I use that to get a broad strokes idea of where my work needs to take me on any particular project and then I head in that direction. I find that when I get to specific problems I can get too stuck on using tried and true methods so I try to encourage myself to use out-of-the-box solutions. For example [your example here]…”

Career expert comments:

The “bones” of this sample answer are solid. It puts emphasis on breaking down the candidate’s thought process and displays patterns through which the candidate solves problems and learns along the way. However, the most important part of the answer — the actual example of a candidate’s problem-solving skills put to practice — remains a placeholder. Remember, the more specific you get in your answer, the better the impression you make on the interviewer. So here, I recommend paying equal attention to a specific situation in which you solved a problem and using the STAR method to tell that story.

Ambitious_Tell_4852 , when discussing the question “Give an example of a challenge you faced and how you overcame it,” said: 

“Clearly, that is the standard trick question designed for a prospective new hire to tell a prospective employer about his/her professional weaknesses. Oldest “negative Nelli’’ question imaginable during the interview process. Always keep your answer thorough and positive albeit sickeningly sugar-coated! 😁”

This is, straight-out, a bad piece of advice. If an interviewer wants to hear about your weaknesses, they will ask “What is your greatest weakness?” 

A question about overcoming a challenge isn’t a trick question at all. I’d argue it’s actually an opportunity to share some of your proudest wins. But when it comes to answering this question, it’s true that your answers do need to be thorough and positive. This doesn’t mean you need to sugar-coat anything, though. Interviewers don’t want to hear you downplaying your challenges. On the contrary, they want to hear you speak about them honestly and explain what you learned from them. And being able to do so puts a healthy, positive spin on the situation. To put it shortly: provide a real example from your past, answer this question honestly, and emphasize the results and lessons learned. 

Here’s an opinion from a hiring manager, Hugh on Quora, about how to answer a question about a time you needed to solve a problem:

“It really doesn’t matter what the problem you describe is or how you solved it. What I am looking/listening for is 1) the size of the problem (the bigger, the better, a broken shoelace before going out on a date is not an impressive problem) and 2) a step-by-step process to a satisfactory solution (if suddenly all variables fell into place does not show me that you solved the problem — you were just there when it solved itself).

I am also looking/listening for an example of how you solve a problem after you are hired. I may have to explain it to my superiors, and I would like to know that I have a complete and accurate story to tell.”

Career expert comments:  

A good piece of advice from someone who has first-hand hiring experience. When talking about problem-solving, a detailed description of your process is key. The only thing I wouldn’t agree with is having to choose a “big” problem. If you do have experience solving a big problem, that’s great. But sometimes you won’t have a major problem to talk about, and it largely depends on your level of experience and your position. So pick a relevant difficulty, even if it’s not that big, in which you displayed skills relevant to the role you’re applying for.

  • Problem-solving skills encompass your logical inference, technical knowledge, adaptability and innovation, leadership potential, decision-making, productivity, and collaboration.
  • Because these skills are important in the workplace, there’s a variety of problem-solving interview questions recruiters will ask to assess you.
  • Some of them include behavioral, situational, or technical problem-solving questions.
  • In order to answer these questions, you need to be aware of your thought processes when faced with a problem.
  • In your answer, be as specific as you can and use the STAR format whenever possible.
  • Make sure to highlight outcomes, results, or lessons learned.
  • As always, the best strategy is to anticipate these questions and prepare rough answers in advance. Including practicing your answer so you’re confident for your interview.


Need help with your job search? There are 3 ways we can help you:

  • Tired of interviewing and not landing the job? Discover actionable lessons and interview practice here (Rated with 4.9/5 by 1,000,000 users).
  • Learn how to talk about your proudest accomplishments without bragging or underselling yourself.
  • Learn how to answer tricky questions about conflict resolution in the workplace.

How can I improve my problem-solving skills?

Stay in the loop with new technologies and trends. Accept challenges and problems as a way to grow, don’t panic over them. Acquire a systematic approach to analyzing problems, break them down into smaller components which will help you discover root causes and devise a solution plan. Practice logical thinking, evaluating evidence, and staying objective. And give yourself time. Perhaps not surprisingly, studies suggest that the more business experience you have, the better you become at problem-solving.

Are there specific resources available to practice problem-solving interview questions?

There’s a variety of resources available to you, such as courses and Youtube tutorials, Facebook/LinkedIn groups, forums such as Reddit and Quora, books, or online platforms like Big Interview. If you’re trying to develop technical problem-solving skills, you might benefit from relevant platforms’ knowledge bases or YT channels; but if you’re looking specifically for how to answer interview questions, platforms like Big Interview are the way to go.

How should I handle a question about a problem-solving scenario I have not encountered before?

Don’t be afraid to ask additional questions for clarification. If you’ve never dealt with this problem before, be honest about it but answer how you would solve the problem if you were faced with it today. Break the problem down into manageable steps, try to recall a similar situation from your own experience that could help you draw parallels, and propose several different solutions.

Can I talk about my problem-solving experiences derived from non-professional settings such as student projects?

Yes, especially if you’re a recent graduate or a candidate with limited experience. You can use experiences and examples from student projects, extracurricular activities, and you can even use examples from your personal life, as long as you present them in a professional manner and connect them to the position you’re applying for. Remember to highlight the results, as well as the skills that helped you solve the problem and that are relevant to the position you’re applying for.

Are there any common mistakes to avoid when answering problem-solving questions during an interview?

The most common mistake is not preparing in advance which causes rambling. You need to make sure that your answer is informative and well-structured, and that you’re not only presenting a solution but also laying down the steps to display your logical reasoning. Make sure not to forget to give credit to teammates if they contributed to solving the problem you chose to talk about. Finally, for a coherent and informative presentation, make sure you use the STAR method.

What can I do if I don’t know the answer to a technical problem-solving question in an interview?

Handle it professionally. You can always try to reach a conclusion by breaking down the problem and thinking out loud to show your thinking mechanism. Draw parallels between the problem at hand and another similar problem you encountered before. Lay down possible solutions, even if you’re not sure they’ll work, and be transparent — feel free to tell the recruiter you’re not sure how to answer it, but make sure you emphasize that you’re open to learning.

Can I ask for help or guidance from the interviewer during a problem-solving question?

Avoid asking for help directly, but ask for clarification in case something is unclear or if you need additional information. Sometimes, the interviewer will take the initiative and provide you with hints to encourage you and see how you think.

How can I demonstrate creativity and resourcefulness when answering problem-solving questions?

It’s all about storytelling! Preparing in advance will provide some space for displaying your creativity. You can do it by making fun analogies or drawing parallels from well-known situations; or making pop-culture references.

suggestions on problem solving

Maja Stojanovic

Briana Dilworth

Fact Checked By:

Michael Tomaszewski

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The Most Important Soft Skill for Developers & How to Get Better at It


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At its core, programming is just solving problems so a computer can execute a task. Or, as one of our engineers Nick Duckwiler aptly put it: “A lot of engineering is just solving headaches.” Indeed, between fixing bugs and dreaming up app ideas that can address real world difficulties, devs need to be enthusiastic about solving problems of all sizes.   

On top of all the technical knowledge that’s required for engineering roles, you also should work on soft skills, which are personal attributes that enable you to work well with others. Problem solving is one of the most essential soft skills to have in technical positions , and luckily, there are plenty of ways to get better at tackling challenges and finding solutions.

Next month, we’re hosting an exclusive three-part livestream series all about developing core soft skills: problem solving, planning, setting priorities, and critical thinking. The events will be led by Merri Lemmex, a management and leadership expert who has decades of experience training people who work in tech and business. The first session on November 1 is focused on problem solving approaches and tools. Be sure to register today for the virtual events and read on to learn more about the problem-solving strategies that developers use in their work.

Learn something new for free

Intro to chatgpt, write out the problem.

Your problem won’t always come right out and say: “It’s me, hi. I’m the problem , it’s me.” In fact, something that often gets in the way of solving a problem is that we zero in on the wrong problem.

When pinpointing a problem, you can try borrowing a UX research technique that’s part of the design thinking process. After you’ve done some initial research or information gathering, you delineate your problem space and write a problem statement, which is a concise couple of sentences that succinctly define the task and offer a clear sense of direction. Write out the who, what, where, when, and why of your problem.

Getting to the core of your fundamental issue will make addressing the symptoms much easier. You can learn more about this strategy in our free course Learn Design Thinking: Ideation .

Don’t try to solve it alone

Rather than spinning your wheels trying to fix a problem on your own, consider having other people weigh in. Set up a brainstorming session for the problem you’re trying to solve, see if anyone can pair program with you, or send a Slack message to your team and see what your collective intelligence can accomplish.

It’s easy to get tunnel vision when you’re working on a project and become fixated on one part of it. Getting more people involved in the problem-solving process will enable you to address blind spots, consider fresh perspectives, and ultimately get valuable feedback and validation for your idea. Not to mention, you’ll get experience collaborating with other people, which is a soft skill in and of itself.

Say it out loud

Ever seen a rubber duck on a programmer’s desk and wondered what it’s doing there? There’s a popular debugging technique called “ rubberducking ,” where you describe out loud what your code is supposed to do to the duck. As you verbally articulate your code and thoughts to the silent, non-judgmental duck, you may identify issues or problems that you skipped over before. Though you might have to work up the courage to talk to an inanimate object at your desk, you’ll be surprised how effective and practical rubberducking can be when it comes to pinpointing a problem.

See how other people approached the problem

Remember: You’re probably not the first person to have experienced this problem. There’s a plethora of resources that developers use to ask questions, get feedback, or crowd-source solutions for bugs. Go to Stack Overflow and see if someone else has experienced your issue and created a workaround. Or look through Docs , our open-contribution code documentation for popular languages, to see if you can find a solution. (Better yet, once you figure your issue out, you could take what you learned and contribute a Doc for folks to reference in the future.)

Learn problem-solving skills in our new course

Join us next month for an engaging three-part livestream series dedicated to honing essential soft skills, including problem solving, strategic planning, priority setting, and critical thinking. These skills are your secret sauce for nailing your next job interview, making an impression on your team leader, or feeling confident at a networking event. By the end of the livestream series, you’ll have a soft skills toolkit that you can continue to refine throughout your whole career.

Our first session on November 1 delves into effective problem-solving techniques and tools. Secure your spot for these virtual events today. Quick note: These are only available to Codecademy Pro and Codecademy Plus members, so make sure you upgrade your account or start a free seven-day trial to attend.

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Optimist Performance

7 Tips to help your team with problem-solving – By Optimist Performance

22 Nov, 2021

7 Tips to help your team with problem-solving – By Optimist Performance

How good are you and your team at problem-solving? Is there room for improvement in how you approach challenges? Problem-solving is an essential skill for every team and organisation, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Because every person, team, organisation, and, ultimately, every problem is unique, it’s critical to select the approach that best suits your team.

When it comes to problem-solving, the theory of steps is straightforward: we must first identify the problem, then seek out and evaluate many options before selecting the best one and putting it into action. We should also never forget to establish a way to measure our success.

Unfortunately, while the processes may appear to be simple and straightforward, there can be numerous obstacles to overcome while attempting to solve a problem.

Common barriers to problem-solving

Knowing what problems you and your team may face ahead of time might be really beneficial. It will assist you in anticipating them and putting in place procedures to deal with them. It also helps to increase self-awareness. The more aware we are, the easier it will be to recognise and overcome these obstacles when they arise.

When it comes to problem-solving, the following are the most prevalent barriers:

  • Confirmation bias: is the tendency to search for, interpret, favour, and recall information in a way that confirms or supports one’s prior beliefs or values.
  • Mental set: It is a form of rigidity in which a person acts or believes in a certain way as a result of prior experience.
  • Functional fixedness: It’s a cognitive bias that limits individuals to use an object in a different way from how it is traditionally used. 
  • Unnecessary constraints: A phenomenon that occurs when an individual create boundaries on the task at hand. They become fixated on only one way to solve the problem, making it really difficult to see any other possible solution. 
  • Groupthink: When everyone in a group or team has the same thinking, it is called groupthink. This is something we should be aware of because it can not only make issue-solving more difficult but it can also hinder a group from seeing the problem.
  • Irrelevant information: When unrelated or unimportant information is offered as part of a problem-solving task, it is referred to as irrelevant information.

While these are the most common barriers, there are a few others that can impede successful problem-solving:

  • Fear of failure.
  • Lack of autonomy, motivation, or accountability. 
  • Failing to identify the root problem. 
  • Having a problem finder mindset instead of a solution seeker. 

7 Tips to tackle problem-solving the Optimist Way

problem solving

So we’ve compiled some recommendations that can help your team excel at problem-solving based on the issues we stated before.

Here are some of our recommendations:

1. Encourage people to take ownership

As a leader, you cannot be everywhere, all the time. So you need to encourage people to own their space and allow them the autonomy to do so. When it comes to problem-solving, everyone will have a different idea of how to deal with it, but your job as a leader, it’s not to solve it for them but to trust them and assist them if needed while they do it themselves. 

  • Assure them that you trust them and that they are capable of solving the problem. 
  • Be there as support, in case they need it. If you trust your team’s ability, there is no need to micromanage; however, you still need to be there and be approachable and reachable as a leader. Sometimes, all people need is reassurance. 

