A Template for Problem Solving
Paul and Elder (2009); prepared for the Critical Thinking Foundation
To be an effective problem solver:
1. Identify your goals. Regularly re-articulate your goals, purposes, needs, and values. Use visualization and visuals with goals to assist with identification and motivation. A problem is an obstacle to reaching your goals, achieving your purpose, meeting your needs, and following your values. What will it look like when the problem is gone?
2. Identify your problems. The problem must be stated clearly and precisely.
3. Study the problem. Classify the problem. What kind of problem is it? Where did it come from? When does it occur? With whom does it occur?
4. Find your control. What parts of the problem are under your control and influence? What parts of the problem are not under your direct control and influence?
5. Information is needed to solve the problem. Figure out the information that is needed to solve the problem. Access and review this information. Use many sources if possible.
6. Carefully analyze the information needed to solve the problem. Be careful of fixation and egocentric/ethnocentric thinking during this process; you might be able to go with what worked before, but you also might have to try something completely new. Only make reasonable (reliable and valid) inferences from this data.
7. Determine options for action. Action is needed to solve problems. What can you accomplish in the short term? What will be a long term option for action to solve the problem? Identify both types of options. Recognize limitations: time, money, power, culture, et cetera.
8. Evaluate the options for action. Determine the theoretical strengths (advantages) and weaknesses (disadvantages) of each option.
9. Adopt a specific action plan. Follow it through. This might be a direct action for problem solving, or it might be a “wait and see” plan.
10. Monitor the implications of your actions. Be ready, at all times, to revise your action plan. Realize the situation might require flexibility. Be prepared to change your mind, gather more information, or alter your statement of the problem as you learn more about the problem.
(adapted for use at SFCC)