Some General Problem-Solving Strategies
This is an excerpt from our online course on problem-solving which deals with general-purpose strategies for approaching problems. Begin by clearly defining your problem and goal first. Then try considering each one of these general strategies in turn. Make a note of specific tactics you could employ which correspond to the strategies that look most helpful…
Which of these might be relevant to your problem? How would you translate them into specific tactics?
Wait and See.
Maybe you’re trying too hard to change things. Perhaps patience would be a virtue. What happens if you just do nothing but just sit back and wait?
More of the Same.
Maybe you’re already doing the best you can under the circumstances. What happens if you just persevere and keep up what you’re already doing to deal with the problem? Perhaps what you’re doing is fine but you just need to do more of it or keep it up longer.
Keep it Simple.
Maybe you’re overcomplicating things. What’s the simplest solution? What would be the easiest thing to do? Maybe it’s better to try something simple first just to get started and then introduce a more complicate plan later, if it’s required.
Maybe you’re being too vague. What would happen if you made your plans more specific and detailed? How could you approach the problem in a more concrete way?
Get a Move on.
Maybe you’re delaying things unnecessarily. What would happen if you acted quickly? What could you do right away, or as soon as possible, to start addressing the problem? A stitch in time saves nine. Strike while the iron is hot.
Pause for Thought.
Maybe you’re rushing things unnecessarily. What would happen if you took things more slowly? Would it be better to postpone action until a later date? Fools rush in where angels fear to tread. Act in haste, repent at leisure. Maybe this isn’t the right time. When would be?
Take a Risk.
Maybe you’re trying to get all the answers before taking a risk. Perhaps you can afford to take a gamble and try something out in practice that may or may not work. What have you got to lose by making an experiment? Perhaps you won’t be certain how to solve the problem until you’ve had a go and tested something out in practice.
Do the Opposite.
Maybe you’d be better off doing the complete opposite of what you usually do with problems like this. What would happen if you just tried something radically different and went in the opposite direction?
Divide and Conquer.
Maybe you’re biting off more than you can chew. What would happen if you divided this problem down into smaller chunks and tackled them one step at a time. Even a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Perhaps you should focus on what the first few steps should be instead of trying to solve the whole problem.
Call for Reinforcements.
Maybe you’re not the best person to handle this problem. What would happen if you got someone else to help you or to tackle it for you? Maybe you can delegate part of the solution to someone else. Maybe you could ask others for advice.
Practice Makes Perfect.
Maybe you need to practice before you tackle the main problem. What would happen if you rehearsed things in role-play or in your imagination first? Perhaps there’s a smaller problem you can test your solution out on first?
Face your Fears.
Maybe you’re avoiding doing something unpleasant. What would happen if you just forced yourself to get it over with? Maybe you just need to knuckle-down and get on with it. Perhaps things will be easier than you think or maybe by facing your problem, you’ll become stronger as a result. Feel the fear and do it anyway. Bite the bullet.
Draw a Plan.
Maybe you need to spend more time developing a plan of action. What would happen if you drew a diagram or made a detailed list of the steps first? Perhaps by planning your action more systematically you stand a better chance of succeeding. Perhaps you could go back to the drawing board.
Learn from the Best.
Maybe you need to research what other people do to resolve similar problems. What would happen if you set aside time to talk to people, observe them, or read up on things? Make a list of tactics other people employ and observe exactly how they do it.
Use a Safety Net.
Maybe you need some security or a plan B. What would happen if you did something to protect yourself in case your plan doesn’t work? Sometimes it’s wise to have certain precautions in place.
Maybe you should try something a bit different. What would happen if you came up with a really creative solution? Think outside the box. Think laterally and creatively. What’s the inspired solution? What have you never tried? What would be a clever or inventive solution?
101 Other Strategies.
There are countless other strategies that you may consider but hopefully this list will help spark some ideas of your own. Take this opportunity to think about what alternatives you haven’t considered so far.