The Intertwining of Problem Solving
and Decision Making
DECISIONS, decisions, decisions: you and I make them every single day. Like, from the moment the alarm clock shatters the morning silence, I ponder, albeit groggily, if I could afford to remain cocooned for a few more minutes in my bed instead of arising swiftly to seize the new day; to choosing what I will have for lunch, to signing the walking papers of my inept assistant, or whether it is time to tell my best friend that she has invested more than enough time and emotion in her unfaithful domestic partner.
But while making decisions may appear to be not a whole big deal most of the time, it is not the case for some people. Even when the options that are arrayed before them blatantly show which is best, or when the problem seems like a non-problem at all, they still agonize over it and as a consequence, they get stressed out. And stress, as everyone knows, has no place in a healthy and healthful life. Therefore, one must look at making decisions as a necessary and inescapable part of living. And to approach making decisions as routinely as taking a deep breath, one has to learn the process of solving problems. After all, solving a problem is closely linked to making a decision; you can’t have one and not have the other as well.
Two Approaches to Problem Solving
THERE are two schools of thought pertaining to the ways of solving a problem. Learning Connections of the University of South Australia proposes a traditional, seven-step problem solving cycle, namely: (1) identify the real problem; (2) explore the depth of the problem or who else are being affected; (3) set goals or pinpoint what must be achieved in solving the problem; (4) look at alternatives or lay out all the other options geared towards solving the problem; (5) select which option is best in solving the problem; (6) implement the option, or in other words, make a decision; and, finally, (7) evaluate if the problem has been solved.
The other approach is regarded as “state-of-the-art.” It is called appreciative inquiry, or AI, and is said to be a major breakthrough in problem solving according to Carter McNamara of Authenticity Consulting, LLC. AI is based on the assertion that problems become problems only when an individual looks at it as problems. And if an individual regards something as a problem, then it becomes a constraint or a hindrance in one’s growth or development. Proponents of this approach, notably McNamara, asserts that appreciative inquiry includes identification of our best times about the situation in the past, wishing and thinking about what worked best then, visioning what we want in the future, and building from our strengths to work toward our vision.
The first approach mentioned above to solving a problem is clearly the more practical of the two. It sets the seven-step process rationally, thanks to Learning Connection , and is an effective guide in learning a skill, that of solving problems. Without a doubt, this skill can be applied over and over, within an individual’s lifetime, in problem solving and decision making.
AI, on the other hand, does seem impractical. But as its proponents say, AI is a philosophy, and that I can believe. However, there is something in AI’s assertion, i.e. problems are often the result of our own perception, which somehow connects with my own process of solving a problem. The connection may be fragile, but it is still a link to my own philosophy.
A Glass Half Full and a Lemonade
FOR me, what most other people regard as problems are not actually problems but challenges. The word ‘problem’ itself connotes a negative, or perhaps a defeatist, tone, whereas when I look at a temporary setback to anything as a challenge, I create a favorable scene or background with which to meet the challenge. Admit it or not, the prospect of meeting a challenge stirs a vital excitement in us. It exhilarates. It inspires. The problem, or challenge, can also be regarded as looking at a half-full glass instead of it being half empty. The challenge lies in filling up the half-full glass. It can also be equated – ‘it,’ referring to my personal challenges – with turning a lemon into lemonade. There is enormous strength to be gained in the process of rendering a lemon into a blessing.
But while positive attitude and bright disposition do not always result in my making a good decision – in other words, if the problem has not been solved or if the challenge has frustrated me – I still take consolation in the bit of wisdom that I gain from the situation. The skill in solving problems, or in meeting challenges head-on as I prefer to call it, can only get better with each success and with each failure. With each success, a good decision has been made; with each failure, a good decision will be made in the future when faced with the same problem or challenge.
Decisions, decisions, decisions: I make them every single day with always a half-full glass in mind. So today, I shall have a heart-to-heart with my assistant and tell her that I look forward to a long and productive work relationship with her if she will shape up. Later in the day, I will meet up with my best friend in the café where her boyfriend is sure to hook up with his other girlfriend. Maybe, just maybe, my best friend will finally see for herself that her glass is actually empty. But before I witness this drama unfold, I have to resolve this dilemma – will I have a Big Mac or arugula salad for lunch?