Making Decisions and Solving Problems
Much of your college and professional life will be spent solving problems; some will be complex, such as deciding on a career, and require time and effort to come up with a solution. Others will be small, such as deciding what to eat for lunch, and will allow you to make a quick decision based entirely on your own experience. But, in either case, when coming up with the solution and deciding what to do, follow the same basic steps.
- Define the problem. Use your analytical skills. What is the real issue? Why is it a problem? What are the root causes? What kinds of outcomes or actions do you expect to generate to solve the problem? What are some of the key characteristics that will make a good choice: Timing? Resources? Availability of tools and materials?
For more complex problems, it helps to actually write out the problem and the answers to these questions. Can you clarify your understanding of the problem by comparing it to something you know?
- Narrow the problem. Many problems are made up of a series of smaller problems, each requiring its own solution. Can you break the problem into different facets? What aspects of the current issue are “noise” that should not be considered in the problem solution? What parts of your problem are facts, that you can research and what part is opinion? Make sure you are not going on assumption. Ask the experts, don’t guess! (Use critical thinking to separate facts from opinion in this step.)
- Generate and research possible solutions. List all your options even if they seem like something you would never do. You never know when a creative solution might be hidden in something you thought was silly. Use your creative thinking skills in this phase. Can any of these answers be combined into a stronger solution? What past or existing solutions can be adapted or combined to solve this problem?
- Choose the best solution. Use your critical thinking skills to select the most likely choices. List the pros and cons for each of your selections. How do these lists compare with the requirements you identified when you defined the problem? If you still can’t decide between options, you may want to seek further input trusted friends and family, your professors or college counsellors.
- Take Action! The term “analysis paralysis” refers to over-analyzing (or over-thinking) the situation, or believing the one perfect solution is just one more internet search away, so that a decision or action is never finally taken, which resulting you making no decision.
“2 Successful students take responsibility” from A Guide for Successful Students by Irene Stewart and Aaron Maisonville is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.