2. Ask questions to elicit deeper thought and new perspectives

We can sometimes get fixated on one solution, obstructing our ability to view other options. As an observer, you will have a different perspective, so you will likely be able to notice things that others who are more invested are unable to, and you should support your team if this occurs. Again, it’s not about providing answers; it’s about posing questions that empower people to go deeper. (Check out our post about how to ask questions to empower your team)

3. Ensure that everyone involved, including yourself, maintains an open mind during the process

If we want to be innovative and creative, we need to keep an open mind. However, it’s easier than we think to slip into our own biases. Here are some suggestions for keeping an open mind:

  • Pose questions and participate in discussions.
  • Practise active listening, so you are genuinely listening to others instead of just waiting to respond. (Read more about active listening here)
  • Pay attention to your thoughts so you can see when you’re shutting out other people’s perspectives.

4. Ensure that you approach it with the right mindset

Some people are excellent at detecting problems but not so good at finding solutions. If problems continue to arise without being resolved, this can have a detrimental impact on team morale.

  • Make it a rule that whenever someone discovers an issue, they must bring at least one solution, even if it isn’t the best. It was done by  Kean Graham, CEO of MonetizeMore, a midsize Canadian ad tech company, and it worked well for them.

5. Make sure there is accountability

As a follow-up to the previous point, it’s critical that people not just bring in ideas to solve problems but that everyone understands who is responsible for solving them. On the other hand, accountability can be a problem in and of itself; occasionally, people accept the task despite their reservations. It’s part of your job as a leader to make sure that accountability is in place and that employees are comfortable with it.

  • Know your people. Sometimes people can accept a challenge, but in reality, not feel ready for it. Knowing your people will give you the ability to identify this. 
  • Ensure people have what they need. Make sure whoever is in charge of the job understands what they need to do, feels comfortable doing it, and is up for the task. Even if it’s your responsibility to assign projects, allowing people to express their concerns will make them feel more respected and comfortable, which will aid them in their work.

6. Make failure not only possible but even part of the process

problem solving

  • Include a review and reflection process with your team. During problem-solving, we must give ourselves time and space to review and reflect on how it’s going. So make this part of your everyday practices. 
  • Instead of focusing on what didn’t work, consider what we can learn from it and how we might apply what we’ve learned in the future.

7. Find an outside perspective

Some of the challenges mentioned above happen because we are too close, too invested, or too fixated in one way or another. Bringing a fresh perspective into the mix can be a great way to find new and more creative solutions to our problems.

It doesn’t necessarily have to be an expert; even bringing someone from a different team who hasn’t worked on the project previously can be beneficial. It cal also help to uncover groupthink if this is happening. 

The Optimist view…

At Optimist Performance , we believe that problem-solving skills are extremely valuable. It is not only necessary for every team and organisation, but it is also essential in our daily life. However, as mentioned above, various barriers can prevent us from succeeding at problem-solving, and sometimes, recognising these is the most challenging part.

Our leadership programmes are designed to assist teams and organisations in identifying and addressing these issues. We create bespoke programmes that are tailored to the needs of your team, and we will also accompany you on your journey.

If you would like to know more about what we do and how we can help you, please get in touch with us today . 

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Problem-Solving Techniques and Tips (That Actually Work)

June 14, 2022 - 10 min read

Lionel Valdellon

Solving complex problems may be difficult but it doesn't have to be excruciating. You just need the right frame of mind and a process for untangling the problem at hand.

Luckily for you, there are plenty of techniques available to solve whatever problems come at you in the workplace.

When faced with a doozy of a problem, where do you start? And what problem-solving techniques can you use right now that can help you make good decisions?

Today's post will give you tips and techniques for solving complex problems so you can untangle any complication like an expert.

How many steps are there in problem-solving?

At its core, problem-solving is a methodical four-step process. You may even recall these steps from when you were first introduced to the Scientific Method.

  • First, you must define the problem . What is its cause? What are the signs there's a problem at all?
  • Next, you identify various options for solutions. What are some good ideas to solve this?
  • Then, evaluate your options and choose from among them. What is the best option to solve the problem? What's the easiest option? How should you prioritize?
  • Finally, implement the chosen solution . Does it solve the problem? Is there another option you need to try?

When applying problem-solving techniques, you will be using a variation of these steps as your foundation.

Takeaway: Before you can solve a problem, seek to understand it fully.

Creative problem-solving techniques

Time to get creative! You might think this will just be a list of out-of-the-box ways to brainstorm ideas. Not exactly.

Creative problem solving (CPS) is actually a formal process formulated by Sidney Parnes and Alex Faickney Osborn , who is thought of as the father of traditional brainstorming (and the "O" in famous advertising agency BBDO).

Their creative problem solving process emphasizes several things, namely:

  • Separate ideation from evaluation . When you brainstorm creative ideas, have a separate time for writing it all down. Focus on generating lots of ideas. Don't prioritize or evaluate them until everything is captured.
  • Judging will shut it down . Nothing stops the flow of creative ideas faster than judging them on the spot. Wait until the brainstorming is over before you evaluate.
  • Restate problems as questions . It's easier to entice a group into thinking of creative ideas when challenges are stated as open-ended questions.
  • Use "Yes and" to expand ideas . Here's one of the basic tenets of improv comedy. It's way too easy to shut down and negate ideas by using the word "but" (i.e. "But I think this is better..."). Avoid this at all costs. Instead, expand on what was previously introduced by saying "Yes, and..." to keep ideas flowing and evolving.

Takeaway: When brainstorming solutions, generate ideas first by using questions and building off of existing ideas. Do all evaluating and judging later.

Problem-solving tips from psychology

If you take a look at the history of problem-solving techniques in psychology, you'll come across a wide spectrum of interesting ideas that could be helpful.

Take it from experience

In 1911, the American psychologist Edward Thorndike observed cats figuring out how to escape from the cage he placed them in. From this, Thorndike developed his law of effect , which states: If you succeed via trial-and-error, you're more likely to use those same actions and ideas that led to your previous success when you face the problem again.

Takeaway: Your past experience can inform and shed light on the problem you face now. Recall. Explore.

Barriers to reproductive thinking

The Gestalt psychologists  built on Thorndike's ideas when they proposed that problem-solving can happen via reproductive thinking — which is not about sex, but rather solving a problem by using past experience and reproducing that experience to solve the current problem.

What's interesting about Gestalt psychology is how they view barriers to problem-solving. Here are two such barriers:

  • Are you entrenched? Look up mental set or entrenchment . This is when you're fixated on a solution that used to work well in the past but has no bearing to your current problem. Are you so entrenched with a method or idea that you use it even when it doesn't work? As Queen Elsa sang, "Let it go!" 
  • Are you thinking of alternative uses? There is a cognitive bias called functional fixedness which could thwart any of your critical thinking techniques by having you only see an object's conventional function. For example, say you need to cut a piece of paper in half but only have a ruler. Functional fixedness would lead you to think the ruler is only good for measuring things. (You could also use the ruler to crease the paper, making it easier to tear it in half.)

Takeaway: Think outside of the box! And by box, we mean outside of the past experience you're holding on to, or outside any preconceived ideas on how a tool is conventionally used.

More problem-solving tools

Hurson's productive thinking model.

In his book "Think Better," author and creativity guru Tim Hurson proposed a six-step model for solving problems creatively. The steps in his Productive Thinking Model are:

  • Ask, "What is going on?" Define the problem and its impact on your company, then clarify your vision for the future.
  • Ask, "What is success?" Define what the solution must do, what resources it needs, its scope, and the values it must uphold.
  • Ask, "What is the question?" Generate a long list of questions that, when answered, will solve the problem.
  • Generate answers . Answer the questions from step three.
  • Forge the solution . Evaluate the ideas with potential based on the criteria from step two. Pick a solution.
  • Align resources . Identify people and resources to execute the solution.

Use a fishbone diagram to see cause and effect

The most important part of defining the problem is looking at the possible root cause. You'll need to ask yourself questions like: Where and when is it happening? How is it occurring? With whom is it happening? Why is it happening?

You can get to the root cause with a fishbone diagram (also known as an Ishikawa diagram or a cause and effect diagram).

Basically, you put the effect on the right side as the problem statement. Then you list all possible causes on the left, grouped into larger cause categories. The resulting shape resembles a fish skeleton. Which is a perfect way to say, "This problem smells fishy."

Fishbone diagram for cause and effect analysis - problem solving techniques

Use analogies to get to a solution

Analogical thinking uses information from one area to help with a problem in a different area. In short, solving a different problem can lead you to find a solution to the actual problem. Watch out though! Analogies are difficult for beginners and take some getting used to.

An example: In the "radiation problem," a doctor has a patient with a tumor that cannot be operated on. The doctor can use rays to destroy the tumor but it also destroys healthy tissue.

Two researchers, Gick and Holyoak , noted that people solved the radiation problem much more easily after being asked to read a story about an invading general who must capture the fortress of a king but be careful to avoid landmines that will detonate if large forces traverse the streets. The general then sends small forces of men down different streets so the army can converge at the fortress at the same time and can capture it at full force.

Ask "12 what elses"

In her book " The Architecture of All Abundance ," author Lenedra J. Carroll (aka the mother of pop star Jewel) talks about a question-and-answer technique for getting out of a problem.

When faced with a problem, ask yourself a question about it and brainstorm 12 answers ("12 what elses") to that problem. Then you can go further by taking one answer, turning it into a question and generating 12 more "what elses." Repeat until the solution is golden brown, fully baked, and ready to take out of the oven.

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Start using these techniques today

Hopefully you find these different techniques useful and they get your imagination rolling with ideas on how to solve different problems.

And if that's the case, then you have four different takeaways to use the next time a problem gets you tangled up:

  • Don't start by trying to solve the problem. First, aim to understand the root of the problem.
  • Use questions to generate ideas for solving the problem.
  • Look to previous problems to find the answers to new ones.
  • Clear your preconceived ideas and past experiences before attempting to tackle the problem.

How to solve problems with Wrike

Empower your team to be even more productive with Wrike's project management and collaboration tools. With documents, revisions, and project -related communication all in one place, employees can use Wrike as a single source of truth for all project information.

Get 360-degree visibility of all your work and identify problems before they occur — see schedule or resource conflicts on Gantt charts, easily view progress with custom statuses, and move work along with automated approvals.

Want to streamline your processes and ease future problem-solving? Get started with a free two-week trial of Wrike today.

What are your favorite problem-solving techniques?

Do you have a problem-solving technique that has worked wonders for your organization? Hit the comments below and share your wisdom!

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Lionel Valdellon

Lionel is a former Content Marketing Manager of Wrike. He is also a blogger since 1997, a productivity enthusiast, a project management newbie, a musician and producer of electronic downtempo music, a father of three, and a husband of one.

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Problem Solving Questions

5 quick tips...

Here are 5 problem solving questions which we think are understated ideas at the heart of effective problem solving. Yet they’re often missed in our rush towards seeking a solution.

We also list key articles on this site where you can find more comprehensive checklists and tools, with other structured problem solving questions. But first, what better way to begin these tips than with a pertinent quote from the great Peter Drucker:

Do not focus on finding an answer: focus on defining the question.

Part of our manage in a minute series, you can read this article to gain fresh perspectives and challenge current practice by asking 5 crucial problem solving questions.

1 Have you got a problem to solve or just a decision to make?

Sometimes a good deal of  time can be saved by just making a decision rather than trying to ‘solve’ something that might not really be a problem at all. This is especially the case if you take our next question into account. For more insights into this point, read our article: decision making problems .

2 Have you found a problem that’s important enough to solve?

This is one of the best questions you can ask because it prompts you towards effective prioritisation of resources (not least your time!). Most problem solving processes miss this crucial stage of “problem finding” and as a result tend to become re-active processes, that mainly focus on problems as they emerge. Asking this question is an essential problem solving skill for finding the “right” problems to solve.

3 Have you defined the problem clearly and expressed it as a potential opportunity?

One common difficulty in problem solving is failing to clearly define the problem in the first place. And a key aspect of this should be ensuring that we position the problem as an opportunity. Framing a problem as a potential positive fundamentally changes the problem solving process . From one which simply tries to fix something, to one that encourages exploration of possibilities.

4 What can you now do, or what could you do next, by solving the problem?

A problem solving process shouldn’t end with implementation. Solving a problem should lead to an appreciation of what you’re now able to do. Firstly, to value the benefits derived from solving the problem and secondly to ask: what should we look at next?

5 Are there any wider opportunities that can now be realised?

Finally, solving a problem should be seen as a springboard to wider opportunities. The previous question might be viewed as a review of operational practices or planning but think about reviewing the bigger picture. How has this problem affected strategic plans or planning?

Problem Solving Questions: Some Further Thoughts

You’ll find a wide range of articles and other resources on the Happy Manager, which use problem solving questions as the basis for solving management problems. Here are a few you might find useful:

Best Management Tools Ever? – A Good Question The best management tools are good questions but why are they so important, and how can we ask better questions?

5 Whys: Getting to Root Causes, Fast! Asking why 5 times: “the 5 Whys”, is a simple but powerful tool to use with any problem solving activity. It’s a technique to help you get past the symptoms of a problem and to find its root causes.

Problem Solving Technique: 4 Steps To Improve Your Processes Using questions to analyse, challenge and improve business and management processes is a very useful skill.

Problem Solving Activity – A Question Checklist For Problem Solving This question checklist is a simple but effective problem solving activity. It’s straightforward to use and easy to adapt to any specific circumstance. Using a set of structured questions encourages both broad and deep analysis of your situation or problem.

Problem Solving Skill This is a useful tool to help you find the right problems to solve. Asking “why not” is an effective way to seek innovation and encourage creativity.

The Power of Positive Thinking: 5 Questions to Transform Problem Solving Go from problem-solving to opportunity-creating using the power of positive thinking. This tool also uses 5 problem solving questions to help you radically change the way you solve problems.

Seven Step Problem Solving Process Contains links to a wide range of tools to help you solve problems. Alternatively, if you want a quick overview then read our manage in a minute article: 7 Problem Solving Steps .

