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Mastering problem solving and decision making.

Business-people-having-discussion-solving a problem at a meeting

© Copyright Carter McNamara, MBA, PhD, Authenticity Consulting, LLC .

Sections of This Topic Include

  • Test – What is Your Personal Decision-Making Style?
  • Guidelines to Rational Problem Solving and Decision-Making
  • Rational Versus Organic Approach to Problem Solving and Decision Making
  • General Guidelines to Problem Solving and Decision-Making
  • Various Methods and Tools for Problem-Solving and Decision Making
  • General Resources for Problem-Solving and Decision Making

Also, consider

  • Related Library Topics
  • (Also see the closely related topics Decision Making , Group-Based Problem Solving, and Decision Making and Planning — Basics .)

What is Your Personal Decision-Making Style?

There are many styles of making decisions, ranging from very rational and linear to organic and unfolding. Take this online assessment to determine your own style.

Discover Your Decision-Making Style

Do you want to improve or polish your style? Consider the many guidelines included below.

Guidelines to Problem-Solving and Decision Making (Rational Approach)

Much of what people do is solve problems and make decisions. Often, they are “under the gun”, stressed, and very short of time. Consequently, when they encounter a new problem or decision they must make, they react with a decision that seemed to work before. It’s easy with this approach to get stuck in a circle of solving the same problem over and over again. Therefore, it’s often useful to get used to an organized approach to problem-solving and decision-making.

Not all problems can be solved and decisions made by the following, rather rational approach. However, the following basic guidelines will get you started. Don’t be intimidated by the length of the list of guidelines. After you’ve practiced them a few times, they’ll become second nature to you — enough that you can deepen and enrich them to suit your own needs and nature.

(Note that it might be more your nature to view a “problem” as an “opportunity”. Therefore, you might substitute “problem” for “opportunity” in the following guidelines.)

1. Define the problem

This is often where people struggle. They react to what they think the problem is. Instead, seek to understand more about why you think there’s a problem.

Define the problem: (with input from yourself and others). Ask yourself and others, the following questions:

  • What can you see that causes you to think there’s a problem?
  • Where is it happening?
  • How is it happening?
  • When is it happening?
  • With whom is it happening? (HINT: Don’t jump to “Who is causing the problem?” When we’re stressed, blaming is often one of our first reactions. To be an effective manager, you need to address issues more than people.)
  • Why is it happening?
  • Write down a five-sentence description of the problem in terms of “The following should be happening, but isn’t …” or “The following is happening and should be: …” As much as possible, be specific in your description, including what is happening, where, how, with whom and why. (It may be helpful at this point to use a variety of research methods.)

Defining complex problems:

If the problem still seems overwhelming, break it down by repeating steps 1-7 until you have descriptions of several related problems.

Verifying your understanding of the problems:

It helps a great deal to verify your problem analysis for conferring with a peer or someone else.

Prioritize the problems:

If you discover that you are looking at several related problems, then prioritize which ones you should address first.

Note the difference between “important” and “urgent” problems. Often, what we consider to be important problems to consider are really just urgent problems. Important problems deserve more attention. For example, if you’re continually answering “urgent” phone calls, then you’ve probably got a more “important” problem and that’s to design a system that screens and prioritizes your phone calls.

Understand your role in the problem:

Your role in the problem can greatly influence how you perceive the role of others. For example, if you’re very stressed out, it’ll probably look like others are, too, or, you may resort too quickly to blaming and reprimanding others. Or, you are feel very guilty about your role in the problem, you may ignore the accountabilities of others.

2. Look at potential causes for the problem

  • It’s amazing how much you don’t know about what you don’t know. Therefore, in this phase, it’s critical to get input from other people who notice the problem and who are affected by it.
  • It’s often useful to collect input from other individuals one at a time (at least at first). Otherwise, people tend to be inhibited about offering their impressions of the real causes of problems.
  • Write down your opinions and what you’ve heard from others.
  • Regarding what you think might be performance problems associated with an employee, it’s often useful to seek advice from a peer or your supervisor in order to verify your impression of the problem.
  • Write down a description of the cause of the problem in terms of what is happening, where, when, how, with whom, and why.

3. Identify alternatives for approaches to resolve the problem

At this point, it’s useful to keep others involved (unless you’re facing a personal and/or employee performance problem). Brainstorm for solutions to the problem. Very simply put, brainstorming is collecting as many ideas as possible, and then screening them to find the best idea. It’s critical when collecting the ideas to not pass any judgment on the ideas — just write them down as you hear them. (A wonderful set of skills used to identify the underlying cause of issues is Systems Thinking.)

