Real education is about developing the ability and the knack for solving problems, by thinking independently. At every step, life poses us with problems. Some are well-defined enough and most are complex by nature. Life is all about a quest to keep finding solutions to these problems, fired at us in succession.
There are various approaches to solve a problem and people have spent years in developing systems of thought, to which problems may easily yield. Yet, there is always a new problem around the corner that defies a solution to any kind of established thought. Such problems pose a challenge, which inspires newer ways of thinking.
What is Problem Solving?
A problem is anything that obstructs your path to achieve a goal. Solving it is about devising a strategy and executing it to achieve the goal, by overcoming the difficulty. A problem may have more than one possible solutions. Many times, what is needed is an optimized solution, which represents the shortest path to overcome the difficulty, with economy of resources.
To find a solution, using specific techniques, what's most important is defining the problem clearly. Many times, a solution is not possible because the problem is not well-defined. A clear statement of the problem at hand, can often point towards an effective solution. What is needed, is also a clear analysis of the degree of complexity of a problem. There are various techniques, that deal with problems of varying levels of difficulty and complexity. One needs to select one, that suits the specific problem.
In my personal experience, problems have a nature to proliferate. A solution to a problem, often creates new ones. That is because we can never control all the variables in a problem and find a totally optimal solution.
Techniques in problem solving can probably be as many, as the number of unique problems that exist. The domain of human knowledge is ever expanding and so are tools and techniques that exist. The recent revolution in information technology and globalization has flooded us with information but we still starve for wisdom.
What we need is clarity in thinking and a clear sense of purpose. Here is a list of some of the best solution techniques. These methods are generic strategies for problem solving, that could be applied to solving any problem in business, personal life, or any kind of technical problem. The success of a solution also lies in its clinical execution. Even if you have a solution, you need to have the gumption to execute it and stand by its soundness, for it to work.
The Method of Trial and Error
The idea is to keep trying out solutions and improving on them, by learning through mistakes. It is a kind of brute force method, which does work, but can be time-consuming.
Method of Abstraction
This method of abstraction is modeling the problem by taking the core details into consideration, while chiseling away the unnecessary stuff. Then you solve the problem in an abstract way, before handling it in reality.
Break and Conquer
The break and conquer method of solving problems works by cutting the larger problem down, into smaller parts and then attacking them separately. It is putting the jigsaw puzzle of a solution together, by solving the problem partially.
This technique is about synthesizing an optimum solution, through discussion of a range of solutions that every member of a team comes up with. Large teams often work this way, by selecting a part of multiple solutions to make the best one.
Reductive analysis is all about transforming an unknown problem, for which solution doesn't exist, into a known problem for which a solution exists. If you do not have a solution to a problem, then you don't change the solution, but transform the problem and restate it in such a way, that you can have a solution.
Research Based Methods
Research based solution depends on the pre-existing library of known solutions. From these known solutions, a new customized solution can be constructed, which is suited for your specific problem. You research available solutions and improve on them.
Attacking the Root Cause
This one solves the problem by attacking the root cause, from which the problem emanates. It is about solving the problem deeply and entirely, by studying it thoroughly and identifying its root causes. Once the root cause is negated, the problem no longer remains.
This is a technique, which employs unconventional, creative, or 'out of the box' thinking. This is the method that geniuses often employ, as they harness their unique powers of visualizing a solution, from a radical perspective.
Personally, I find problem solving very addictive as an exercise. With each solved problem, in any field of human endeavor, we learn something new and keep sharpening our skills. Nobody lands up with the perfect solution as perfection itself is a limiting goal, as there is nothing in this world that cannot be improved. A quest for excellence, clear thinking, a never-say-die attitude, and an ability to learn through your mistakes, is what will lead you to better solutions.