Still pressed for time? Follow this link for the full list of Manage in a Minute pages.

Problem solving resources

What's the Problem?

  • Tool 1: When you don’t know what to do
  • Tool 2: Defining questions for problem solving
  • Tool 3: Finding the right problems to solve
  • Tool 4: Problem solving check-list
  • Tool 4a: Using the question check-list with your team
  • Tool 5: Problem analysis in 4 steps
  • Tool 5a: Using 4 Step problem analysis with your team
  • Tool 6: Questions that create possibilities
  • Tool 6a: Using the 5 questions with your team
  • Tool 6b: Putting creativity to work – 5 alternate questions
  • Tool 6c: Workshop outline
  • Tool 7: Evaluating alternatives
  • Tool 8: Creative thinking techniques A-Z
  • Tool 9: The 5 Whys technique

>> Return to the Problem Solving Knowledge Hub your site from one page to another.

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5 Easy Play Ideas That Teach Key Problem-Solving Skills

problem solving toys

While the first year of your child’s life is filled with exciting moments—first smiles, first belly laughs, maybe even their first steps—parents have so much to look forward to in their little one’s second year, too. Once they’re mobile, children begin exploring the world for the first time on their own and constantly learn new skills —like problem-solving—along the way. 

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According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, cognitive development during a child’s second year includes newfound problem-solving skills like;

  • Finding objects even when hidden under two or three covers
  • Beginning to sort by shapes and colors
  • Beginning to make-believe play

Parents and caregivers can help reinforce these skills through play. But if you’re not a preschool teacher or a child development specialist, it can be hard to know how, exactly, to encourage problem-solving play. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be hard or require Pinterest-level creativity. Here, we’re sharing five easy activities parents and caregivers can do to support toddler problem solving skills through play.

1. Do Puzzles Together

Even as toddlers, the most primitive puzzles are a great way to model problem-solving. Watching your child work through how the pieces fit into the space is a great way to practice those skills as well as supporting fine motor development.

Playtime Tip:

Resist the urge to step in or challenge how your child is trying to make the pieces fit. Giving verbal hints and allowing them to do it themselves also gives them independence and helps develop their confidence.

2. Creative Hide-and-Seek

Instead of hiding yourself or your child, try taking a favorite toy and hiding it underneath a blanket or bucket. Having your child point to guess where the item is hiding also provides a great opportunity for parent/child play.

Hiding multiple items throughout the house allows for extended play and can be intensified into a scavenger hunt as they get older and more experienced with the game.

problem solving play

Source: @melissaanddoug

3. Stacking

Combining unconventional items provides a unique opportunity for intro to building skills. How tall can your tower be before it falls? What shapes can balance together? Don’t be afraid to mix and match toys and even use pieces together for more creative fun.

Using a block, a ball, and a soft toy when stacking allows the child to start to see cause and effect. It is great to have multiple-size items that are large enough for them to succeed at the task to keep their interest and build their confidence.

4. Matching

Creating basic matching activities with a variety of toys and household items is a great way to begin to build those problem-solving skills. Using basic themes such as colors, animals, shapes, and categories is a great double hitter for both problem-solving and language skills.

Colors are a great place to start. Grab 3-4 different items in two colors. Start simple and build the skills. Eventually expanding to animal categories, vehicle types, and food groups is a great way to engage your child based on their interests.

problem solving through play

Source: @daniellerbevens

5. Toy Escape Room

Does your kid love cars , stuffed animals, or dolls? Create an escape scenario for your kids favorite imaginary play theme. Walk them through how to get their toy out of the situation. Creating zoos, tucking in dolls, or creating traffic jams are great play prompts.

Set the stage of the problem. For example, if using cars, model a road block or traffic jam for your child first and then let them try. Add in verbal single word prompts to add an additional speech opportunity to the game. Simple phrases such as “crash,” “ouch,” and “stuck” are great to add to games like this.

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6 essential soft skills for k-12 teachers

June 7, 2024

Reading time: 5 minutes

In addition to honing your classroom instructional skills, soft skills can help drive your professional growth. But do you know what soft skills are, and how you can develop your own as a K-12 teacher?

Soft skills are traits or abilities that support how people work and interact with one another. They’re skills that can help facilitate relationship-building, foster trust and enhance teamwork. Soft skills can often be applied across settings and different experiences – making them transferrable to many aspects of your professional life.

When it comes to the field of education, you need to interact not only with colleagues or administrators, but also with students and families. Developing soft skills can help you build credibility.

Soft skills are important for educators, but they’re equally valuable for those we teach. And demonstrating soft skills can help you model those skills and behaviors for students.

Here are six soft skills that may be beneficial in the field of education.

1. Leadership

Regardless of the grade level of your students, leadership skills can help you work effectively with and garner respect from students, families, administration and the community.

Leadership abilities help ensure that you, your colleagues and your students are working toward clear goals and desired educational outcomes. Educators with strong leadership skills can play an important role in today’s academic environments.

Being able to support faculty and students, both formally and informally, adds to the capacity for an educational setting to improve. Whether as a resource provider, a mentor or an innovative visionary, leadership aptitude may help you improve student outcomes.

You can cultivate this skill by exploring mentorship and coaching opportunities. It will also help you stay engaged by learning new leadership trends from books, articles, workshops and seminars. 

2. Communication

Good communication skills are important for two reasons: they can make you more fluent in conveying lessons and educational materials in ways students can comprehend, and they help you relay feedback so that students can find new tools to make progress.

Students are expected to be effective communicators: you set an example of good communication every time you interact with families and students. Good listening, speaking, reading and writing skills are the signs of a successful educator.

To be sure that everyone understands your expectations, you should present materials with clarity and provide feedback effectively.

Build on your own communication skills by preparing your delivery, practicing active listening and being aware of nonverbal cues like body language and eye contact. Develop your skill set for helping students read and write with confidence with an MS in Education, Reading and Literacy . 

3. Teamwork

With the emphasis on collaborative professional learning communities, finding ways to work as a group has become vital for pushing innovation or resolving challenges. Teamwork in an educational setting involves parties sharing mutual goals and working together to reach them. The ability to work well within and across teams has an impact on your students, families, colleagues, administrators and other key stakeholders.

As you work on your team collaboration skills, make sure to focus on understanding your team’s objectives, embracing feedback and being willing to adapt to meet different situations.

4. Problem Solving

Internal and external issues that arise in the classroom can negatively affect learning outcomes. Whether it’s deescalating a conflict or working through a life problem that’s getting in the way of a student’s learning, be prepared to take on challenges and know how to best approach the situation.

To enhance your ability to solve problems, approach challenges creatively and collaboratively. When you focus on solutions and practice active listening, you grow soft skills for problem solving. 

5. Social and Emotional Intelligence

Social and emotional intelligence, the awareness of emotions and the ability to adapt your behavior based on that awareness, help contribute to a safe and positive learning environment in increasingly multicultural and multilingual education systems. Be prepared to teach and practice social and emotional skills, give your students opportunities to practice these skills and help your students apply these skills in other scenarios.

Grow this skill by recognizing your emotions and learning how to express them in constructive ways. You can demonstrate persistence by setting realistic objectives and taking proactive steps toward goals. Practice empathy by respecting others’ feelings and taking in different viewpoints.

6. Cultural Competence

Cultural competence is the ability to understand, relate to and effectively educate across cultures and demographics.

It’s important for educators to welcome diverse voices into their classrooms. You don’t have to understand and know all cultures – but be willing to let your students teach you. This will help create a space where students can learn about empathy, acceptance and tolerance by experiencing it and celebrating diversity.

Self-reflection and awareness will help you cultivate this skill. Find ways to approach interactions with an open mind and adapt your communication approach to different cultural norms.

As you develop your teaching skill set, be sure to check out our other blog post:  6 key areas of expertise to help become a successful teacher .  

Many soft skills, including communication and teamwork, can be developed through online education degree programs.  Explore MS in Education programs at Capella.

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How to improve your problem solving skills and build effective problem solving strategies

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Effective problem solving is all about using the right process and following a plan tailored to the issue at hand. Recognizing your team or organization has an issue isn’t enough to come up with effective problem solving strategies. 

To truly understand a problem and develop appropriate solutions, you will want to follow a solid process, follow the necessary problem solving steps, and bring all of your problem solving skills to the table.  

We’ll first guide you through the seven step problem solving process you and your team can use to effectively solve complex business challenges. We’ll also look at what problem solving strategies you can employ with your team when looking for a way to approach the process. We’ll then discuss the problem solving skills you need to be more effective at solving problems, complete with an activity from the SessionLab library you can use to develop that skill in your team.

Let’s get to it! 

What is a problem solving process?

  • What are the problem solving steps I need to follow?

Problem solving strategies

What skills do i need to be an effective problem solver, how can i improve my problem solving skills.

Solving problems is like baking a cake. You can go straight into the kitchen without a recipe or the right ingredients and do your best, but the end result is unlikely to be very tasty!

Using a process to bake a cake allows you to use the best ingredients without waste, collect the right tools, account for allergies, decide whether it is a birthday or wedding cake, and then bake efficiently and on time. The result is a better cake that is fit for purpose, tastes better and has created less mess in the kitchen. Also, it should have chocolate sprinkles. Having a step by step process to solve organizational problems allows you to go through each stage methodically and ensure you are trying to solve the right problems and select the most appropriate, effective solutions.

What are the problem solving steps I need to follow? 

All problem solving processes go through a number of steps in order to move from identifying a problem to resolving it.

Depending on your problem solving model and who you ask, there can be anything between four and nine problem solving steps you should follow in order to find the right solution. Whatever framework you and your group use, there are some key items that should be addressed in order to have an effective process.

We’ve looked at problem solving processes from sources such as the American Society for Quality and their four step approach , and Mediate ‘s six step process. By reflecting on those and our own problem solving processes, we’ve come up with a sequence of seven problem solving steps we feel best covers everything you need in order to effectively solve problems.

seven step problem solving process

1. Problem identification 

The first stage of any problem solving process is to identify the problem or problems you might want to solve. Effective problem solving strategies always begin by allowing a group scope to articulate what they believe the problem to be and then coming to some consensus over which problem they approach first. Problem solving activities used at this stage often have a focus on creating frank, open discussion so that potential problems can be brought to the surface.

2. Problem analysis 

Though this step is not a million miles from problem identification, problem analysis deserves to be considered separately. It can often be an overlooked part of the process and is instrumental when it comes to developing effective solutions.

The process of problem analysis means ensuring that the problem you are seeking to solve is the right problem . As part of this stage, you may look deeper and try to find the root cause of a specific problem at a team or organizational level.

Remember that problem solving strategies should not only be focused on putting out fires in the short term but developing long term solutions that deal with the root cause of organizational challenges. 

Whatever your approach, analyzing a problem is crucial in being able to select an appropriate solution and the problem solving skills deployed in this stage are beneficial for the rest of the process and ensuring the solutions you create are fit for purpose.

3. Solution generation

Once your group has nailed down the particulars of the problem you wish to solve, you want to encourage a free flow of ideas connecting to solving that problem. This can take the form of problem solving games that encourage creative thinking or problem solving activities designed to produce working prototypes of possible solutions. 

The key to ensuring the success of this stage of the problem solving process is to encourage quick, creative thinking and create an open space where all ideas are considered. The best solutions can come from unlikely places and by using problem solving techniques that celebrate invention, you might come up with solution gold. 

4. Solution development

No solution is likely to be perfect right out of the gate. It’s important to discuss and develop the solutions your group has come up with over the course of following the previous problem solving steps in order to arrive at the best possible solution. Problem solving games used in this stage involve lots of critical thinking, measuring potential effort and impact, and looking at possible solutions analytically. 

During this stage, you will often ask your team to iterate and improve upon your frontrunning solutions and develop them further. Remember that problem solving strategies always benefit from a multitude of voices and opinions, and not to let ego get involved when it comes to choosing which solutions to develop and take further.

Finding the best solution is the goal of all problem solving workshops and here is the place to ensure that your solution is well thought out, sufficiently robust and fit for purpose. 

5. Decision making 

Nearly there! Once your group has reached consensus and selected a solution that applies to the problem at hand you have some decisions to make. You will want to work on allocating ownership of the project, figure out who will do what, how the success of the solution will be measured and decide the next course of action.

The decision making stage is a part of the problem solving process that can get missed or taken as for granted. Fail to properly allocate roles and plan out how a solution will actually be implemented and it less likely to be successful in solving the problem.

Have clear accountabilities, actions, timeframes, and follow-ups. Make these decisions and set clear next-steps in the problem solving workshop so that everyone is aligned and you can move forward effectively as a group. 

Ensuring that you plan for the roll-out of a solution is one of the most important problem solving steps. Without adequate planning or oversight, it can prove impossible to measure success or iterate further if the problem was not solved. 

6. Solution implementation 

This is what we were waiting for! All problem solving strategies have the end goal of implementing a solution and solving a problem in mind. 

Remember that in order for any solution to be successful, you need to help your group through all of the previous problem solving steps thoughtfully. Only then can you ensure that you are solving the right problem but also that you have developed the correct solution and can then successfully implement and measure the impact of that solution.

Project management and communication skills are key here – your solution may need to adjust when out in the wild or you might discover new challenges along the way.

7. Solution evaluation 

So you and your team developed a great solution to a problem and have a gut feeling its been solved. Work done, right? Wrong. All problem solving strategies benefit from evaluation, consideration, and feedback. You might find that the solution does not work for everyone, might create new problems, or is potentially so successful that you will want to roll it out to larger teams or as part of other initiatives. 