4. Select an approach to resolve the problem

  • When selecting the best approach, consider:
  • Which approach is the most likely to solve the problem for the long term?
  • Which approach is the most realistic to accomplish for now? Do you have the resources? Are they affordable? Do you have enough time to implement the approach?
  • What is the extent of risk associated with each alternative?

(The nature of this step, in particular, in the problem solving process is why problem solving and decision making are highly integrated.)

5. Plan the implementation of the best alternative (this is your action plan)

  • Carefully consider “What will the situation look like when the problem is solved?”
  • What steps should be taken to implement the best alternative to solving the problem? What systems or processes should be changed in your organization, for example, a new policy or procedure? Don’t resort to solutions where someone is “just going to try harder”.
  • How will you know if the steps are being followed or not? (these are your indicators of the success of your plan)
  • What resources will you need in terms of people, money, and facilities?
  • How much time will you need to implement the solution? Write a schedule that includes the start and stop times, and when you expect to see certain indicators of success.
  • Who will primarily be responsible for ensuring the implementation of the plan?
  • Write down the answers to the above questions and consider this as your action plan.
  • Communicate the plan to those who will involved in implementing it and, at least, to your immediate supervisor.

(An important aspect of this step in the problem-solving process is continual observation and feedback.)

6. Monitor implementation of the plan

Monitor the indicators of success:

  • Are you seeing what you would expect from the indicators?
  • Will the plan be done according to schedule?
  • If the plan is not being followed as expected, then consider: Was the plan realistic? Are there sufficient resources to accomplish the plan on schedule? Should more priority be placed on various aspects of the plan? Should the plan be changed?

7. Verify if the problem has been resolved or not

One of the best ways to verify if a problem has been solved or not is to resume normal operations in the organization. Still, you should consider:

  • What changes should be made to avoid this type of problem in the future? Consider changes to policies and procedures, training, etc.
  • Lastly, consider “What did you learn from this problem-solving?” Consider new knowledge, understanding, and/or skills.
  • Consider writing a brief memo that highlights the success of the problem-solving effort, and what you learned as a result. Share it with your supervisor, peers and subordinates.

Rational Versus Organic Approach to Problem Solving

A person with this preference often prefers using a comprehensive and logical approach similar to the guidelines in the above section. For example, the rational approach, described below, is often used when addressing large, complex matters in strategic planning.

  • Define the problem.
  • Examine all potential causes for the problem.
  • Identify all alternatives to resolve the problem.
  • Carefully select an alternative.
  • Develop an orderly implementation plan to implement the best alternative.
  • Carefully monitor the implementation of the plan.
  • Verify if the problem has been resolved or not.

A major advantage of this approach is that it gives a strong sense of order in an otherwise chaotic situation and provides a common frame of reference from which people can communicate in the situation. A major disadvantage of this approach is that it can take a long time to finish. Some people might argue, too, that the world is much too chaotic for the rational approach to be useful.

Some people assert that the dynamics of organizations and people are not nearly so mechanistic as to be improved by solving one problem after another. Often, the quality of an organization or life comes from how one handles being “on the road” itself, rather than the “arriving at the destination.” The quality comes from the ongoing process of trying, rather than from having fixed a lot of problems. For many people, it is an approach to organizational consulting. The following quote is often used when explaining the organic (or holistic) approach to problem solving.

“All the greatest and most important problems in life are fundamentally insoluble … They can never be solved, but only outgrown. This “outgrowing” proves that further investigation to require a new level of consciousness. Some higher or wider interest appeared on the horizon and through this broadening of outlook, the insoluble lost its urgency. It was not solved logically in its own terms, but faded when confronted with a new and stronger life urge.” From Jung, Carl, Psychological Types (Pantheon Books, 1923)

A major advantage of the organic approach is that it is highly adaptable to understanding and explaining the chaotic changes that occur in projects and everyday life. It also suits the nature of people who shun linear and mechanistic approaches to projects. The major disadvantage is that the approach often provides no clear frame of reference around which people can communicate, feel comfortable and measure progress toward solutions to problems.

Additional Guidelines for Problem-Solving and Decision Making

Recommended articles.

