Problem-Solving Skills

Problem-Solving Skills

The measure of success is not whether you have a tough problem to deal with, but whether it is the same problem you had last year. – John Foster Dulles

Effective problem-solving and decision-making skills are vital to success in life.

In today’s competitive and constantly changing world, more than ever before we need to develop skills like critical thinking, problem solving and the ability to cope with unfamiliar situations.

Your career success will depend on your ability to solve problems quickly. Don’t let this scare you, because like all other skills, problem-solving skills can be improved and practiced.

If you want to be an excellent problem solver, you need to have the right mindset, skills and strategies.

That’s is exactly what this articles will teach you.

Problem-Solving Mindset

The first step to successful problem solving is to develop a problem-solving mindset.

Here are some tips that can help you to get the right mindset:

1. Accept the Fact That Problems Will Never End

Have you noticed that after you solve one problem, sometimes another problem appears? Life is a series of problems. They will never end. If you want to be successful you can’t ignore or avoid problems, you must deal with them (immediately if at all possible). It’s not easy to accept the fact that problems will never end, but if you don’t accept it, you will always be surprised when a new problem appears.

I have always secretly hoped that one day all my problems would end and there would be no new things to worry about. 🙂 But there is no such thing like forever sunny days. We need to accept the fact that there will always be some challenges in our lives (and that’s a good thing).

At work, people are paid to solve problems and problems are a main part of an employee’s daily routine.

In fact, “problem” is just another word for a situation that we don’t know how to deal with. That means that when we solve problems, we actually learn something new. Without problems, there is no learning and growing.

Inside of every problem lies an opportunity. – Robert Kiyosaki

Success in life is a result of constantly solving bigger and bigger problems. The bigger problems you solve, the more successful you will be.

Programs like Subliminal Messages can help you to change your mindset when it comes to problems.

2. Develop A Solution-Oriented Mindset

Your reaction after a new problem appears will greatly determine your success in life. If you constantly complain, obsess about the problem, and feel frustrated, you are probably too much problem oriented, instead of solution oriented.

Solution oriented people think in advance about how to avoid potential problems, but at the same time, they are aware that there will be problems that they couldn’t possibly predict. The difference in their mindset is that they don’t complain, they act. They take responsibility immediately and try to find the best and the quickest solution for the problem.

Many people spend their whole lives complaining about their bosses, government, spouses, etc. instead of focusing on how they can change their situation.

If you switch your mindset from, “Why is this happening to me?” to “What is the best way to deal with this situation?” you are on the right path to developing a solution-oriented mindset :).

3. Be a Problem Solver Today

Tomorrow – a mystical land where 99% of all human productivity, motivation and achievement is stored.

The best possible mindset to embrace is the mindset of solving problems quickly.

We tend to postpone things for tomorrow because our mind always idealizes future events. “Tomorrow I will make that call,” “Tomorrow I will finish that report,” “Tomorrow I will decide what to do.”

Will you be smarter, more motivated, more informed tomorrow? Probably not. If we just do a little bit more thinking today, we can solve 80% of problems as they appear.

If you receive a new email today but don’t know how to respond to it, you might leave that email for tomorrow. If you do this, there is a great chance that tomorrow you will receive another similar email, and then you will have not one, but two problematic emails to answer.

Be a problem solver today (and every other day)!

Problem-Solving Skills

One you have the right mindset, there are certain (learnable) skills that you need to develop and practice in order to become an effective problem solver.

1. Creative thinking

This interesting Tale of Two Pebbles illustrate the example of thinking outside the box and creative problem solving:

“Many years ago in a small Indian village, a farmer had the misfortune of owing a large sum of money to a village moneylender. The moneylender, who was old and ugly, fancied the farmer’s young, beautiful daughter. So the moneylender proposed a bargain. He said he would forgo the farmer’s debt if he could marry his daughter. Both the farmer and his daughter were horrified by the proposal.

So the cunning money-lender suggested that they let providence decide the matter. He told them that he would put a black pebble and a white pebble into an empty money bag. Then the girl would have to pick one pebble from the bag. 1. If she picked the black pebble, she would become his wife and her father’s debt would be forgiven. 2. If she picked the white pebble she need not marry him and her father’s debt would still be forgiven. 3. But if she refused to pick a pebble, her father would be thrown into jail. They were standing on a pebble strewn path in the farmer’s field.

As they talked, the moneylender bent over to pick up two pebbles. As he picked them up, the sharp-eyed damsel/girl noticed that he had picked up two black pebbles and put them into the bag. He then asked the girl to pick a pebble from the bag.

The girl put her hand into the moneybag and drew out a pebble. Without looking at it, she fumbled and let it fall onto the pebble-strewn path where it immediately became lost among all the other pebbles. “Oh, how clumsy of me,” she said. “But never mind, if you look into the bag for the one that is left, you will be able to tell which pebble I picked.” Since the remaining pebble is black, it must be assumed that she had picked the white one. And since the money-lender dared not admit his dishonesty, the girl changed what seemed to be an impossible situation into an extremely advantageous one.”

With a little bit of creativity and imagination we can find solutions to problems that we had thought were impossible to solve. The next time you have some problem you don’t know how to deal with, try to use your imagination and try to find some other way that the problem can be solved.

Lateral thinking (thinking outside of the box) can make a huge difference in your life, especially in your career, as it will give you a huge advantage over your competition.

