How to Get Better at Problem-Solving: 3 Techniques21. October 2022 2023-02-23 16:31
How to Get Better at Problem-Solving: 3 Techniques
Problem-solving is about identifying a problem, determining its cause, finding, prioritising and selecting alternative answers and finally implementing a solution.
Put into a sentence like that, it sounds pretty simple, but it doesn’t seem to be in reality. Many people struggle with problem-solving, which is a much sought-after soft skill in companies because problems that need to be solved are hiding everywhere. In fact, most jobs in our field are really about problem-solving.
Improving your problem-solving skills won’t hurt your career in any way. Au contraire! So let’s get started right away.
Today I would like to introduce you to three methods you can use to become better problem solvers.
1. Rubber duck problem-solving
I love this method very much, and it is basically suitable for all kinds of problems. Rubber ducking, in short, is when I describe my situation to another person. So this is a form of externalising. I have already talked about why this is so important in other places. We can’t think through complex things in our heads alone. When we talk about the problem, new ways of solving it automatically open up to us, ways that we hadn’t thought of before. That’s why this method also works without a second person, i.e. by describing the problem aloud to ourselves – or a rubber duck. And that, by the way, is why it is called the Rubber Duck Method. The important thing is simply to speak the problem out loud.
I experienced this kind of problem-solving for the first time in my childhood. I was working on a maths problem that I simply didn’t understand and couldn’t solve. I knew that my mother would not be able to solve it either. So I first tried to explain to her what the problem was. And while I was explaining it to her, I came to the solution myself. Since then, I have used this method repeatedly and encouraged others to verbalise their problems. Only recently, however, have I come across this cool name 😅.
By the way, this method comes from developers – more precisely from the book The Pragmatic Programmer – and is also called Rubber-Duck-Debugging.
The 5 Whys
How does a coach actually solve your problems? To be honest, not at all. But a coach helps you to find solutions yourself. And they do this by asking thoughtful questions.
The 5 Whys is a method for finding a new solution without a coach. The main point of this method is to get to the underlying problem.
Asking why is an incredibly effective way to solve problems. In fact, you don’t need a method to do it. Nevertheless, Sakichi Toyoda developed the 5 Whys for the Toyota Industry Corporation, and we’ll take a look at how it works.
You start with the question: “Why do I have this problem” or “Why does this problem exist”. In response to the answer, you ask, “And why is there this problem?” again.
So, for example, I might have a stomach ache. So I ask, “Why do I have a stomach ache?”. The answer might be, “I am hungry.” To that, we ask: “Why am I hungry?”. Answer: “I haven’t eaten anything today.” Next question: “Why haven’t I eaten anything today?”. Answer: “My fridge is empty.” And on and on.
In fact, the number of questions is not limited to five. This is more of a symbolic value. In my simple example above, we would probably eventually come to the underlying cause: I regularly fail to remember to fill my fridge sufficiently. This is a problem that, again, wants to be solved, but in this case, it can be solved easily.
However, this method and coaches’ behaviour show that what we think is our current problem is often only the tip of an iceberg and that it is actually about solving an underlying problem to achieve a better result in the long term.
Bisociation is a creative method that involves linking the problem with a completely different issue to find new approaches to solving it. The term is derived from the word association. You can use this method alone or in groups, and it is well-suited to solving all kinds of problems.
However, the procedure is somewhat unusual and requires sufficient openness. The results, however, are incredibly innovative because we leave our usual frame of thinking.
First, we define the problem, but in the second step, we put this aside and concentrate on something completely different. We take a so-called stimulus – this can be an object or a picture and the less it has to do with the problem, the better. This stimulus is now described in detail so we deal with its characteristics.
In the third step, we start to write down associations to our problem based on the properties we have written down. More precisely, it is about which associations this stimulus triggers in us concerning our original problem. This way, we arrive at new ways of thinking and move out of entrenched patterns.
As you can see, problem-solving is all about creativity and analysing. We want to understand a problem and then find creative ways to solve it. Of course, there are many other methods and techniques. Feel free to let me know if you want to learn more.