Just recently, the AFF conducted a family workshop in South Florida. I was asked to lead a session in Problem Solving. I must confess that at first glimpse, I questioned whether such a class was making best use of my skills as a professional educator. However; the more I considered the topic, the more clear it became to me that while, I had conducted such sessions before for business executives, educators and school administrators, it had a specific application as well to cult impacted families. Let me explain.
When we face emergencies, deadlines, critical situations, and decisions that call for action, often we respond to our instinct and just as often we make judgments in haste. No matter if the issues are personal, educational, or business, occasionally we do not take the time to consult with those who have "been there, done that!" At times we don't investigate the resources available. Periodically we neglect doing research to see how others have proceeded, and how they might have fared. As often as not we overlook consulting with experts, even when they are available. Problem Solving as a construct addresses all these things. Following its guidelines can save time and heartache, while giving a person the best chance for a positive resolution to the problem at hand.
Allow me to summarize for you the steps in the process, (with a bit of commentary) so that all might take advantage of the process whether in a personal, educational, business, or any other situation where clear thinking and focused responsibility call upon us to research, consult, analyze, evaluate, and then decide what is the best course of action to be taken.
Articulate, as best you can, the problem that you choose to solve. We will define this problem as a fuzzy situation. What is wrong? What needs to be done? Our first goal is to do our homework. What research has been done and how current is it? What experts are available and how do we access them? What reading material is out there, and where do we go to get it? We want to look before we leap.
What do we do first? Spell out the problem in statement form. Be Specific. Make the goal Measurable in time and quantity (how and when will you know you have succeeded?) Make your target Achievable (if you're an obese 45-year-old you probably won't be able to do a four-minute mile in six months). Be certain that your objective is Relevant (that is, it makes a positive difference), and that it is Traceable (you can monitor your progress.) The first letters of the bold words above spell out the word smart. And being SMART is good advice.
Make a list of the underlining factors, the sub problems, which if you solve them, might hasten your goal of solving your main problem. Sub problems are often more manageable, thus simplifying things. Avoid such issues as "how to raise $$$ to achieve the goal," as this obfuscates and subverts the larger issue. One might begin the question with such statements as "How might we...?"; add a practical verb, such as improve, alleviate, increase, reduce etc; add "in order that..."; and cite the parameters of the fuzzy situation.
Brainstorm with all concerned parties, as many options as can be suggested for solving the problem. Look to generate many possible solutions. (The rules for brainstorming include: quantity over quality; no criticizing, judging, or evaluating at this time; combining ideas is acceptable; there are no bad ideas - a questionable idea might generate your best possible solution later.
Solutions must relate to step two above. They should answer why this solution solves the problem; how the solution will work; who will implement the solution; when the solution will be pursued; and where the solution will occur. Each suggested solution should be stated as a proposal, not just a possibility (not "Perhaps we ought to consider" but "We will do xyz...")
Step four establishes the criteria by which you will judge your success. Use superlatives such as best, least, most, greatest. Work in the positive, seeking the desired direction (e.g. the greatest benefit rather than the greatest harm). Criteria might include: Will it get the desired result? Is it workable? Is there the technology to implement it? Is it the most effective? Does it have the fewest negative side effects? Does it consider the human factor? Quantify the best half dozen criteria, assigning the highest point value to the most important, and the least to the last.
Construct a graph, with the six most important criteria (from #4) on the horizontal plane, and your six best solutions (from #3) down the vertical plane. Now check off how each solution works for each criteria, and calculate the results. If you have a tie, then add from your list in #4 additional criteria for a tie-breaker.
Write down your best solution. You can now elaborate on particular issues. If you disagree with your highest scoring solution, then either your criteria are inadequate, your ranking sequence needs work and needs to be reexamined, or you are mistaking favorite for best. You are now ready to implement. Decide which steps must be taken and in what sequence, assign tasks to be done, establish your timetable, allocate your resources, and go to work.
We live in a real world where the best doesn't always succeed simply because it is the best, where external variables exist and Murphy's Law often rules. Thus, the wise always have a back up plan to address the issue of "What if...?"