None of that is possible without taking the time to evaluate the success of the solution you developed in your problem solving model and adjust if necessary.

Remember that the problem solving process is often iterative and it can be common to not solve complex issues on the first try. Even when this is the case, you and your team will have generated learning that will be important for future problem solving workshops or in other parts of the organization. 

It’s worth underlining how important record keeping is throughout the problem solving process. If a solution didn’t work, you need to have the data and records to see why that was the case. If you go back to the drawing board, notes from the previous workshop can help save time. Data and insight is invaluable at every stage of the problem solving process and this one is no different.

Problem solving workshops made easy

suggestions on problem solving

Problem solving strategies are methods of approaching and facilitating the process of problem-solving with a set of techniques , actions, and processes. Different strategies are more effective if you are trying to solve broad problems such as achieving higher growth versus more focused problems like, how do we improve our customer onboarding process?

Broadly, the problem solving steps outlined above should be included in any problem solving strategy though choosing where to focus your time and what approaches should be taken is where they begin to differ. You might find that some strategies ask for the problem identification to be done prior to the session or that everything happens in the course of a one day workshop.

The key similarity is that all good problem solving strategies are structured and designed. Four hours of open discussion is never going to be as productive as a four-hour workshop designed to lead a group through a problem solving process.

Good problem solving strategies are tailored to the team, organization and problem you will be attempting to solve. Here are some example problem solving strategies you can learn from or use to get started.

Use a workshop to lead a team through a group process

Often, the first step to solving problems or organizational challenges is bringing a group together effectively. Most teams have the tools, knowledge, and expertise necessary to solve their challenges – they just need some guidance in how to use leverage those skills and a structure and format that allows people to focus their energies.

Facilitated workshops are one of the most effective ways of solving problems of any scale. By designing and planning your workshop carefully, you can tailor the approach and scope to best fit the needs of your team and organization. 

Problem solving workshop

  • Creating a bespoke, tailored process
  • Tackling problems of any size
  • Building in-house workshop ability and encouraging their use

Workshops are an effective strategy for solving problems. By using tried and test facilitation techniques and methods, you can design and deliver a workshop that is perfectly suited to the unique variables of your organization. You may only have the capacity for a half-day workshop and so need a problem solving process to match. 

By using our session planner tool and importing methods from our library of 700+ facilitation techniques, you can create the right problem solving workshop for your team. It might be that you want to encourage creative thinking or look at things from a new angle to unblock your groups approach to problem solving. By tailoring your workshop design to the purpose, you can help ensure great results.

One of the main benefits of a workshop is the structured approach to problem solving. Not only does this mean that the workshop itself will be successful, but many of the methods and techniques will help your team improve their working processes outside of the workshop. 

We believe that workshops are one of the best tools you can use to improve the way your team works together. Start with a problem solving workshop and then see what team building, culture or design workshops can do for your organization!

Run a design sprint

Great for: 

  • aligning large, multi-discipline teams
  • quickly designing and testing solutions
  • tackling large, complex organizational challenges and breaking them down into smaller tasks

By using design thinking principles and methods, a design sprint is a great way of identifying, prioritizing and prototyping solutions to long term challenges that can help solve major organizational problems with quick action and measurable results.

Some familiarity with design thinking is useful, though not integral, and this strategy can really help a team align if there is some discussion around which problems should be approached first. 

The stage-based structure of the design sprint is also very useful for teams new to design thinking.  The inspiration phase, where you look to competitors that have solved your problem, and the rapid prototyping and testing phases are great for introducing new concepts that will benefit a team in all their future work. 

It can be common for teams to look inward for solutions and so looking to the market for solutions you can iterate on can be very productive. Instilling an agile prototyping and testing mindset can also be great when helping teams move forwards – generating and testing solutions quickly can help save time in the long run and is also pretty exciting!

Break problems down into smaller issues

Organizational challenges and problems are often complicated and large scale in nature. Sometimes, trying to resolve such an issue in one swoop is simply unachievable or overwhelming. Try breaking down such problems into smaller issues that you can work on step by step. You may not be able to solve the problem of churning customers off the bat, but you can work with your team to identify smaller effort but high impact elements and work on those first.

This problem solving strategy can help a team generate momentum, prioritize and get some easy wins. It’s also a great strategy to employ with teams who are just beginning to learn how to approach the problem solving process. If you want some insight into a way to employ this strategy, we recommend looking at our design sprint template below!

Use guiding frameworks or try new methodologies

Some problems are best solved by introducing a major shift in perspective or by using new methodologies that encourage your team to think differently.

Props and tools such as Methodkit , which uses a card-based toolkit for facilitation, or Lego Serious Play can be great ways to engage your team and find an inclusive, democratic problem solving strategy. Remember that play and creativity are great tools for achieving change and whatever the challenge, engaging your participants can be very effective where other strategies may have failed.

LEGO Serious Play

  • Improving core problem solving skills
  • Thinking outside of the box
  • Encouraging creative solutions

LEGO Serious Play is a problem solving methodology designed to get participants thinking differently by using 3D models and kinesthetic learning styles. By physically building LEGO models based on questions and exercises, participants are encouraged to think outside of the box and create their own responses. 

Collaborate LEGO Serious Play exercises are also used to encourage communication and build problem solving skills in a group. By using this problem solving process, you can often help different kinds of learners and personality types contribute and unblock organizational problems with creative thinking. 

Problem solving strategies like LEGO Serious Play are super effective at helping a team solve more skills-based problems such as communication between teams or a lack of creative thinking. Some problems are not suited to LEGO Serious Play and require a different problem solving strategy.

Card Decks and Method Kits

  • New facilitators or non-facilitators 
  • Approaching difficult subjects with a simple, creative framework
  • Engaging those with varied learning styles

Card decks and method kids are great tools for those new to facilitation or for whom facilitation is not the primary role. Card decks such as the emotional culture deck can be used for complete workshops and in many cases, can be used right out of the box. Methodkit has a variety of kits designed for scenarios ranging from personal development through to personas and global challenges so you can find the right deck for your particular needs.

Having an easy to use framework that encourages creativity or a new approach can take some of the friction or planning difficulties out of the workshop process and energize a team in any setting. Simplicity is the key with these methods. By ensuring everyone on your team can get involved and engage with the process as quickly as possible can really contribute to the success of your problem solving strategy.

Source external advice

Looking to peers, experts and external facilitators can be a great way of approaching the problem solving process. Your team may not have the necessary expertise, insights of experience to tackle some issues, or you might simply benefit from a fresh perspective. Some problems may require bringing together an entire team, and coaching managers or team members individually might be the right approach. Remember that not all problems are best resolved in the same manner.

If you’re a solo entrepreneur, peer groups, coaches and mentors can also be invaluable at not only solving specific business problems, but in providing a support network for resolving future challenges. One great approach is to join a Mastermind Group and link up with like-minded individuals and all grow together. Remember that however you approach the sourcing of external advice, do so thoughtfully, respectfully and honestly. Reciprocate where you can and prepare to be surprised by just how kind and helpful your peers can be!

Mastermind Group

  • Solo entrepreneurs or small teams with low capacity
  • Peer learning and gaining outside expertise
  • Getting multiple external points of view quickly

Problem solving in large organizations with lots of skilled team members is one thing, but how about if you work for yourself or in a very small team without the capacity to get the most from a design sprint or LEGO Serious Play session? 

A mastermind group – sometimes known as a peer advisory board – is where a group of people come together to support one another in their own goals, challenges, and businesses. Each participant comes to the group with their own purpose and the other members of the group will help them create solutions, brainstorm ideas, and support one another. 

Mastermind groups are very effective in creating an energized, supportive atmosphere that can deliver meaningful results. Learning from peers from outside of your organization or industry can really help unlock new ways of thinking and drive growth. Access to the experience and skills of your peers can be invaluable in helping fill the gaps in your own ability, particularly in young companies.

A mastermind group is a great solution for solo entrepreneurs, small teams, or for organizations that feel that external expertise or fresh perspectives will be beneficial for them. It is worth noting that Mastermind groups are often only as good as the participants and what they can bring to the group. Participants need to be committed, engaged and understand how to work in this context. 

Coaching and mentoring

  • Focused learning and development
  • Filling skills gaps
  • Working on a range of challenges over time

Receiving advice from a business coach or building a mentor/mentee relationship can be an effective way of resolving certain challenges. The one-to-one format of most coaching and mentor relationships can really help solve the challenges those individuals are having and benefit the organization as a result.

A great mentor can be invaluable when it comes to spotting potential problems before they arise and coming to understand a mentee very well has a host of other business benefits. You might run an internal mentorship program to help develop your team’s problem solving skills and strategies or as part of a large learning and development program. External coaches can also be an important part of your problem solving strategy, filling skills gaps for your management team or helping with specific business issues. 

Now we’ve explored the problem solving process and the steps you will want to go through in order to have an effective session, let’s look at the skills you and your team need to be more effective problem solvers.

Problem solving skills are highly sought after, whatever industry or team you work in. Organizations are keen to employ people who are able to approach problems thoughtfully and find strong, realistic solutions. Whether you are a facilitator , a team leader or a developer, being an effective problem solver is a skill you’ll want to develop.

Problem solving skills form a whole suite of techniques and approaches that an individual uses to not only identify problems but to discuss them productively before then developing appropriate solutions.

Here are some of the most important problem solving skills everyone from executives to junior staff members should learn. We’ve also included an activity or exercise from the SessionLab library that can help you and your team develop that skill. 

If you’re running a workshop or training session to try and improve problem solving skills in your team, try using these methods to supercharge your process!

Problem solving skills checklist

Active listening

Active listening is one of the most important skills anyone who works with people can possess. In short, active listening is a technique used to not only better understand what is being said by an individual, but also to be more aware of the underlying message the speaker is trying to convey. When it comes to problem solving, active listening is integral for understanding the position of every participant and to clarify the challenges, ideas and solutions they bring to the table.

Some active listening skills include:

  • Paying complete attention to the speaker.
  • Removing distractions.
  • Avoid interruption.
  • Taking the time to fully understand before preparing a rebuttal.
  • Responding respectfully and appropriately.
  • Demonstrate attentiveness and positivity with an open posture, making eye contact with the speaker, smiling and nodding if appropriate. Show that you are listening and encourage them to continue.
  • Be aware of and respectful of feelings. Judge the situation and respond appropriately. You can disagree without being disrespectful.   
  • Observe body language. 
  • Paraphrase what was said in your own words, either mentally or verbally.
  • Remain neutral. 
  • Reflect and take a moment before responding.
  • Ask deeper questions based on what is said and clarify points where necessary.   
Active Listening   #hyperisland   #skills   #active listening   #remote-friendly   This activity supports participants to reflect on a question and generate their own solutions using simple principles of active listening and peer coaching. It’s an excellent introduction to active listening but can also be used with groups that are already familiar with it. Participants work in groups of three and take turns being: “the subject”, the listener, and the observer.

Analytical skills

All problem solving models require strong analytical skills, particularly during the beginning of the process and when it comes to analyzing how solutions have performed.

Analytical skills are primarily focused on performing an effective analysis by collecting, studying and parsing data related to a problem or opportunity. 

It often involves spotting patterns, being able to see things from different perspectives and using observable facts and data to make suggestions or produce insight. 

Analytical skills are also important at every stage of the problem solving process and by having these skills, you can ensure that any ideas or solutions you create or backed up analytically and have been sufficiently thought out.

Nine Whys   #innovation   #issue analysis   #liberating structures   With breathtaking simplicity, you can rapidly clarify for individuals and a group what is essentially important in their work. You can quickly reveal when a compelling purpose is missing in a gathering and avoid moving forward without clarity. When a group discovers an unambiguous shared purpose, more freedom and more responsibility are unleashed. You have laid the foundation for spreading and scaling innovations with fidelity.


Trying to solve problems on your own is difficult. Being able to collaborate effectively, with a free exchange of ideas, to delegate and be a productive member of a team is hugely important to all problem solving strategies.

Remember that whatever your role, collaboration is integral, and in a problem solving process, you are all working together to find the best solution for everyone. 

Marshmallow challenge with debriefing   #teamwork   #team   #leadership   #collaboration   In eighteen minutes, teams must build the tallest free-standing structure out of 20 sticks of spaghetti, one yard of tape, one yard of string, and one marshmallow. The marshmallow needs to be on top. The Marshmallow Challenge was developed by Tom Wujec, who has done the activity with hundreds of groups around the world. Visit the Marshmallow Challenge website for more information. This version has an extra debriefing question added with sample questions focusing on roles within the team.


Being an effective communicator means being empathetic, clear and succinct, asking the right questions, and demonstrating active listening skills throughout any discussion or meeting. 

In a problem solving setting, you need to communicate well in order to progress through each stage of the process effectively. As a team leader, it may also fall to you to facilitate communication between parties who may not see eye to eye. Effective communication also means helping others to express themselves and be heard in a group.

Bus Trip   #feedback   #communication   #appreciation   #closing   #thiagi   #team   This is one of my favourite feedback games. I use Bus Trip at the end of a training session or a meeting, and I use it all the time. The game creates a massive amount of energy with lots of smiles, laughs, and sometimes even a teardrop or two.

Creative problem solving skills can be some of the best tools in your arsenal. Thinking creatively, being able to generate lots of ideas and come up with out of the box solutions is useful at every step of the process. 

The kinds of problems you will likely discuss in a problem solving workshop are often difficult to solve, and by approaching things in a fresh, creative manner, you can often create more innovative solutions.

Having practical creative skills is also a boon when it comes to problem solving. If you can help create quality design sketches and prototypes in record time, it can help bring a team to alignment more quickly or provide a base for further iteration.

