Improve problem solving and develop critical thinking skills online

Improve problem solving and develop critical thinking skills online

Improve problem solving and develop critical thinking skills online

Last updated date : November 01, 2021

Solutions don’t come easy, even for the greatest of problem solvers. What makes them stand out is that they constantly develop critical thinking skills. In this article, we’re going to try to develop problem solving skills that you need help with. Before we move on, we need to figure out what problem solving is in the first place.

Try to remember the last 24 hours leading up to now. What did you do? What activities did you do? I’m pretty sure you were faced with something where you had to think of a solution to. Whether it’s a small inconvenience or a normal problem you have at work, you’ve used some form of problem solving. Even the most mundane of days will require you to solve problems.

Although, there are times when we think that some people are better problem solvers than others. You might be thinking that solutions come so naturally to them. However, this is not the case. Take Albert Einstein for example. Many people consider him to be one of greatest problem solvers of all time. Lots of people think he’d be the kind of person who makes decisions quickly and effectively. Actually, he said, “if I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions.” As you can see, even the best problem solvers aren’t always quick to make decisions.

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Chapter 1:
What is problem solving?

Problem solving is a process or method that people use to get through obstacles they come across. Some problems are easy to solve, like “What should I eat today?” Other problems can take days, even years, to solve, like “What do I want to be in 10 years?” People can take forever trying to find the right method to solve their problems. However, problem solving is more than the method. It’s also finding out what the problem is in the first place, setting the right goals, and commitment.

Problem solving is not a skill, but a set of skills that can help you come up with effective and sustainable solutions. They answer the question, “How do we solve this problem?” and “What is the best way to solve it?” As you may know, there are many ways to solve a problem, but only good problem solvers narrow their solutions down to the best and most effective ones. So what skills make a good problem solver?

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Chapter 2:
What are the different problem solving skills?

Most people already have problem solving skills, but they lack the polish and practice that many successful business owners, teachers, scientists, and other role models have. As you go through this list, think about how you’ve been using these skills, or if you use them at all. Maybe you can even list down which ones you’re good at, and which skills need improvement. Here are some examples to help develop problem solving skills:

Identifying the problem

Like we said, this is the first important step that needs to be done before even thinking about solutions. Gathering as information about the situation will give you a good idea of what you’re facing. It’s knowing the “who”, “what”, “when”, “where”, and “why” of a situation so that you can tackle the problem from all sides.

Brainstorming

This skill involves coming up with many ideas at once. You may have encountered this in group projects where you throw out ideas now and think about the consequences later. If you’re good at brainstorming, it means you can spew out ideas quickly, without fear of criticism and also take in the ideas of others without judgement.

Evaluating

This is when you try to view the problem from different perspectives. Different fields have various ways of analyzing problems. For example, before we make decisions, we do a risk-benefit analysis. In other words, we run the pros and cons of each option. It’s something many people do even on a subconscious level. Analyzing helps you decide what the best course of action to take will be.

Creativity

The best problem solvers are people who can think outside the box. They’re not chained to one aspect of the problem. Like what Einstein said, “You cannot solve a problem with the same consciousness that created it.” When you find yourself facing a problem you can’t solve, being creative helps you tackle the problem from another viewpoint.

Empathy

There’s more to a problem than just logic. If the problem involves others, you need to take into account who they are as people. Do they support the solution? Will they agree or cooperate with your plan? Why or why not? Many people believe that emotions dull reason, but they actually ground you to reality. After all, no solution works without the people who execute it.

Critical thinking

Logic and reason are two of the most important tools in problem solving. It’s one thing to have an idea on how to solve a problem, but connecting ideas together to come up with a viable solution is something else. Critical thinking is putting these skills together into a process or method to better judge which option is the best.

Execution

Coming up with great solutions doesn’t mean anything if you can’t bring these ideas into practice. What sets apart great problem solvers is their will to see their visions through. That’s why plans not only need to be creative, they have to be feasible. They need to be possible to carry out by the people involved. Otherwise, it falls apart.

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Chapter 3:
How can problem solving skills be improved?

Albert Einstein, Steve Wozniak, Stephen Hawking, and Thomas Edison are all big names we know for some of the smartest people in the world. For years, people have considered them to be great problem solvers because they possess a mindset that makes them great. So what is it that they do so differently? What mindset do you need to develop problem solving skills?