  • Ten Tips for Beefing Up Your Problem-Solving Tool Box
  • Problem Solving Techniques (extensive overview of various approaches)
  • Key Questions to Ask Before Selecting a Solution to a Business Problem

Additional Articles

  • Problem-solving and Decision-Making:
  • Top 5 Tips to Improve Concentration
  • Problem Solving and Decision Making – 12 Great Tips!
  • Powerful Problem Solving
  • Creative Problem-Solving
  • Leadership Styles and Problem Solving (focus on creativity)
  • Forget About Causes, Focus on Solutions
  • Ten Tips for Beefing Up Your Problem-Solving ToolBox
  • Coaching Tip: Four-Question Method for Proactive Problem Solving
  • Coaching Tip — How to Bust Paralysis by Analysis
  • Appreciative Inquiry
  • Powerful Problem-Solving
  • Problem-Solving Techniques
  • Guidelines for Selecting An Appropriate Problem-Solving Approach
  • Factors to Consider in Figuring Out What to Do About A Problem
  • A Case for Reengineering the Problem-Solving Process (Somewhat Advanced)
  • Courseware on Problemistics (The art & craft of problem dealing)
  • Adapt your leadership style
  • Organic Approach to Problem Solving
  • Make Good Decisions, Avoid Bad Consequences
  • Priority Management: Are You Doing the Right Things?

General Guidelines for Decision Making

  • Decision-Making Tips
  • How We Sometimes Fool Ourselves When Making Decisions (Traps We Can Fall Into)
  • More of the Most Common Decision-Making Mistakes (more traps we can fall into)
  • When Your Organization’s Decisions Are in the Hands of Devils
  • Flawed Decision-making is Dangerous
  • Five Tips for Making Better Decisions
  • Study Says People Make Better Decisions With a Full Bladder
  • What Everyone Should Know About Decision Making

Various Tools and Methods for Problem Solving and Decision Making

(Many people would agree that the following methods and tools are also for decision-making.)

  • Cost Benefit Analysis (for deciding based on costs)
  • De Bono Hats (for looking at a situation from many perspectives
  • Delphi Decision Making (to collect the views of experts and distill expert-based solutions)
  • Dialectic Decision Making (rigorous action planning via examining opposite points of view) Fishbone Diagram —
  • 5 Steps to build Fishbone Diagram
  • Fishbowls (for groups to learn by watching modeled behaviors)
  • Grid Analysis (for choosing among many choices)
  • Pareto Principle (for finding the options that will make the most difference — (20/80 rule”)
  • For solving seemingly unsolvable contradictions
  • Rational Decision Making
  • SWOT Analysis (to analyze strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats)
  • Work Breakdown Structure (for organizing and relating many details)

General Resources for Problem Solving and Decision Making

  • The Ultimate Problem-Solving Process Guide: 31 Steps and Resources
  • list of various tools
  • long list of tools
  • Decision Making Tools
  • Decision Making
  • Group Decision Making and Problem Solving
  • Inquiry and Reflection
  • Mental Models (scan down to “Mental Models”)
  • Questioning
  • Research Methods
  • Systems Thinking

Learn More in the Library’s Blogs Related to Problem Solving and Decision Making

In addition to the articles on this current page, also see the following blogs that have posts related to this topic. Scan down the blog’s page to see various posts. Also, see the section “Recent Blog Posts” in the sidebar of the blog or click on “Next” near the bottom of a post in the blog. The blog also links to numerous free related resources.

  • Library’s Career Management Blog
  • Library’s Coaching Blog
  • Library’s Human Resources Blog
  • Library’s Spirituality Blog

For the Category of Innovation:

To round out your knowledge of this Library topic, you may want to review some related topics, available from the link below. Each of the related topics includes free, online resources.

Also, scan the Recommended Books listed below. They have been selected for their relevance and highly practical nature.

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Rational Decision Making: The 7-Step Process for Making Logical Decisions

Clifford Chi

Published: October 17, 2023

Psychology tells us that emotions drive our behavior, while logic only justifies our actions after the fact . Marketing confirms this theory. Humans associate the same personality traits with brands as they do with people  — choosing your favorite brand is like choosing your best friend or significant other. We go with the option that makes us feel something.

Marketer working through the rational decision making process and model

But emotions can cloud your reasoning, especially when you need to do something that could cause internal pain, like giving constructive criticism, or moving on from something you’re attached to, like scrapping a favorite topic from your team's content calendar.