The paper clip method   #sharing   #creativity   #warm up   #idea generation   #brainstorming   The power of brainstorming. A training for project leaders, creativity training, and to catalyse getting new solutions.

Critical thinking

Critical thinking is one of the fundamental problem solving skills you’ll want to develop when working on developing solutions. Critical thinking is the ability to analyze, rationalize and evaluate while being aware of personal bias, outlying factors and remaining open-minded.

Defining and analyzing problems without deploying critical thinking skills can mean you and your team go down the wrong path. Developing solutions to complex issues requires critical thinking too – ensuring your team considers all possibilities and rationally evaluating them. 

Agreement-Certainty Matrix   #issue analysis   #liberating structures   #problem solving   You can help individuals or groups avoid the frequent mistake of trying to solve a problem with methods that are not adapted to the nature of their challenge. The combination of two questions makes it possible to easily sort challenges into four categories: simple, complicated, complex , and chaotic .  A problem is simple when it can be solved reliably with practices that are easy to duplicate.  It is complicated when experts are required to devise a sophisticated solution that will yield the desired results predictably.  A problem is complex when there are several valid ways to proceed but outcomes are not predictable in detail.  Chaotic is when the context is too turbulent to identify a path forward.  A loose analogy may be used to describe these differences: simple is like following a recipe, complicated like sending a rocket to the moon, complex like raising a child, and chaotic is like the game “Pin the Tail on the Donkey.”  The Liberating Structures Matching Matrix in Chapter 5 can be used as the first step to clarify the nature of a challenge and avoid the mismatches between problems and solutions that are frequently at the root of chronic, recurring problems.

Data analysis 

Though it shares lots of space with general analytical skills, data analysis skills are something you want to cultivate in their own right in order to be an effective problem solver.

Being good at data analysis doesn’t just mean being able to find insights from data, but also selecting the appropriate data for a given issue, interpreting it effectively and knowing how to model and present that data. Depending on the problem at hand, it might also include a working knowledge of specific data analysis tools and procedures. 

Having a solid grasp of data analysis techniques is useful if you’re leading a problem solving workshop but if you’re not an expert, don’t worry. Bring people into the group who has this skill set and help your team be more effective as a result.

Decision making

All problems need a solution and all solutions require that someone make the decision to implement them. Without strong decision making skills, teams can become bogged down in discussion and less effective as a result. 

Making decisions is a key part of the problem solving process. It’s important to remember that decision making is not restricted to the leadership team. Every staff member makes decisions every day and developing these skills ensures that your team is able to solve problems at any scale. Remember that making decisions does not mean leaping to the first solution but weighing up the options and coming to an informed, well thought out solution to any given problem that works for the whole team.

Lightning Decision Jam (LDJ)   #action   #decision making   #problem solving   #issue analysis   #innovation   #design   #remote-friendly   The problem with anything that requires creative thinking is that it’s easy to get lost—lose focus and fall into the trap of having useless, open-ended, unstructured discussions. Here’s the most effective solution I’ve found: Replace all open, unstructured discussion with a clear process. What to use this exercise for: Anything which requires a group of people to make decisions, solve problems or discuss challenges. It’s always good to frame an LDJ session with a broad topic, here are some examples: The conversion flow of our checkout Our internal design process How we organise events Keeping up with our competition Improving sales flow


Most complex organizational problems require multiple people to be involved in delivering the solution. Ensuring that the team and organization can depend on you to take the necessary actions and communicate where necessary is key to ensuring problems are solved effectively.

Being dependable also means working to deadlines and to brief. It is often a matter of creating trust in a team so that everyone can depend on one another to complete the agreed actions in the agreed time frame so that the team can move forward together. Being undependable can create problems of friction and can limit the effectiveness of your solutions so be sure to bear this in mind throughout a project. 

Team Purpose & Culture   #team   #hyperisland   #culture   #remote-friendly   This is an essential process designed to help teams define their purpose (why they exist) and their culture (how they work together to achieve that purpose). Defining these two things will help any team to be more focused and aligned. With support of tangible examples from other companies, the team members work as individuals and a group to codify the way they work together. The goal is a visual manifestation of both the purpose and culture that can be put up in the team’s work space.

Emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence is an important skill for any successful team member, whether communicating internally or with clients or users. In the problem solving process, emotional intelligence means being attuned to how people are feeling and thinking, communicating effectively and being self-aware of what you bring to a room. 

There are often differences of opinion when working through problem solving processes, and it can be easy to let things become impassioned or combative. Developing your emotional intelligence means being empathetic to your colleagues and managing your own emotions throughout the problem and solution process. Be kind, be thoughtful and put your points across care and attention. 

Being emotionally intelligent is a skill for life and by deploying it at work, you can not only work efficiently but empathetically. Check out the emotional culture workshop template for more!


As we’ve clarified in our facilitation skills post, facilitation is the art of leading people through processes towards agreed-upon objectives in a manner that encourages participation, ownership, and creativity by all those involved. While facilitation is a set of interrelated skills in itself, the broad definition of facilitation can be invaluable when it comes to problem solving. Leading a team through a problem solving process is made more effective if you improve and utilize facilitation skills – whether you’re a manager, team leader or external stakeholder.

The Six Thinking Hats   #creative thinking   #meeting facilitation   #problem solving   #issue resolution   #idea generation   #conflict resolution   The Six Thinking Hats are used by individuals and groups to separate out conflicting styles of thinking. They enable and encourage a group of people to think constructively together in exploring and implementing change, rather than using argument to fight over who is right and who is wrong.


Being flexible is a vital skill when it comes to problem solving. This does not mean immediately bowing to pressure or changing your opinion quickly: instead, being flexible is all about seeing things from new perspectives, receiving new information and factoring it into your thought process.

Flexibility is also important when it comes to rolling out solutions. It might be that other organizational projects have greater priority or require the same resources as your chosen solution. Being flexible means understanding needs and challenges across the team and being open to shifting or arranging your own schedule as necessary. Again, this does not mean immediately making way for other projects. It’s about articulating your own needs, understanding the needs of others and being able to come to a meaningful compromise.

The Creativity Dice   #creativity   #problem solving   #thiagi   #issue analysis   Too much linear thinking is hazardous to creative problem solving. To be creative, you should approach the problem (or the opportunity) from different points of view. You should leave a thought hanging in mid-air and move to another. This skipping around prevents premature closure and lets your brain incubate one line of thought while you consciously pursue another.

Working in any group can lead to unconscious elements of groupthink or situations in which you may not wish to be entirely honest. Disagreeing with the opinions of the executive team or wishing to save the feelings of a coworker can be tricky to navigate, but being honest is absolutely vital when to comes to developing effective solutions and ensuring your voice is heard. 

Remember that being honest does not mean being brutally candid. You can deliver your honest feedback and opinions thoughtfully and without creating friction by using other skills such as emotional intelligence. 

Explore your Values   #hyperisland   #skills   #values   #remote-friendly   Your Values is an exercise for participants to explore what their most important values are. It’s done in an intuitive and rapid way to encourage participants to follow their intuitive feeling rather than over-thinking and finding the “correct” values. It is a good exercise to use to initiate reflection and dialogue around personal values.


The problem solving process is multi-faceted and requires different approaches at certain points of the process. Taking initiative to bring problems to the attention of the team, collect data or lead the solution creating process is always valuable. You might even roadtest your own small scale solutions or brainstorm before a session. Taking initiative is particularly effective if you have good deal of knowledge in that area or have ownership of a particular project and want to get things kickstarted.

That said, be sure to remember to honor the process and work in service of the team. If you are asked to own one part of the problem solving process and you don’t complete that task because your initiative leads you to work on something else, that’s not an effective method of solving business challenges.

15% Solutions   #action   #liberating structures   #remote-friendly   You can reveal the actions, however small, that everyone can do immediately. At a minimum, these will create momentum, and that may make a BIG difference.  15% Solutions show that there is no reason to wait around, feel powerless, or fearful. They help people pick it up a level. They get individuals and the group to focus on what is within their discretion instead of what they cannot change.  With a very simple question, you can flip the conversation to what can be done and find solutions to big problems that are often distributed widely in places not known in advance. Shifting a few grains of sand may trigger a landslide and change the whole landscape.


A particularly useful problem solving skill for product owners or managers is the ability to remain impartial throughout much of the process. In practice, this means treating all points of view and ideas brought forward in a meeting equally and ensuring that your own areas of interest or ownership are not favored over others. 

There may be a stage in the process where a decision maker has to weigh the cost and ROI of possible solutions against the company roadmap though even then, ensuring that the decision made is based on merit and not personal opinion. 

Empathy map   #frame insights   #create   #design   #issue analysis   An empathy map is a tool to help a design team to empathize with the people they are designing for. You can make an empathy map for a group of people or for a persona. To be used after doing personas when more insights are needed.

Being a good leader means getting a team aligned, energized and focused around a common goal. In the problem solving process, strong leadership helps ensure that the process is efficient, that any conflicts are resolved and that a team is managed in the direction of success.

It’s common for managers or executives to assume this role in a problem solving workshop, though it’s important that the leader maintains impartiality and does not bulldoze the group in a particular direction. Remember that good leadership means working in service of the purpose and team and ensuring the workshop is a safe space for employees of any level to contribute. Take a look at our leadership games and activities post for more exercises and methods to help improve leadership in your organization.

Leadership Pizza   #leadership   #team   #remote-friendly   This leadership development activity offers a self-assessment framework for people to first identify what skills, attributes and attitudes they find important for effective leadership, and then assess their own development and initiate goal setting.

In the context of problem solving, mediation is important in keeping a team engaged, happy and free of conflict. When leading or facilitating a problem solving workshop, you are likely to run into differences of opinion. Depending on the nature of the problem, certain issues may be brought up that are emotive in nature. 

Being an effective mediator means helping those people on either side of such a divide are heard, listen to one another and encouraged to find common ground and a resolution. Mediating skills are useful for leaders and managers in many situations and the problem solving process is no different.

Conflict Responses   #hyperisland   #team   #issue resolution   A workshop for a team to reflect on past conflicts, and use them to generate guidelines for effective conflict handling. The workshop uses the Thomas-Killman model of conflict responses to frame a reflective discussion. Use it to open up a discussion around conflict with a team.


Solving organizational problems is much more effective when following a process or problem solving model. Planning skills are vital in order to structure, deliver and follow-through on a problem solving workshop and ensure your solutions are intelligently deployed.

Planning skills include the ability to organize tasks and a team, plan and design the process and take into account any potential challenges. Taking the time to plan carefully can save time and frustration later in the process and is valuable for ensuring a team is positioned for success.

3 Action Steps   #hyperisland   #action   #remote-friendly   This is a small-scale strategic planning session that helps groups and individuals to take action toward a desired change. It is often used at the end of a workshop or programme. The group discusses and agrees on a vision, then creates some action steps that will lead them towards that vision. The scope of the challenge is also defined, through discussion of the helpful and harmful factors influencing the group.


As organisations grow, the scale and variation of problems they face multiplies. Your team or is likely to face numerous challenges in different areas and so having the skills to analyze and prioritize becomes very important, particularly for those in leadership roles.

A thorough problem solving process is likely to deliver multiple solutions and you may have several different problems you wish to solve simultaneously. Prioritization is the ability to measure the importance, value, and effectiveness of those possible solutions and choose which to enact and in what order. The process of prioritization is integral in ensuring the biggest challenges are addressed with the most impactful solutions.

Impact and Effort Matrix   #gamestorming   #decision making   #action   #remote-friendly   In this decision-making exercise, possible actions are mapped based on two factors: effort required to implement and potential impact. Categorizing ideas along these lines is a useful technique in decision making, as it obliges contributors to balance and evaluate suggested actions before committing to them.

Project management

Some problem solving skills are utilized in a workshop or ideation phases, while others come in useful when it comes to decision making. Overseeing an entire problem solving process and ensuring its success requires strong project management skills. 

While project management incorporates many of the other skills listed here, it is important to note the distinction of considering all of the factors of a project and managing them successfully. Being able to negotiate with stakeholders, manage tasks, time and people, consider costs and ROI, and tie everything together is massively helpful when going through the problem solving process. 

Record keeping

Working out meaningful solutions to organizational challenges is only one part of the process.  Thoughtfully documenting and keeping records of each problem solving step for future consultation is important in ensuring efficiency and meaningful change. 

For example, some problems may be lower priority than others but can be revisited in the future. If the team has ideated on solutions and found some are not up to the task, record those so you can rule them out and avoiding repeating work. Keeping records of the process also helps you improve and refine your problem solving model next time around!

Personal Kanban   #gamestorming   #action   #agile   #project planning   Personal Kanban is a tool for organizing your work to be more efficient and productive. It is based on agile methods and principles.

Research skills

Conducting research to support both the identification of problems and the development of appropriate solutions is important for an effective process. Knowing where to go to collect research, how to conduct research efficiently, and identifying pieces of research are relevant are all things a good researcher can do well. 

In larger groups, not everyone has to demonstrate this ability in order for a problem solving workshop to be effective. That said, having people with research skills involved in the process, particularly if they have existing area knowledge, can help ensure the solutions that are developed with data that supports their intention. Remember that being able to deliver the results of research efficiently and in a way the team can easily understand is also important. The best data in the world is only as effective as how it is delivered and interpreted.

Customer experience map   #ideation   #concepts   #research   #design   #issue analysis   #remote-friendly   Customer experience mapping is a method of documenting and visualizing the experience a customer has as they use the product or service. It also maps out their responses to their experiences. To be used when there is a solution (even in a conceptual stage) that can be analyzed.