  • The desire to learn more. They try to understand what they can about the problem. When they can’t, they consult someone like an expert who can help. More importantly, they know when to ask for help.
  • They see the big picture. They analyze all the factors and stakeholders involved when they make decisions.
  • They’re committed to their plans. Execution needs commitment. It won’t work if you’re willing to give up at the slightest inconvenience. Instead, be flexible.
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Chapter 4:
Where does critical thinking come in?

As we’ve mentioned, critical thinking is one of the many things needed to develop problem solving skills. It’s putting together your problem solving skills into cohesive and rational thought process. It’s more than just coming up with a solution– it’s choosing the best one. Rather than just fixing problems, it’s also improving what already works. That’s why critical thinkers are very sought after in any industry. So how do we go through this process? What are the steps in critical thinking?

Steps in critical thinking

1. Identify and define the problem

Ask yourself if there is a problem. If there’s no problem, ask yourself if it can still be improved. Be specific about the problem so you have a sure starting point. You might even find you have more than one problem to tackle.

2. Gather info

Problems are solved better when you get the whole picture, not just what you immediately experience. It’s easier and faster to come up with solutions with less uncertainty.

3. Analyze the data

In any field, there are different ways to analyze a situation. What are your strengths? Weaknesses? What challenges do you expect along the way? What will happen if you don’t solve this problem? Who is affected by your decision here? Figure out what you find important or your goals in context of the situation.

4. Brainstorming

Like what we’ve mentioned, brainstorming involves coming up with solutions off the top of your head, regardless of any criticism it might receive. Quantity, not quality, matters in this step, so make sure to write down your options.

5. Evaluate your options

This is the part where you start to narrow down your options and pick the best solution. You can even find a solution to solve more than one problem you have, or combine different solutions. Most people run the pros and cons of their problems and pick the solution with the least amount of cons or most amount of pros.

6. Make a game plan

You need to write down the step-by-step process of your solution. That way, the things you need to do are chunked into smaller, easier tasks. Be specific, and make sure it’s feasible. Set deadlines as well which can help you commit to your solution.

7. Execute your plan

Gather the resources you need and start. However, even if things don’t go as planned, have back-up plans ready. So apart from discipline, you also need flexibility.

8. Evaluate your solution

Not all solutions are perfect. It’s normal to feel frustrated if things don’t work out. What matters is that you think about what went wrong and how it could be improved for next time.

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Chapter 5:
How to develop critical thinking skills

Of course, these steps are easier said than done. Not everyone can analyze, brainstorm, decide, or execute their plans well. Even the greatest of minds fail at times. However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t improve. If anything, critical thinking takes practice and a lot of mistakes.

One of the most important things you need to develop your critical thinking skills is dealing with your biases. Many people fall victim to their prejudices and faulty reasoning which cloud their judgement. In this case, it helps to imagine how other people see the situation. What would my boss suggest if he/she were brainstorming with me? What kind of ideas would my smart friend put forward? Are the people in question going to see this solution the same way I do?

Another way to analyze your decisions is to consider how it affects the people involved. Before you make any decision, always consider the outcome. You should train your brain to automatically think of the “what if”s and “so what”s. Make sure you think about both positive and negative outcomes. Don’t over-complicate things. Keeping things simple is something many people forget to do. While it is important to take some time to think about what to do, there comes a point when it takes too much time. Sometimes keeping it simple can get the job done just as well.

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Chapter 6:
Journaling to develop critical thinking

While it may take time out of your day, you can use journaling to help develop critical thinking skills. Have you ever had an argument with someone, and when you returned home 3 hours later, you finally thought of the perfect comeback? Many of us know what it feels like to have good ideas come late, and it gets frustrating.

The truth is, it’s simply easier to think when everything’s been said and done. When our minds are clearer, decisions are easier to make. Good ideas pop out easier when nothing stressful is occupying your mind. That’s why it might be helpful to keep a chart of your successes and mistakes. Looking back at how you did can give you insight on how you make decisions.

Pick a time of the day when you’re in a relaxed state of mind, like before you sleep. Write down decisions that you made throughout the day that stuck out for you. Then, write down how you could have come to a better decision. For your mistakes, what questions should you have asked yourself? What thought process did you follow instead? For your successes, what questions did you ask that helped you succeed?

Note that critical thinking won’t develop overnight. You need to make some right and wrong decisions again and again before you see any improvement. On some days, you’ll doubt the decisions you make– even the best ones. Self-doubt is part of the process, but learn to build confidence in your decision-making process. With the right mindset and a lot of practice, you’ll develop problem solving skills in no time!

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