Download Now: How to Be More Productive at Work [Free Guide + Templates]

There’s a way to suppress this emotional bias, though. It’s a thought process that’s completely objective and data-driven. It's called the rational decision making model, and it will help you make logically sound decisions even in situations with major ramifications , like pivoting your entire blogging strategy.

But before we learn each step of this powerful process, let’s go over what exactly rational decision making is and why it’s important.

What is Rational Decision Making?

Rational decision making is a problem-solving methodology that factors in objectivity and logic instead of subjectivity and intuition to achieve a goal. The goal of rational decision making is to identify a problem, pick a solution between multiple alternatives, and find an answer.

Rational decision making is an important skill to possess, especially in the digital marketing industry. Humans are inherently emotional, so our biases and beliefs can blur our perception of reality. Fortunately, data sharpens our view. By showing us how our audience actually interacts with our brand, data liberates us from relying on our assumptions to determine what our audience likes about us.

Rational Decision Making Model: 7 Easy Steps(+ Examples)

Rational Decision Making

1. Verify and define your problem.

To prove that you actually have a problem, you need evidence for it. Most marketers think data is the silver bullet that can diagnose any issue in our strategy, but you actually need to extract insights from your data to prove anything. If you don’t, you’re just looking at a bunch of numbers packed into a spreadsheet.

To pinpoint your specific problem, collect as much data from your area of need and analyze it to find any alarming patterns or trends.

“After analyzing our blog traffic report, we now know why our traffic has plateaued for the past year — our organic traffic increases slightly month over month but our email and social traffic decrease.”

2. Research and brainstorm possible solutions for your problem.

Expanding your pool of potential solutions boosts your chances of solving your problem. To find as many potential solutions as possible, you should gather plenty of information about your problem from your own knowledge and the internet. You can also brainstorm with others to uncover more possible solutions.

Potential Solution 1: “We could focus on growing organic, email, and social traffic all at the same time."

Potential Solution 2: “We could focus on growing email and social traffic at the same time — organic traffic already increases month over month while traffic from email and social decrease.”

Potential Solution 3: "We could solely focus on growing social traffic — growing social traffic is easier than growing email and organic traffic at the same time. We also have 2 million followers on Facebook, so we could push our posts to a ton of readers."

Potential Solution 4: "We could solely focus on growing email traffic — growing email traffic is easier than growing social and organic traffic at the same time. We also have 250,000 blog subscribers, so we could push our posts to a ton of readers."

Potential Solution 5: "We could solely focus on growing organic traffic — growing organic traffic is easier than growing social and email traffic at the same time. We also just implemented a pillar-cluster model to boost our domain’s authority, so we could attract a ton of readers from Google."

3. Set standards of success and failure for your potential solutions.

Setting a threshold to measure your solutions' success and failure lets you determine which ones can actually solve your problem. Your standard of success shouldn’t be too high, though. You’d never be able to find a solution. But if your standards are realistic, quantifiable, and focused, you’ll be able to find one.

“If one of our solutions increases our total traffic by 10%, we should consider it a practical way to overcome our traffic plateau.”

4. Flesh out the potential results of each solution.

Next, you should determine each of your solutions’ consequences. To do so, create a strength and weaknesses table for each alternative and compare them to each other. You should also prioritize your solutions in a list from best chance to solve the problem to worst chance.

Potential Result 1: ‘Growing organic, email, and social traffic at the same time could pay a lot of dividends, but our team doesn’t have enough time or resources to optimize all three channels.”

Potential Result 2: “Growing email and social traffic at the same time would marginally increase overall traffic — both channels only account for 20% of our total traffic."

Potential Result 3: “Growing social traffic by posting a blog post everyday on Facebook is challenging because the platform doesn’t elevate links in the news feed and the channel only accounts for 5% of our blog traffic. Focusing solely on social would produce minimal results.”

Potential Result 4: “Growing email traffic by sending two emails per day to our blog subscribers is challenging because we already send one email to subscribers everyday and the channel only accounts for 15% of our blog traffic. Focusing on email would produce minimal results.”

Potential Result 5: “Growing organic traffic by targeting high search volume keywords for all of our new posts is the easiest way to grow our blog’s overall traffic. We have a high domain authority, Google refers 80% of our total traffic, and we just implemented a pillar-cluster model. Focusing on organic would produce the most results.”