Risk management

Managing risk is an often overlooked part of the problem solving process. Solutions are often developed with the intention of reducing exposure to risk or solving issues that create risk but sometimes, great solutions are more experimental in nature and as such, deploying them needs to be carefully considered. 

Managing risk means acknowledging that there may be risks associated with more out of the box solutions or trying new things, but that this must be measured against the possible benefits and other organizational factors. 

Be informed, get the right data and stakeholders in the room and you can appropriately factor risk into your decision making process. 

Decisions, Decisions…   #communication   #decision making   #thiagi   #action   #issue analysis   When it comes to decision-making, why are some of us more prone to take risks while others are risk-averse? One explanation might be the way the decision and options were presented.  This exercise, based on Kahneman and Tversky’s classic study , illustrates how the framing effect influences our judgement and our ability to make decisions . The participants are divided into two groups. Both groups are presented with the same problem and two alternative programs for solving them. The two programs both have the same consequences but are presented differently. The debriefing discussion examines how the framing of the program impacted the participant’s decision.


No single person is as good at problem solving as a team. Building an effective team and helping them come together around a common purpose is one of the most important problem solving skills, doubly so for leaders. By bringing a team together and helping them work efficiently, you pave the way for team ownership of a problem and the development of effective solutions. 

In a problem solving workshop, it can be tempting to jump right into the deep end, though taking the time to break the ice, energize the team and align them with a game or exercise will pay off over the course of the day.

Remember that you will likely go through the problem solving process multiple times over an organization’s lifespan and building a strong team culture will make future problem solving more effective. It’s also great to work with people you know, trust and have fun with. Working on team building in and out of the problem solving process is a hallmark of successful teams that can work together to solve business problems.

9 Dimensions Team Building Activity   #ice breaker   #teambuilding   #team   #remote-friendly   9 Dimensions is a powerful activity designed to build relationships and trust among team members. There are 2 variations of this icebreaker. The first version is for teams who want to get to know each other better. The second version is for teams who want to explore how they are working together as a team.

Time management 

The problem solving process is designed to lead a team from identifying a problem through to delivering a solution and evaluating its effectiveness. Without effective time management skills or timeboxing of tasks, it can be easy for a team to get bogged down or be inefficient.

By using a problem solving model and carefully designing your workshop, you can allocate time efficiently and trust that the process will deliver the results you need in a good timeframe.

Time management also comes into play when it comes to rolling out solutions, particularly those that are experimental in nature. Having a clear timeframe for implementing and evaluating solutions is vital for ensuring their success and being able to pivot if necessary.

Improving your skills at problem solving is often a career-long pursuit though there are methods you can use to make the learning process more efficient and to supercharge your problem solving skillset.

Remember that the skills you need to be a great problem solver have a large overlap with those skills you need to be effective in any role. Investing time and effort to develop your active listening or critical thinking skills is valuable in any context. Here are 7 ways to improve your problem solving skills.

Share best practices

Remember that your team is an excellent source of skills, wisdom, and techniques and that you should all take advantage of one another where possible. Best practices that one team has for solving problems, conducting research or making decisions should be shared across the organization. If you have in-house staff that have done active listening training or are data analysis pros, have them lead a training session. 

Your team is one of your best resources. Create space and internal processes for the sharing of skills so that you can all grow together. 

Ask for help and attend training

Once you’ve figured out you have a skills gap, the next step is to take action to fill that skills gap. That might be by asking your superior for training or coaching, or liaising with team members with that skill set. You might even attend specialized training for certain skills – active listening or critical thinking, for example, are business-critical skills that are regularly offered as part of a training scheme.

Whatever method you choose, remember that taking action of some description is necessary for growth. Whether that means practicing, getting help, attending training or doing some background reading, taking active steps to improve your skills is the way to go.

Learn a process 

Problem solving can be complicated, particularly when attempting to solve large problems for the first time. Using a problem solving process helps give structure to your problem solving efforts and focus on creating outcomes, rather than worrying about the format. 

Tools such as the seven-step problem solving process above are effective because not only do they feature steps that will help a team solve problems, they also develop skills along the way. Each step asks for people to engage with the process using different skills and in doing so, helps the team learn and grow together. Group processes of varying complexity and purpose can also be found in the SessionLab library of facilitation techniques . Using a tried and tested process and really help ease the learning curve for both those leading such a process, as well as those undergoing the purpose.

Effective teams make decisions about where they should and shouldn’t expend additional effort. By using a problem solving process, you can focus on the things that matter, rather than stumbling towards a solution haphazardly. 

Create a feedback loop

Some skills gaps are more obvious than others. It’s possible that your perception of your active listening skills differs from those of your colleagues. 

It’s valuable to create a system where team members can provide feedback in an ordered and friendly manner so they can all learn from one another. Only by identifying areas of improvement can you then work to improve them. 

Remember that feedback systems require oversight and consideration so that they don’t turn into a place to complain about colleagues. Design the system intelligently so that you encourage the creation of learning opportunities, rather than encouraging people to list their pet peeves.

While practice might not make perfect, it does make the problem solving process easier. If you are having trouble with critical thinking, don’t shy away from doing it. Get involved where you can and stretch those muscles as regularly as possible. 

Problem solving skills come more naturally to some than to others and that’s okay. Take opportunities to get involved and see where you can practice your skills in situations outside of a workshop context. Try collaborating in other circumstances at work or conduct data analysis on your own projects. You can often develop those skills you need for problem solving simply by doing them. Get involved!

Use expert exercises and methods

Learn from the best. Our library of 700+ facilitation techniques is full of activities and methods that help develop the skills you need to be an effective problem solver. Check out our templates to see how to approach problem solving and other organizational challenges in a structured and intelligent manner.

There is no single approach to improving problem solving skills, but by using the techniques employed by others you can learn from their example and develop processes that have seen proven results. 

Try new ways of thinking and change your mindset

Using tried and tested exercises that you know well can help deliver results, but you do run the risk of missing out on the learning opportunities offered by new approaches. As with the problem solving process, changing your mindset can remove blockages and be used to develop your problem solving skills.

Most teams have members with mixed skill sets and specialties. Mix people from different teams and share skills and different points of view. Teach your customer support team how to use design thinking methods or help your developers with conflict resolution techniques. Try switching perspectives with facilitation techniques like Flip It! or by using new problem solving methodologies or models. Give design thinking, liberating structures or lego serious play a try if you want to try a new approach. You will find that framing problems in new ways and using existing skills in new contexts can be hugely useful for personal development and improving your skillset. It’s also a lot of fun to try new things. Give it a go!

Encountering business challenges and needing to find appropriate solutions is not unique to your organization. Lots of very smart people have developed methods, theories and approaches to help develop problem solving skills and create effective solutions. Learn from them!

Books like The Art of Thinking Clearly , Think Smarter, or Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow are great places to start, though it’s also worth looking at blogs related to organizations facing similar problems to yours, or browsing for success stories. Seeing how Dropbox massively increased growth and working backward can help you see the skills or approach you might be lacking to solve that same problem. Learning from others by reading their stories or approaches can be time-consuming but ultimately rewarding.

A tired, distracted mind is not in the best position to learn new skills. It can be tempted to burn the candle at both ends and develop problem solving skills outside of work. Absolutely use your time effectively and take opportunities for self-improvement, though remember that rest is hugely important and that without letting your brain rest, you cannot be at your most effective. 

Creating distance between yourself and the problem you might be facing can also be useful. By letting an idea sit, you can find that a better one presents itself or you can develop it further. Take regular breaks when working and create a space for downtime. Remember that working smarter is preferable to working harder and that self-care is important for any effective learning or improvement process.

Want to design better group processes?

suggestions on problem solving

Over to you

Now we’ve explored some of the key problem solving skills and the problem solving steps necessary for an effective process, you’re ready to begin developing more effective solutions and leading problem solving workshops.

Need more inspiration? Check out our post on problem solving activities you can use when guiding a group towards a great solution in your next workshop or meeting. Have questions? Did you have a great problem solving technique you use with your team? Get in touch in the comments below. We’d love to chat!

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What is AI (artificial intelligence)?

3D robotics hand

Humans and machines: a match made in productivity  heaven. Our species wouldn’t have gotten very far without our mechanized workhorses. From the wheel that revolutionized agriculture to the screw that held together increasingly complex construction projects to the robot-enabled assembly lines of today, machines have made life as we know it possible. And yet, despite their seemingly endless utility, humans have long feared machines—more specifically, the possibility that machines might someday acquire human intelligence  and strike out on their own.

Get to know and directly engage with senior McKinsey experts on AI

Sven Blumberg is a senior partner in McKinsey’s Düsseldorf office; Michael Chui is a partner at the McKinsey Global Institute and is based in the Bay Area office, where Lareina Yee is a senior partner; Kia Javanmardian is a senior partner in the Chicago office, where Alex Singla , the global leader of QuantumBlack, AI by McKinsey, is also a senior partner; Kate Smaje and Alex Sukharevsky are senior partners in the London office.

But we tend to view the possibility of sentient machines with fascination as well as fear. This curiosity has helped turn science fiction into actual science. Twentieth-century theoreticians, like computer scientist and mathematician Alan Turing, envisioned a future where machines could perform functions faster than humans. The work of Turing and others soon made this a reality. Personal calculators became widely available in the 1970s, and by 2016, the US census showed that 89 percent of American households had a computer. Machines— smart machines at that—are now just an ordinary part of our lives and culture.

Those smart machines are also getting faster and more complex. Some computers have now crossed the exascale threshold, meaning they can perform as many calculations in a single second as an individual could in 31,688,765,000 years . And beyond computation, which machines have long been faster at than we have, computers and other devices are now acquiring skills and perception that were once unique to humans and a few other species.

About QuantumBlack, AI by McKinsey

QuantumBlack, McKinsey’s AI arm, helps companies transform using the power of technology, technical expertise, and industry experts. With thousands of practitioners at QuantumBlack (data engineers, data scientists, product managers, designers, and software engineers) and McKinsey (industry and domain experts), we are working to solve the world’s most important AI challenges. QuantumBlack Labs is our center of technology development and client innovation, which has been driving cutting-edge advancements and developments in AI through locations across the globe.

AI is a machine’s ability to perform the cognitive functions we associate with human minds, such as perceiving, reasoning, learning, interacting with the environment, problem-solving, and even exercising creativity. You’ve probably interacted with AI even if you don’t realize it—voice assistants like Siri and Alexa are founded on AI technology, as are some customer service chatbots that pop up to help you navigate websites.

Applied AI —simply, artificial intelligence applied to real-world problems—has serious implications for the business world. By using artificial intelligence, companies have the potential to make business more efficient and profitable. But ultimately, the value of AI isn’t in the systems themselves. Rather, it’s in how companies use these systems to assist humans—and their ability to explain to shareholders and the public what these systems do—in a way that builds trust and confidence.

For more about AI, its history, its future, and how to apply it in business, read on.

Learn more about QuantumBlack, AI by McKinsey .

Circular, white maze filled with white semicircles.

Introducing McKinsey Explainers : Direct answers to complex questions

What is machine learning.

Machine learning is a form of artificial intelligence that can adapt to a wide range of inputs, including large sets of historical data, synthesized data, or human inputs. (Some machine learning algorithms are specialized in training themselves to detect patterns; this is called deep learning. See Exhibit 1.) These algorithms can detect patterns and learn how to make predictions and recommendations by processing data, rather than by receiving explicit programming instruction. Some algorithms can also adapt in response to new data and experiences to improve over time.

The volume and complexity of data that is now being generated, too vast for humans to process and apply efficiently, has increased the potential of machine learning, as well as the need for it. In the years since its widespread deployment, which began in the 1970s, machine learning has had an impact on a number of industries, including achievements in medical-imaging analysis  and high-resolution weather forecasting.

The volume and complexity of data that is now being generated, too vast for humans to process and apply efficiently, has increased the potential of machine learning, as well as the need for it.

What is deep learning?

Deep learning is a more advanced version of machine learning that is particularly adept at processing a wider range of data resources (text as well as unstructured data including images), requires even less human intervention, and can often produce more accurate results than traditional machine learning. Deep learning uses neural networks—based on the ways neurons interact in the human brain —to ingest data and process it through multiple neuron layers that recognize increasingly complex features of the data. For example, an early layer might recognize something as being in a specific shape; building on this knowledge, a later layer might be able to identify the shape as a stop sign. Similar to machine learning, deep learning uses iteration to self-correct and improve its prediction capabilities. For example, once it “learns” what a stop sign looks like, it can recognize a stop sign in a new image.

What is generative AI?

Case study: vistra and the martin lake power plant.

Vistra is a large power producer in the United States, operating plants in 12 states with a capacity to power nearly 20 million homes. Vistra has committed to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. In support of this goal, as well as to improve overall efficiency, QuantumBlack, AI by McKinsey worked with Vistra to build and deploy an AI-powered heat rate optimizer (HRO) at one of its plants.

“Heat rate” is a measure of the thermal efficiency of the plant; in other words, it’s the amount of fuel required to produce each unit of electricity. To reach the optimal heat rate, plant operators continuously monitor and tune hundreds of variables, such as steam temperatures, pressures, oxygen levels, and fan speeds.

Vistra and a McKinsey team, including data scientists and machine learning engineers, built a multilayered neural network model. The model combed through two years’ worth of data at the plant and learned which combination of factors would attain the most efficient heat rate at any point in time. When the models were accurate to 99 percent or higher and run through a rigorous set of real-world tests, the team converted them into an AI-powered engine that generates recommendations every 30 minutes for operators to improve the plant’s heat rate efficiency. One seasoned operations manager at the company’s plant in Odessa, Texas, said, “There are things that took me 20 years to learn about these power plants. This model learned them in an afternoon.”

