When problems arise at work or in my personal life, it’s in my nature to immediately jump to the solution, often before I even truly understand the problem. I have to constantly remind myself to hit the pause button and remind myself of the main goal and recognize this problem as a barrier to the goal. I need to re-frame the issue, study the problem, and systematically come up with the best strategy. The next time a problem comes your way, try these 10 steps to problem-solving:

  1. Figure out the goal. Re-state it in as many different ways as you can. Find the clearest way to define your purpose and true need. Recognize your problem as an obstacle to reaching your goal.
  2. Tackle problems one at a time, whenever humanly possible. State each problem clearly and as precisely as possible. This might mean you have to go directly to the source of the problem in order to fully understand exactly what is happening.
  3. Study the problem itself and determine what ‘type’ of problem you are dealing with and what you will need to do to solve it.
  4. Distinguish problems over which you have some control, from those problems over which you have no control. Focus your time and effort on those problems you can fix.
  5. Start actively collecting data and information related to your problem. Figure out what information you will need to solve the problem. Most of the time, you need data to backup the intensity/pervasiveness of the problem in order to get leadership buy-in when it comes time to implement a solution.
  6. Study your data. Look at it from every possible angle. Analyze and interpret the information you have. When you draw a reasonable inference, check with others that it truly is reasonable.
  7. Now you can determine what actions would serve as a solution. Think both in short– and long–term, and recognize any limitations of money or power that you may have.
  8. Evaluate all your options and consider the pros and cons of each.
  9. Initiate your strategy of attack and stick to the plan.
  10. Once you act, monitor what happens next and be ready to revise the strategy as new information surfaces.

This article adapted from:

  • Paul, R., & Elder, L. (2016). The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking Concepts and Tools(7th ed.). Tomales, CA: Foundation for Critical Thinking.