5. Choose the best solution and test it.

Based on the evaluation of your potential solutions, choose the best one and test it. You can start monitoring your preliminary results during this stage too.

“Focusing on organic traffic seems to be the most effective and realistic play for us. Let’s test an organic-only strategy where we only create new content that has current or potential search volume and fits into our pillar cluster model.”

6. Track and analyze the results of your test.

Track and analyze your results to see if your solution actually solved your problem.

“After a month of testing, our blog traffic has increased by 14% and our organic traffic has increased by 21%.”

7. Implement the solution or test a new one.

If your potential solution passed your test and solved your problem, then it’s the most rational decision you can make. You should implement it to completely solve your current problem or any other related problems in the future. If the solution didn’t solve your problem, then test another potential solution that you came up with.

“The results from solely focusing on organic surpassed our threshold of success. From now on, we’re pivoting to an organic-only strategy, where we’ll only create new blog content that has current or future search volume and fits into our pillar cluster model.”

Avoid Bias With A Rational Decision Making Process

As humans, it’s natural for our emotions to take over your decision making process. And that’s okay. Sometimes, emotional decisions are better than logical ones. But when you really need to prioritize logic over emotion, arming your mind with the rational decision making model can help you suppress your emotion bias and be as objective as possible.

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Outline your company's marketing strategy in one simple, coherent plan.

7.3 Problem-Solving

Learning objectives.

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Describe problem solving strategies
  • Define algorithm and heuristic
  • Explain some common roadblocks to effective problem solving

   People face problems every day—usually, multiple problems throughout the day. Sometimes these problems are straightforward: To double a recipe for pizza dough, for example, all that is required is that each ingredient in the recipe be doubled. Sometimes, however, the problems we encounter are more complex. For example, say you have a work deadline, and you must mail a printed copy of a report to your supervisor by the end of the business day. The report is time-sensitive and must be sent overnight. You finished the report last night, but your printer will not work today. What should you do? First, you need to identify the problem and then apply a strategy for solving the problem.

The study of human and animal problem solving processes has provided much insight toward the understanding of our conscious experience and led to advancements in computer science and artificial intelligence. Essentially much of cognitive science today represents studies of how we consciously and unconsciously make decisions and solve problems. For instance, when encountered with a large amount of information, how do we go about making decisions about the most efficient way of sorting and analyzing all the information in order to find what you are looking for as in visual search paradigms in cognitive psychology. Or in a situation where a piece of machinery is not working properly, how do we go about organizing how to address the issue and understand what the cause of the problem might be. How do we sort the procedures that will be needed and focus attention on what is important in order to solve problems efficiently. Within this section we will discuss some of these issues and examine processes related to human, animal and computer problem solving.


   When people are presented with a problem—whether it is a complex mathematical problem or a broken printer, how do you solve it? Before finding a solution to the problem, the problem must first be clearly identified. After that, one of many problem solving strategies can be applied, hopefully resulting in a solution.

Problems themselves can be classified into two different categories known as ill-defined and well-defined problems (Schacter, 2009). Ill-defined problems represent issues that do not have clear goals, solution paths, or expected solutions whereas well-defined problems have specific goals, clearly defined solutions, and clear expected solutions. Problem solving often incorporates pragmatics (logical reasoning) and semantics (interpretation of meanings behind the problem), and also in many cases require abstract thinking and creativity in order to find novel solutions. Within psychology, problem solving refers to a motivational drive for reading a definite “goal” from a present situation or condition that is either not moving toward that goal, is distant from it, or requires more complex logical analysis for finding a missing description of conditions or steps toward that goal. Processes relating to problem solving include problem finding also known as problem analysis, problem shaping where the organization of the problem occurs, generating alternative strategies, implementation of attempted solutions, and verification of the selected solution. Various methods of studying problem solving exist within the field of psychology including introspection, behavior analysis and behaviorism, simulation, computer modeling, and experimentation.

A problem-solving strategy is a plan of action used to find a solution. Different strategies have different action plans associated with them (table below). For example, a well-known strategy is trial and error. The old adage, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” describes trial and error. In terms of your broken printer, you could try checking the ink levels, and if that doesn’t work, you could check to make sure the paper tray isn’t jammed. Or maybe the printer isn’t actually connected to your laptop. When using trial and error, you would continue to try different solutions until you solved your problem. Although trial and error is not typically one of the most time-efficient strategies, it is a commonly used one.

