What Is The Best Way To Practice Problem Solving Skills

Gimena Aguerreberry
June 26, 2021

While it might seem like some people are just born with stronger problem-solving skills, there are strategies that anyone can use to improve them.

Learning problem-solving techniques is a must for working professionals in any field. No matter your title or job description, the ability to find the root cause of a difficult problem and formulate viable solutions is a skill that employers value. Learning the soft skills and critical thinking techniques that good problem solvers use can help anyone overcome complex problems.

Why Are Problem Solving Skills Important?

Problem is something hard to understand or accomplish or deal with. It can be a task, a situation, or even a person. Problem-solving involves methods and skills to find the best solutions to problems.

Problem-solving is important because we all have decisions to make, and questions to answer in our lives.

Problem-solving involves diagnosing the possible causes of a problem and developing an action plan that solves that problem. People use problem-solving skills all the time, both in their personal and professional lives. Effective problem-solving in the workplace often requires following a step-by-step process and using a designated problem-solving framework.

What Are the Different Types of Problem-Solving Skills?

Before we get to the fun activities, let’s refine our understanding of problem-solving skills, which are any techniques that help you consistently:

  • Understand the causes of problems

  • Overcome short-term crises

  • Create strategies to solve long-term problems

  • Turn problems into opportunities

You’ll be able to solve problems in your role better as you grow in your industry-specific knowledge.

What Is The Best Way To Practice Problem Solving Skills

Problem-solving requires a methodical step-by-step approach to a challenge. Here are some basic stages of problem-solving that you can follow when approaching a problem in your personal life or the workplace:

1. Focus on the Solution, Not the Problem

Neuroscientists have proven that your brain cannot find solutions if you focus on the problem. This is because when you focus on the problem, you’re effectively feeding ‘negativity,’ which in turn activates negative emotions in the brain. These emotions block potential solutions.

It helps to first, acknowledge the problem; and then, move your focus to a solution-oriented mindset where you keep fixed on what the ‘answer’ could be, rather than lingering on ‘what went wrong’ and ‘who’s fault it is.

2. Do your Research

Once you have a clear definition of the problem you’re solving, you’ll want to do some fact-finding and research regarding the nature of the problem and possible causes. This research process might include looking into the causes of similar problems that have been resolved in the past, or it might require devising interview questions to ask those involved in the issue.

3. Look for Possible solutions

After researching the problem, it’s time to start thinking about possible solutions. This stage requires creativity and brainstorming as you think of a few ideal solutions, as well as some alternative solutions should your first set fail. Solving problems usually involves creating some contingency plans in order to contain further problems.

Try to come up with ‘all possible solutions’ – even if they seem ridiculous at first. It’s important you keep an open mind to boost creative thinking, which can trigger potential solutions. Whatever you do, do not ridicule yourself for coming up with ‘stupid solutions’ as it’s often the crazy ideas that trigger other more viable solutions.

4. Simplify Things

Once you have a list of possible solutions, methodically narrow down your list to the best solution. If you’re working as a team, try to make decisions together and arrive at a consensus solution.

As human beings, we have a tendency to make things more complicated than they need to be! Try simplifying your problem by generalizing it.

Remove all the details and go back to the basics. Try looking for a really easy, obvious solution – you might be surprised at the results! And we all know that it’s often the simple things that are the most productive.

5. Put your decision into action

Implement your chosen solution in a planned and deliberate way. Avoid rushing to action, as this will often lead to a botched solution that doesn’t achieve its intended result.

6. Await Results

Observe how your solution is working and decide if further action needs to be taken. It’s best to decide on a time frame for observation before you follow up and decide whether or not to make changes to your plan.

Problem-solving mistakes

Below are examples of problem-solving mistakes:

  • Looking for quick fixes.

  • Fixing symptoms instead of the root cause.

  • Focusing on putting out small fires instead of addressing the big picture problem.

  • Rushing to solve a problem before understanding it.

  • Fearing to share out-of-the-box ideas during brainstorming.

  • Not having an open mind during brainstorming.

  • Solving the wrong problem.

  • Looking for someone to blame or pointing fingers.

  • Not listening or not seeking feedback or solutions from others.

  • Thinking that you should have all the answers.

  • Lack of clear communication.

  • Assuming that people already know what to do.

  • Fear of making the wrong decision.

  • Wrong assumptions.

  • Procrastinating to make a decision or choose among alternatives.

  • Refusing to acknowledge when a solution is not working.

  • Doing nothing when a problem arises.

  • Taking a long time before attending to a problem.

  • Not being flexible or adaptable when assumptions and conditions change.


Problem-solving entails making corrections and improvements when things don’t go as expected. Some problems can be fixed in a short amount of time while others take longer to be resolved.

At a minimum, when faced with a problem take some time to figure out what the real problem is, what caused the problem, and find out potential alternatives to address the problem.

"What Is The Best Way To Practice Problem Solving Skills" by Gimena Aguerreberry is licensed under CC BY SA. Source code examples are licensed under MIT.

Photo by Charles Deluvio.

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