Overall, the AI-powered HRO helped Vistra achieve the following:

  • approximately 1.6 million metric tons of carbon abated annually
  • 67 power generators optimized
  • $60 million saved in about a year

Read more about the Vistra story here .

Generative AI (gen AI) is an AI model that generates content in response to a prompt. It’s clear that generative AI tools like ChatGPT and DALL-E (a tool for AI-generated art) have the potential to change how a range of jobs  are performed. Much is still unknown about gen AI’s potential, but there are some questions we can answer—like how gen AI models are built, what kinds of problems they are best suited to solve, and how they fit into the broader category of AI and machine learning.

For more on generative AI and how it stands to affect business and society, check out our Explainer “ What is generative AI? ”

What is the history of AI?

The term “artificial intelligence” was coined in 1956  by computer scientist John McCarthy for a workshop at Dartmouth. But he wasn’t the first to write about the concepts we now describe as AI. Alan Turing introduced the concept of the “ imitation game ” in a 1950 paper. That’s the test of a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behavior, now known as the “Turing test.” He believed researchers should focus on areas that don’t require too much sensing and action, things like games and language translation. Research communities dedicated to concepts like computer vision, natural language understanding, and neural networks are, in many cases, several decades old.

MIT physicist Rodney Brooks shared details on the four previous stages of AI:

Symbolic AI (1956). Symbolic AI is also known as classical AI, or even GOFAI (good old-fashioned AI). The key concept here is the use of symbols and logical reasoning to solve problems. For example, we know a German shepherd is a dog , which is a mammal; all mammals are warm-blooded; therefore, a German shepherd should be warm-blooded.

The main problem with symbolic AI is that humans still need to manually encode their knowledge of the world into the symbolic AI system, rather than allowing it to observe and encode relationships on its own. As a result, symbolic AI systems struggle with situations involving real-world complexity. They also lack the ability to learn from large amounts of data.

Symbolic AI was the dominant paradigm of AI research until the late 1980s.

Neural networks (1954, 1969, 1986, 2012). Neural networks are the technology behind the recent explosive growth of gen AI. Loosely modeling the ways neurons interact in the human brain , neural networks ingest data and process it through multiple iterations that learn increasingly complex features of the data. The neural network can then make determinations about the data, learn whether a determination is correct, and use what it has learned to make determinations about new data. For example, once it “learns” what an object looks like, it can recognize the object in a new image.

Neural networks were first proposed in 1943 in an academic paper by neurophysiologist Warren McCulloch and logician Walter Pitts. Decades later, in 1969, two MIT researchers mathematically demonstrated that neural networks could perform only very basic tasks. In 1986, there was another reversal, when computer scientist and cognitive psychologist Geoffrey Hinton and colleagues solved the neural network problem presented by the MIT researchers. In the 1990s, computer scientist Yann LeCun made major advancements in neural networks’ use in computer vision, while Jürgen Schmidhuber advanced the application of recurrent neural networks as used in language processing.

In 2012, Hinton and two of his students highlighted the power of deep learning. They applied Hinton’s algorithm to neural networks with many more layers than was typical, sparking a new focus on deep neural networks. These have been the main AI approaches of recent years.

Traditional robotics (1968). During the first few decades of AI, researchers built robots to advance research. Some robots were mobile, moving around on wheels, while others were fixed, with articulated arms. Robots used the earliest attempts at computer vision to identify and navigate through their environments or to understand the geometry of objects and maneuver them. This could include moving around blocks of various shapes and colors. Most of these robots, just like the ones that have been used in factories for decades, rely on highly controlled environments with thoroughly scripted behaviors that they perform repeatedly. They have not contributed significantly to the advancement of AI itself.

But traditional robotics did have significant impact in one area, through a process called “simultaneous localization and mapping” (SLAM). SLAM algorithms helped contribute to self-driving cars and are used in consumer products like vacuum cleaning robots and quadcopter drones. Today, this work has evolved into behavior-based robotics, also referred to as haptic technology because it responds to human touch.

  • Behavior-based robotics (1985). In the real world, there aren’t always clear instructions for navigation, decision making, or problem-solving. Insects, researchers observed, navigate very well (and are evolutionarily very successful) with few neurons. Behavior-based robotics researchers took inspiration from this, looking for ways robots could solve problems with partial knowledge and conflicting instructions. These behavior-based robots are embedded with neural networks.

Learn more about  QuantumBlack, AI by McKinsey .

What is artificial general intelligence?

The term “artificial general intelligence” (AGI) was coined to describe AI systems that possess capabilities comparable to those of a human . In theory, AGI could someday replicate human-like cognitive abilities including reasoning, problem-solving, perception, learning, and language comprehension. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves: the key word here is “someday.” Most researchers and academics believe we are decades away from realizing AGI; some even predict we won’t see AGI this century, or ever. Rodney Brooks, an MIT roboticist and cofounder of iRobot, doesn’t believe AGI will arrive until the year 2300 .

The timing of AGI’s emergence may be uncertain. But when it does emerge—and it likely will—it’s going to be a very big deal, in every aspect of our lives. Executives should begin working to understand the path to machines achieving human-level intelligence now and making the transition to a more automated world.

For more on AGI, including the four previous attempts at AGI, read our Explainer .

What is narrow AI?

Narrow AI is the application of AI techniques to a specific and well-defined problem, such as chatbots like ChatGPT, algorithms that spot fraud in credit card transactions, and natural-language-processing engines that quickly process thousands of legal documents. Most current AI applications fall into the category of narrow AI. AGI is, by contrast, AI that’s intelligent enough to perform a broad range of tasks.

How is the use of AI expanding?

AI is a big story for all kinds of businesses, but some companies are clearly moving ahead of the pack . Our state of AI in 2022 survey showed that adoption of AI models has more than doubled since 2017—and investment has increased apace. What’s more, the specific areas in which companies see value from AI have evolved, from manufacturing and risk to the following:

  • marketing and sales
  • product and service development
  • strategy and corporate finance

One group of companies is pulling ahead of its competitors. Leaders of these organizations consistently make larger investments in AI, level up their practices to scale faster, and hire and upskill the best AI talent. More specifically, they link AI strategy to business outcomes and “ industrialize ” AI operations by designing modular data architecture that can quickly accommodate new applications.

What are the limitations of AI models? How can these potentially be overcome?

We have yet to see the longtail effect of gen AI models. This means there are some inherent risks involved in using them—both known and unknown.

The outputs gen AI models produce may often sound extremely convincing. This is by design. But sometimes the information they generate is just plain wrong. Worse, sometimes it’s biased (because it’s built on the gender, racial, and other biases of the internet and society more generally).

It can also be manipulated to enable unethical or criminal activity. Since gen AI models burst onto the scene, organizations have become aware of users trying to “jailbreak” the models—that means trying to get them to break their own rules and deliver biased, harmful, misleading, or even illegal content. Gen AI organizations are responding to this threat in two ways: for one thing, they’re collecting feedback from users on inappropriate content. They’re also combing through their databases, identifying prompts that led to inappropriate content, and training the model against these types of generations.

But awareness and even action don’t guarantee that harmful content won’t slip the dragnet. Organizations that rely on gen AI models should be aware of the reputational and legal risks involved in unintentionally publishing biased, offensive, or copyrighted content.

These risks can be mitigated, however, in a few ways. “Whenever you use a model,” says McKinsey partner Marie El Hoyek, “you need to be able to counter biases  and instruct it not to use inappropriate or flawed sources, or things you don’t trust.” How? For one thing, it’s crucial to carefully select the initial data used to train these models to avoid including toxic or biased content. Next, rather than employing an off-the-shelf gen AI model, organizations could consider using smaller, specialized models. Organizations with more resources could also customize a general model based on their own data to fit their needs and minimize biases.

It’s also important to keep a human in the loop (that is, to make sure a real human checks the output of a gen AI model before it is published or used) and avoid using gen AI models for critical decisions, such as those involving significant resources or human welfare.

It can’t be emphasized enough that this is a new field. The landscape of risks and opportunities is likely to continue to change rapidly in the coming years. As gen AI becomes increasingly incorporated into business, society, and our personal lives, we can also expect a new regulatory climate to take shape. As organizations experiment—and create value—with these tools, leaders will do well to keep a finger on the pulse of regulation and risk.

What is the AI Bill of Rights?

The Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights, prepared by the US government in 2022, provides a framework for how government, technology companies, and citizens can collectively ensure more accountable AI. As AI has become more ubiquitous, concerns have surfaced  about a potential lack of transparency surrounding the functioning of gen AI systems, the data used to train them, issues of bias and fairness, potential intellectual property infringements, privacy violations, and more. The Blueprint comprises five principles that the White House says should “guide the design, use, and deployment of automated systems to protect [users] in the age of artificial intelligence.” They are as follows:

  • The right to safe and effective systems. Systems should undergo predeployment testing, risk identification and mitigation, and ongoing monitoring to demonstrate that they are adhering to their intended use.
  • Protections against discrimination by algorithms. Algorithmic discrimination is when automated systems contribute to unjustified different treatment of people based on their race, color, ethnicity, sex, religion, age, and more.
  • Protections against abusive data practices, via built-in safeguards. Users should also have agency over how their data is used.
  • The right to know that an automated system is being used, and a clear explanation of how and why it contributes to outcomes that affect the user.
  • The right to opt out, and access to a human who can quickly consider and fix problems.

At present, more than 60 countries or blocs have national strategies governing the responsible use of AI (Exhibit 2). These include Brazil, China, the European Union, Singapore, South Korea, and the United States. The approaches taken vary from guidelines-based approaches, such as the Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights in the United States, to comprehensive AI regulations that align with existing data protection and cybersecurity regulations, such as the EU’s AI Act, due in 2024.

There are also collaborative efforts between countries to set out standards for AI use. The US–EU Trade and Technology Council is working toward greater alignment between Europe and the United States. The Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence, formed in 2020, has 29 members including Brazil, Canada, Japan, the United States, and several European countries.

Even though AI regulations are still being developed, organizations should act now to avoid legal, reputational, organizational, and financial risks. In an environment of public concern, a misstep could be costly. Here are four no-regrets, preemptive actions organizations can implement today:

  • Transparency. Create an inventory of models, classifying them in accordance with regulation, and record all usage across the organization that is clear to those inside and outside the organization.
  • Governance. Implement a governance structure for AI and gen AI that ensures sufficient oversight, authority, and accountability both within the organization and with third parties and regulators.
  • Data management. Proper data management includes awareness of data sources, data classification, data quality and lineage, intellectual property, and privacy management.
  • Model management. Organizations should establish principles and guardrails for AI development and use them to ensure all AI models uphold fairness and bias controls.
  • Cybersecurity and technology management. Establish strong cybersecurity and technology to ensure a secure environment where unauthorized access or misuse is prevented.
  • Individual rights. Make users aware when they are interacting with an AI system, and provide clear instructions for use.

How can organizations scale up their AI efforts from ad hoc projects to full integration?

Most organizations are dipping a toe into the AI pool—not cannonballing. Slow progress toward widespread adoption is likely due to cultural and organizational barriers. But leaders who effectively break down these barriers will be best placed to capture the opportunities of the AI era. And—crucially—companies that can’t take full advantage of AI are already being sidelined by those that can, in industries like auto manufacturing and financial services.

To scale up AI, organizations can make three major shifts :

  • Move from siloed work to interdisciplinary collaboration. AI projects shouldn’t be limited to discrete pockets of organizations. Rather, AI has the biggest impact when it’s employed by cross-functional teams with a mix of skills and perspectives, enabling AI to address broad business priorities.
  • Empower frontline data-based decision making . AI has the potential to enable faster, better decisions at all levels of an organization. But for this to work, people at all levels need to trust the algorithms’ suggestions and feel empowered to make decisions. (Equally, people should be able to override the algorithm or make suggestions for improvement when necessary.)
  • Adopt and bolster an agile mindset. The agile test-and-learn mindset will help reframe mistakes as sources of discovery, allaying the fear of failure and speeding up development.

Learn more about QuantumBlack, AI by McKinsey , and check out AI-related job opportunities if you’re interested in working at McKinsey.

Articles referenced:

  • “ As gen AI advances, regulators—and risk functions—rush to keep pace ,” December 21, 2023, Andreas Kremer, Angela Luget , Daniel Mikkelsen , Henning Soller , Malin Strandell-Jansson, and Sheila Zingg
  • “ What is generative AI? ,” January 19, 2023
  • “ Tech highlights from 2022—in eight charts ,” December 22, 2022
  • “ Generative AI is here: How tools like ChatGPT could change your business ,” December 20, 2022, Michael Chui , Roger Roberts , and Lareina Yee  
  • “ The state of AI in 2022—and a half decade in review ,” December 6, 2022, Michael Chui , Bryce Hall , Helen Mayhew , Alex Singla , and Alex Sukharevsky  
  • “ Why businesses need explainable AI—and how to deliver it ,” September 29, 2022, Liz Grennan , Andreas Kremer, Alex Singla , and Peter Zipparo
  • “ Why digital trust truly matters ,” September 12, 2022, Jim Boehm , Liz Grennan , Alex Singla , and Kate Smaje
  • “ McKinsey Technology Trends Outlook 2023 ,” July 20, 2023, Michael Chui , Mena Issler, Roger Roberts , and Lareina Yee  
  • “ An AI power play: Fueling the next wave of innovation in the energy sector ,” May 12, 2022, Barry Boswell, Sean Buckley, Ben Elliott, Matias Melero , and Micah Smith  
  • “ Scaling AI like a tech native: The CEO’s role ,” October 13, 2021, Jacomo Corbo, David Harvey, Nicolas Hohn, Kia Javanmardian , and Nayur Khan
  • “ What the draft European Union AI regulations mean for business ,” August 10, 2021, Misha Benjamin, Kevin Buehler , Rachel Dooley, and Peter Zipparo
  • “ Winning with AI is a state of mind ,” April 30, 2021, Thomas Meakin , Jeremy Palmer, Valentina Sartori , and Jamie Vickers
  • “ Breaking through data-architecture gridlock to scale AI ,” January 26, 2021, Sven Blumberg , Jorge Machado , Henning Soller , and Asin Tavakoli  
  • “ An executive’s guide to AI ,” November 17, 2020, Michael Chui , Brian McCarthy, and Vishnu Kamalnath
  • “ Executive’s guide to developing AI at scale ,” October 28, 2020, Nayur Khan , Brian McCarthy, and Adi Pradhan
  • “ An executive primer on artificial general intelligence ,” April 29, 2020, Federico Berruti , Pieter Nel, and Rob Whiteman
  • “ The analytics academy: Bridging the gap between human and artificial intelligence ,” McKinsey Quarterly , September 25, 2019, Solly Brown, Darshit Gandhi, Louise Herring , and Ankur Puri  

This article was updated in April 2024; it was originally published in April 2023.