   Another type of strategy is an algorithm. An algorithm is a problem-solving formula that provides you with step-by-step instructions used to achieve a desired outcome (Kahneman, 2011). You can think of an algorithm as a recipe with highly detailed instructions that produce the same result every time they are performed. Algorithms are used frequently in our everyday lives, especially in computer science. When you run a search on the Internet, search engines like Google use algorithms to decide which entries will appear first in your list of results. Facebook also uses algorithms to decide which posts to display on your newsfeed. Can you identify other situations in which algorithms are used?

A heuristic is another type of problem solving strategy. While an algorithm must be followed exactly to produce a correct result, a heuristic is a general problem-solving framework (Tversky & Kahneman, 1974). You can think of these as mental shortcuts that are used to solve problems. A “rule of thumb” is an example of a heuristic. Such a rule saves the person time and energy when making a decision, but despite its time-saving characteristics, it is not always the best method for making a rational decision. Different types of heuristics are used in different types of situations, but the impulse to use a heuristic occurs when one of five conditions is met (Pratkanis, 1989):

  • When one is faced with too much information
  • When the time to make a decision is limited
  • When the decision to be made is unimportant
  • When there is access to very little information to use in making the decision
  • When an appropriate heuristic happens to come to mind in the same moment

Working backwards is a useful heuristic in which you begin solving the problem by focusing on the end result. Consider this example: You live in Washington, D.C. and have been invited to a wedding at 4 PM on Saturday in Philadelphia. Knowing that Interstate 95 tends to back up any day of the week, you need to plan your route and time your departure accordingly. If you want to be at the wedding service by 3:30 PM, and it takes 2.5 hours to get to Philadelphia without traffic, what time should you leave your house? You use the working backwards heuristic to plan the events of your day on a regular basis, probably without even thinking about it.

Another useful heuristic is the practice of accomplishing a large goal or task by breaking it into a series of smaller steps. Students often use this common method to complete a large research project or long essay for school. For example, students typically brainstorm, develop a thesis or main topic, research the chosen topic, organize their information into an outline, write a rough draft, revise and edit the rough draft, develop a final draft, organize the references list, and proofread their work before turning in the project. The large task becomes less overwhelming when it is broken down into a series of small steps.

Further problem solving strategies have been identified (listed below) that incorporate flexible and creative thinking in order to reach solutions efficiently.

Additional Problem Solving Strategies :

  • Abstraction – refers to solving the problem within a model of the situation before applying it to reality.
  • Analogy – is using a solution that solves a similar problem.
  • Brainstorming – refers to collecting an analyzing a large amount of solutions, especially within a group of people, to combine the solutions and developing them until an optimal solution is reached.
  • Divide and conquer – breaking down large complex problems into smaller more manageable problems.
  • Hypothesis testing – method used in experimentation where an assumption about what would happen in response to manipulating an independent variable is made, and analysis of the affects of the manipulation are made and compared to the original hypothesis.
  • Lateral thinking – approaching problems indirectly and creatively by viewing the problem in a new and unusual light.
  • Means-ends analysis – choosing and analyzing an action at a series of smaller steps to move closer to the goal.
  • Method of focal objects – putting seemingly non-matching characteristics of different procedures together to make something new that will get you closer to the goal.
  • Morphological analysis – analyzing the outputs of and interactions of many pieces that together make up a whole system.
  • Proof – trying to prove that a problem cannot be solved. Where the proof fails becomes the starting point or solving the problem.
  • Reduction – adapting the problem to be as similar problems where a solution exists.
  • Research – using existing knowledge or solutions to similar problems to solve the problem.
  • Root cause analysis – trying to identify the cause of the problem.

The strategies listed above outline a short summary of methods we use in working toward solutions and also demonstrate how the mind works when being faced with barriers preventing goals to be reached.

One example of means-end analysis can be found by using the Tower of Hanoi paradigm . This paradigm can be modeled as a word problems as demonstrated by the Missionary-Cannibal Problem :

Missionary-Cannibal Problem

Three missionaries and three cannibals are on one side of a river and need to cross to the other side. The only means of crossing is a boat, and the boat can only hold two people at a time. Your goal is to devise a set of moves that will transport all six of the people across the river, being in mind the following constraint: The number of cannibals can never exceed the number of missionaries in any location. Remember that someone will have to also row that boat back across each time.

Hint : At one point in your solution, you will have to send more people back to the original side than you just sent to the destination.