2. Critical Thinking

Very often a problem persists, not because we can’t tell which available solution is best, but because the best solution has not yet been made available — no one has thought of it yet. – Richard Paul

Instead of following the crowd and doing the same as all the other people, why not take a look at the problem with our own eyes and come up with your own ideas?

Usually there is more than one way to solve different problems in our life (including financial problems, relationship problems, health problems, etc.)

If you can just trust a little bit more in yourself, you would be surprised at how creative and innovative you can be.

Critical thinking includes four steps: analyzing, evaluation, benchmarking and judgment.

To get your brain involved in the critical thinking process, ask open-ended question such as:

  • “Where can I find more information about this problem?”
  • “Who can help me?”
  • “What else can I do to solve this problem?”

By asking questions that stimulate your mind, you create a solution-thinking mindset.

3. Curiosity and Persistence

When we were kids, we were curious about everything. We asked questions and we wanted to understand the world around us.

While we learned how to walk, we failed many times, but we didn’t give up trying until we succeeded. Imagine what you could do today if you have the same persistence.

As adults, we often feel embarrassed when we don’t succeed on the first or second try. We would rather quit then try again. Also, our creativity seems to vanish in our everyday routine.

When it comes to problem-solving skills, without creative thinking, it is almost impossible to generate ideas; without critical thinking, it is impossible to evaluate ideas; and without persistence, it is impossible to implement ideas and get results.

There are many challenges throughout each day. Because of this, you should treat each day as an opportunity to train your brain to be more creative and curious. You can practice curiosity and creativity with simple things, like finding a new combination of clothes to wear, trying to cook a new delicious meal, choosing a different way to get to the work, arranging your house furniture differently, etc. If you constantly practice creativity, it will be easier for you to come up with creative solutions in more challenging situations, like how to deal with a difficult customer, how to earn more money, how to come up with business idea, and so on.

There are many other ways you can practice creative thinking every day, like brain training games. For example, I love Lumosity as there are so many different skills you can practice in this game.

Problem-Solving Strategy

It’s very hard to solve problems if you don’t know where to start. That’s why another important problem-solving skill to develop is a good strategy.
This is the part where you need to be able to set priorities, put things in the right order and think logically.

Although this seems a bit complex, it actually isn’t. There are certain rules you can apply to any problem-solving process to help make it easier to develop a strategy.

The first part of the problem-solving process includes discovering the problem, possible decisions and understanding the problem.

The second part includes researching all of the available options and taking necessary actions to solve the problem.

I created a Problem-Solving Template that will help you structure any problem and create a solution plan.

These are the steps you will need to follow when filling out this problem-solving template:

  1. Identify the problem and write a clear description

    A problem well put is half solved. – John Dewey

    When describing the problem, try to be as specific as possible. The clearer you are about what the problem really is, the more likely is that you will find an appropriate solution for it. After you have described the problem, you need to firmly decide that you will tackle it.

  2. Make a list of possible solutions and choose one of them
    List all the possible solutions, evaluate them and select the best option. If needed, take time to think, do the research, gather information, analyze and consult with people who might help.
  3. Define a deadline
    If you already know the deadline, write down the date. If not, estimate how much time you will need to solve this problem and come up with a deadline. It’s very important to do this. You always need to be aware of how much time you have available to solve the problem.
  4. Define all steps needed to solve the problem
    This step requires brainstorming, thinking and planning. If you make an effort to plan in advance, you will be more clear on what you need to do next. Many people will not make an effort to plan in advance and that’s why they can end up stuck with many unsolved problems.
  5. Monitor your progress
    It is very important that you monitor your progress as this will give you the motivation you need to keep going. Keep tracking and writing down things which you managed to achieve.
  6. Write down the execution date
    This is the easiest step. You already solved the problem; all you need to do now is write down the date that you took action. In this step you can review the whole process. Did you manage to finish everything before the deadline? What are the good things you did and what can be improved for the next problem?

Many people are stuck in the belief that they are not good problem solvers. This mindset causes them to never do anything about it, allowing others to solve their problems for them.

On the other hand, a small percentage of people challenge themselves to solve bigger and bigger problems each day. Those people become leaders, inventors and the people who run the world.

Efficient problem solvers get better salaries, better job positions, have more money and go through life more easily. There is no doubt that problem-solving skills are the ones you need to practice constantly. With the right mindset, strategy and a little bit of practice, you can become a good problem solver, too.

With good problem-solving skills, you will go through life with less struggle. It will be much easier to achieve your goals, and then you will become more valuable to society (everyone likes people who are problem solvers).


Problems are only opportunities in work clothes. – Henry Kaiser (American industrialist)

Problem-Solving Template.pdf

Eva Lu

Written by Eva Lu

Eva Lu is an ex engineer who decided to give up her successful career and dedicate her life to inspire and motivate others to find the best in themselves. She founded the “Mind of a Winner” website because she strongly believes that success is a skill developed by persistent people and her passion is to motivate others to become persistent enough. Her inspiration and her mentors are self-made millionaires who helped thousands of people to change their lives and who managed to build careers with their passion and vision towards doing something what they love. She also helps young entrepreneurs with business advices and encourages them not to give up on their dreams. She teaches them how to turn dreams into clear visions and ideas, and ideas into actions and results.
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