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Programs 2024 TechSprint: Generative AI in Housing Finance

Generative AI in Housing Finance

Register to Livestream FHFA’s Generative Artificial Intelligence (AI) in Housing Finance TechSprint

Register here  to livestream Opening Day and Demo Day of FHFA’s Generative AI in Housing Finance TechSprint.

  • Opening Day, beginning at 10:30 am EST on Monday, July 22, will feature remarks from FHFA leadership and keynote speakers.
  • Demo Day, beginning at 9:00 am EST on Thursday, July 25, will feature remarks from FHFA leadership and keynote speakers and presentation​s from the TechSprint teams.

About th​e FHFA Generative AI in Housing Finance TechSprint

The FHFA Generative AI in Housing Finance TechSprint will be an in-person, team-based problem-solving event hosted by the Federal Housing Finance Agency’s (FHFA) Office of Financial Technology (OFT). The TechSprint will bring together technology, regulatory, housing, and consumer finance experts to identify use cases and associated control measures to support the responsible use of generative AI in housing finance.​

Partici​pants are organized into TechSprint teams and work over a three-day period to solve for problem statements centered around the question:

“How might the responsible use of generative AI promote a transparent, fair, equitable, and inclusive housing finance system, while fostering sustainable homeownership and rental opportunities?”

The TechSprint culminates in a Demo Day where each team will present its ideas to an independent panel of judges drawn from subject matter experts in government, industry, nonprofits, and academia.

The Generative AI in Housing Finance TechSprint will be held at FHFA’s Constitution Center headquarters in Washington, DC, and will run from July 22 to July 25, 2024. The application period to participate in-person at the TechSprint was open from March 20 through May 24, 2024.

FHFA Generative AI in Housing Finance TechSprint: Problem Statements

Umbrella Stateme​​nt​

Generative artificial intelligence (AI) has captured the imagination and interest of a diverse set of stakeholders, including industry, government, and consumers. For the housing finance system, the transformative potential of generative AI extends beyond technological advancement. Generative AI presents an opportunity to promote a housing finance system that is transparent, fair, equitable, and inclusive and fosters sustainable homeownership. Realizing this potential, however, is contingent on a commitment to responsible innovation and ensuring that the development and use of generative AI is supported by ethical considerations and safety and soundness.

FHFA’s Generative AI in Housing Finance TechSprint challenges participants to address the question,  “How might the responsible use of generative AI promote a transparent, fair, equitable, and inclusive housing finance system while fostering sustainable homeownership and rental opportunities?”​

TechSprint participants will demonstrate:

  • A key  use case  for generative AI in one of the four areas of focus provided below; and
  • Recommended  control measures , incorporating​ careful consideration of the associated risks.

Focused Statements ​

The four areas of focus are as follows:

  • Consumer Experience:  How might generative AI be used to further educate and empower prospective homebuyers in evaluating, comparing, and obtaining a mortgage loan and in sustaining their homeownership over time?
  • Assessing Creditworthiness:  How might generative AI be used to improve the evaluation of homebuyer credit, as well as the fairness of the credit decisions related to mortgage loans, particularly for homebuyers from underserved communities?
  • Operations:  How might generative AI be used to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of operational processes within the housing finance system, from origination to servicing and secondary market activities?
  • Risk Management and Compliance:  How might generative AI be used to enhance the effectiveness of risk management and compliance processes within the housing finance system?

Have additional questions about the 2024 TechSprint?  Please contact OFT at  [email protected] . To learn more about OFT, please visit  the OFT home page . And to learn more about FHFA’s inaugural TechSprint held in 2023, please visit the  Velocity TechSprint webpage .​​

Page Last Updated: May 28​​, 2024​​​​​

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Problem-Solving Strategies and Obstacles

Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."

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Sean is a fact-checker and researcher with experience in sociology, field research, and data analytics.

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From deciding what to eat for dinner to considering whether it's the right time to buy a house, problem-solving is a large part of our daily lives. Learn some of the problem-solving strategies that exist and how to use them in real life, along with ways to overcome obstacles that are making it harder to resolve the issues you face.

What Is Problem-Solving?

In cognitive psychology , the term 'problem-solving' refers to the mental process that people go through to discover, analyze, and solve problems.

A problem exists when there is a goal that we want to achieve but the process by which we will achieve it is not obvious to us. Put another way, there is something that we want to occur in our life, yet we are not immediately certain how to make it happen.

Maybe you want a better relationship with your spouse or another family member but you're not sure how to improve it. Or you want to start a business but are unsure what steps to take. Problem-solving helps you figure out how to achieve these desires.

The problem-solving process involves:

  • Discovery of the problem
  • Deciding to tackle the issue
  • Seeking to understand the problem more fully
  • Researching available options or solutions
  • Taking action to resolve the issue

Before problem-solving can occur, it is important to first understand the exact nature of the problem itself. If your understanding of the issue is faulty, your attempts to resolve it will also be incorrect or flawed.

Problem-Solving Mental Processes

Several mental processes are at work during problem-solving. Among them are:

  • Perceptually recognizing the problem
  • Representing the problem in memory
  • Considering relevant information that applies to the problem
  • Identifying different aspects of the problem
  • Labeling and describing the problem

Problem-Solving Strategies

There are many ways to go about solving a problem. Some of these strategies might be used on their own, or you may decide to employ multiple approaches when working to figure out and fix a problem.

An algorithm is a step-by-step procedure that, by following certain "rules" produces a solution. Algorithms are commonly used in mathematics to solve division or multiplication problems. But they can be used in other fields as well.

In psychology, algorithms can be used to help identify individuals with a greater risk of mental health issues. For instance, research suggests that certain algorithms might help us recognize children with an elevated risk of suicide or self-harm.

One benefit of algorithms is that they guarantee an accurate answer. However, they aren't always the best approach to problem-solving, in part because detecting patterns can be incredibly time-consuming.

There are also concerns when machine learning is involved—also known as artificial intelligence (AI)—such as whether they can accurately predict human behaviors.

Heuristics are shortcut strategies that people can use to solve a problem at hand. These "rule of thumb" approaches allow you to simplify complex problems, reducing the total number of possible solutions to a more manageable set.

If you find yourself sitting in a traffic jam, for example, you may quickly consider other routes, taking one to get moving once again. When shopping for a new car, you might think back to a prior experience when negotiating got you a lower price, then employ the same tactics.

While heuristics may be helpful when facing smaller issues, major decisions shouldn't necessarily be made using a shortcut approach. Heuristics also don't guarantee an effective solution, such as when trying to drive around a traffic jam only to find yourself on an equally crowded route.

Trial and Error

A trial-and-error approach to problem-solving involves trying a number of potential solutions to a particular issue, then ruling out those that do not work. If you're not sure whether to buy a shirt in blue or green, for instance, you may try on each before deciding which one to purchase.

This can be a good strategy to use if you have a limited number of solutions available. But if there are many different choices available, narrowing down the possible options using another problem-solving technique can be helpful before attempting trial and error.

In some cases, the solution to a problem can appear as a sudden insight. You are facing an issue in a relationship or your career when, out of nowhere, the solution appears in your mind and you know exactly what to do.

Insight can occur when the problem in front of you is similar to an issue that you've dealt with in the past. Although, you may not recognize what is occurring since the underlying mental processes that lead to insight often happen outside of conscious awareness .

Research indicates that insight is most likely to occur during times when you are alone—such as when going on a walk by yourself, when you're in the shower, or when lying in bed after waking up.

How to Apply Problem-Solving Strategies in Real Life

If you're facing a problem, you can implement one or more of these strategies to find a potential solution. Here's how to use them in real life:

  • Create a flow chart . If you have time, you can take advantage of the algorithm approach to problem-solving by sitting down and making a flow chart of each potential solution, its consequences, and what happens next.
  • Recall your past experiences . When a problem needs to be solved fairly quickly, heuristics may be a better approach. Think back to when you faced a similar issue, then use your knowledge and experience to choose the best option possible.
  • Start trying potential solutions . If your options are limited, start trying them one by one to see which solution is best for achieving your desired goal. If a particular solution doesn't work, move on to the next.
  • Take some time alone . Since insight is often achieved when you're alone, carve out time to be by yourself for a while. The answer to your problem may come to you, seemingly out of the blue, if you spend some time away from others.

Obstacles to Problem-Solving

Problem-solving is not a flawless process as there are a number of obstacles that can interfere with our ability to solve a problem quickly and efficiently. These obstacles include:

  • Assumptions: When dealing with a problem, people can make assumptions about the constraints and obstacles that prevent certain solutions. Thus, they may not even try some potential options.
  • Functional fixedness : This term refers to the tendency to view problems only in their customary manner. Functional fixedness prevents people from fully seeing all of the different options that might be available to find a solution.
  • Irrelevant or misleading information: When trying to solve a problem, it's important to distinguish between information that is relevant to the issue and irrelevant data that can lead to faulty solutions. The more complex the problem, the easier it is to focus on misleading or irrelevant information.
  • Mental set: A mental set is a tendency to only use solutions that have worked in the past rather than looking for alternative ideas. A mental set can work as a heuristic, making it a useful problem-solving tool. However, mental sets can also lead to inflexibility, making it more difficult to find effective solutions.

How to Improve Your Problem-Solving Skills

In the end, if your goal is to become a better problem-solver, it's helpful to remember that this is a process. Thus, if you want to improve your problem-solving skills, following these steps can help lead you to your solution:

  • Recognize that a problem exists . If you are facing a problem, there are generally signs. For instance, if you have a mental illness , you may experience excessive fear or sadness, mood changes, and changes in sleeping or eating habits. Recognizing these signs can help you realize that an issue exists.
  • Decide to solve the problem . Make a conscious decision to solve the issue at hand. Commit to yourself that you will go through the steps necessary to find a solution.
  • Seek to fully understand the issue . Analyze the problem you face, looking at it from all sides. If your problem is relationship-related, for instance, ask yourself how the other person may be interpreting the issue. You might also consider how your actions might be contributing to the situation.
  • Research potential options . Using the problem-solving strategies mentioned, research potential solutions. Make a list of options, then consider each one individually. What are some pros and cons of taking the available routes? What would you need to do to make them happen?
  • Take action . Select the best solution possible and take action. Action is one of the steps required for change . So, go through the motions needed to resolve the issue.
  • Try another option, if needed . If the solution you chose didn't work, don't give up. Either go through the problem-solving process again or simply try another option.

You can find a way to solve your problems as long as you keep working toward this goal—even if the best solution is simply to let go because no other good solution exists.

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Dunbar K. Problem solving . A Companion to Cognitive Science . 2017. doi:10.1002/9781405164535.ch20

Stewart SL, Celebre A, Hirdes JP, Poss JW. Risk of suicide and self-harm in kids: The development of an algorithm to identify high-risk individuals within the children's mental health system . Child Psychiat Human Develop . 2020;51:913-924. doi:10.1007/s10578-020-00968-9

Rosenbusch H, Soldner F, Evans AM, Zeelenberg M. Supervised machine learning methods in psychology: A practical introduction with annotated R code . Soc Personal Psychol Compass . 2021;15(2):e12579. doi:10.1111/spc3.12579

Mishra S. Decision-making under risk: Integrating perspectives from biology, economics, and psychology . Personal Soc Psychol Rev . 2014;18(3):280-307. doi:10.1177/1088868314530517

Csikszentmihalyi M, Sawyer K. Creative insight: The social dimension of a solitary moment . In: The Systems Model of Creativity . 2015:73-98. doi:10.1007/978-94-017-9085-7_7

Chrysikou EG, Motyka K, Nigro C, Yang SI, Thompson-Schill SL. Functional fixedness in creative thinking tasks depends on stimulus modality .  Psychol Aesthet Creat Arts . 2016;10(4):425‐435. doi:10.1037/aca0000050

Huang F, Tang S, Hu Z. Unconditional perseveration of the short-term mental set in chunk decomposition .  Front Psychol . 2018;9:2568. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2018.02568

National Alliance on Mental Illness. Warning signs and symptoms .

Mayer RE. Thinking, problem solving, cognition, 2nd ed .

Schooler JW, Ohlsson S, Brooks K. Thoughts beyond words: When language overshadows insight. J Experiment Psychol: General . 1993;122:166-183. doi:10.1037/0096-3445.2.166

By Kendra Cherry, MSEd Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."


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