The actual Tower of Hanoi problem consists of three rods sitting vertically on a base with a number of disks of different sizes that can slide onto any rod. The puzzle starts with the disks in a neat stack in ascending order of size on one rod, the smallest at the top making a conical shape. The objective of the puzzle is to move the entire stack to another rod obeying the following rules:

  • 1. Only one disk can be moved at a time.
  • 2. Each move consists of taking the upper disk from one of the stacks and placing it on top of another stack or on an empty rod.
  • 3. No disc may be placed on top of a smaller disk.

the rational/logical approach to problem solving is only suitable for which of the following

  Figure 7.02. Steps for solving the Tower of Hanoi in the minimum number of moves when there are 3 disks.

the rational/logical approach to problem solving is only suitable for which of the following

Figure 7.03. Graphical representation of nodes (circles) and moves (lines) of Tower of Hanoi.

The Tower of Hanoi is a frequently used psychological technique to study problem solving and procedure analysis. A variation of the Tower of Hanoi known as the Tower of London has been developed which has been an important tool in the neuropsychological diagnosis of executive function disorders and their treatment.


As you may recall from the sensation and perception chapter, Gestalt psychology describes whole patterns, forms and configurations of perception and cognition such as closure, good continuation, and figure-ground. In addition to patterns of perception, Wolfgang Kohler, a German Gestalt psychologist traveled to the Spanish island of Tenerife in order to study animals behavior and problem solving in the anthropoid ape.

As an interesting side note to Kohler’s studies of chimp problem solving, Dr. Ronald Ley, professor of psychology at State University of New York provides evidence in his book A Whisper of Espionage  (1990) suggesting that while collecting data for what would later be his book  The Mentality of Apes (1925) on Tenerife in the Canary Islands between 1914 and 1920, Kohler was additionally an active spy for the German government alerting Germany to ships that were sailing around the Canary Islands. Ley suggests his investigations in England, Germany and elsewhere in Europe confirm that Kohler had served in the German military by building, maintaining and operating a concealed radio that contributed to Germany’s war effort acting as a strategic outpost in the Canary Islands that could monitor naval military activity approaching the north African coast.

While trapped on the island over the course of World War 1, Kohler applied Gestalt principles to animal perception in order to understand how they solve problems. He recognized that the apes on the islands also perceive relations between stimuli and the environment in Gestalt patterns and understand these patterns as wholes as opposed to pieces that make up a whole. Kohler based his theories of animal intelligence on the ability to understand relations between stimuli, and spent much of his time while trapped on the island investigation what he described as  insight , the sudden perception of useful or proper relations. In order to study insight in animals, Kohler would present problems to chimpanzee’s by hanging some banana’s or some kind of food so it was suspended higher than the apes could reach. Within the room, Kohler would arrange a variety of boxes, sticks or other tools the chimpanzees could use by combining in patterns or organizing in a way that would allow them to obtain the food (Kohler & Winter, 1925).

While viewing the chimpanzee’s, Kohler noticed one chimp that was more efficient at solving problems than some of the others. The chimp, named Sultan, was able to use long poles to reach through bars and organize objects in specific patterns to obtain food or other desirables that were originally out of reach. In order to study insight within these chimps, Kohler would remove objects from the room to systematically make the food more difficult to obtain. As the story goes, after removing many of the objects Sultan was used to using to obtain the food, he sat down ad sulked for a while, and then suddenly got up going over to two poles lying on the ground. Without hesitation Sultan put one pole inside the end of the other creating a longer pole that he could use to obtain the food demonstrating an ideal example of what Kohler described as insight. In another situation, Sultan discovered how to stand on a box to reach a banana that was suspended from the rafters illustrating Sultan’s perception of relations and the importance of insight in problem solving.

Grande (another chimp in the group studied by Kohler) builds a three-box structure to reach the bananas, while Sultan watches from the ground.  Insight , sometimes referred to as an “Ah-ha” experience, was the term Kohler used for the sudden perception of useful relations among objects during problem solving (Kohler, 1927; Radvansky & Ashcraft, 2013).

Solving puzzles.

   Problem-solving abilities can improve with practice. Many people challenge themselves every day with puzzles and other mental exercises to sharpen their problem-solving skills. Sudoku puzzles appear daily in most newspapers. Typically, a sudoku puzzle is a 9×9 grid. The simple sudoku below (see figure) is a 4×4 grid. To solve the puzzle, fill in the empty boxes with a single digit: 1, 2, 3, or 4. Here are the rules: The numbers must total 10 in each bolded box, each row, and each column; however, each digit can only appear once in a bolded box, row, and column. Time yourself as you solve this puzzle and compare your time with a classmate.

How long did it take you to solve this sudoku puzzle? (You can see the answer at the end of this section.)

   Here is another popular type of puzzle (figure below) that challenges your spatial reasoning skills. Connect all nine dots with four connecting straight lines without lifting your pencil from the paper:

Did you figure it out? (The answer is at the end of this section.) Once you understand how to crack this puzzle, you won’t forget.

   Take a look at the “Puzzling Scales” logic puzzle below (figure below). Sam Loyd, a well-known puzzle master, created and refined countless puzzles throughout his lifetime (Cyclopedia of Puzzles, n.d.).

A puzzle involving a scale is shown. At the top of the figure it reads: “Sam Loyds Puzzling Scales.” The first row of the puzzle shows a balanced scale with 3 blocks and a top on the left and 12 marbles on the right. Below this row it reads: “Since the scales now balance.” The next row of the puzzle shows a balanced scale with just the top on the left, and 1 block and 8 marbles on the right. Below this row it reads: “And balance when arranged this way.” The third row shows an unbalanced scale with the top on the left side, which is much lower than the right side. The right side is empty. Below this row it reads: “Then how many marbles will it require to balance with that top?”

What steps did you take to solve this puzzle? You can read the solution at the end of this section.

Pitfalls to problem solving.

   Not all problems are successfully solved, however. What challenges stop us from successfully solving a problem? Albert Einstein once said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” Imagine a person in a room that has four doorways. One doorway that has always been open in the past is now locked. The person, accustomed to exiting the room by that particular doorway, keeps trying to get out through the same doorway even though the other three doorways are open. The person is stuck—but she just needs to go to another doorway, instead of trying to get out through the locked doorway. A mental set is where you persist in approaching a problem in a way that has worked in the past but is clearly not working now.

Functional fixedness is a type of mental set where you cannot perceive an object being used for something other than what it was designed for. During the Apollo 13 mission to the moon, NASA engineers at Mission Control had to overcome functional fixedness to save the lives of the astronauts aboard the spacecraft. An explosion in a module of the spacecraft damaged multiple systems. The astronauts were in danger of being poisoned by rising levels of carbon dioxide because of problems with the carbon dioxide filters. The engineers found a way for the astronauts to use spare plastic bags, tape, and air hoses to create a makeshift air filter, which saved the lives of the astronauts.

   Researchers have investigated whether functional fixedness is affected by culture. In one experiment, individuals from the Shuar group in Ecuador were asked to use an object for a purpose other than that for which the object was originally intended. For example, the participants were told a story about a bear and a rabbit that were separated by a river and asked to select among various objects, including a spoon, a cup, erasers, and so on, to help the animals. The spoon was the only object long enough to span the imaginary river, but if the spoon was presented in a way that reflected its normal usage, it took participants longer to choose the spoon to solve the problem. (German & Barrett, 2005). The researchers wanted to know if exposure to highly specialized tools, as occurs with individuals in industrialized nations, affects their ability to transcend functional fixedness. It was determined that functional fixedness is experienced in both industrialized and nonindustrialized cultures (German & Barrett, 2005).

In order to make good decisions, we use our knowledge and our reasoning. Often, this knowledge and reasoning is sound and solid. Sometimes, however, we are swayed by biases or by others manipulating a situation. For example, let’s say you and three friends wanted to rent a house and had a combined target budget of $1,600. The realtor shows you only very run-down houses for $1,600 and then shows you a very nice house for $2,000. Might you ask each person to pay more in rent to get the $2,000 home? Why would the realtor show you the run-down houses and the nice house? The realtor may be challenging your anchoring bias. An anchoring bias occurs when you focus on one piece of information when making a decision or solving a problem. In this case, you’re so focused on the amount of money you are willing to spend that you may not recognize what kinds of houses are available at that price point.

The confirmation bias is the tendency to focus on information that confirms your existing beliefs. For example, if you think that your professor is not very nice, you notice all of the instances of rude behavior exhibited by the professor while ignoring the countless pleasant interactions he is involved in on a daily basis. Hindsight bias leads you to believe that the event you just experienced was predictable, even though it really wasn’t. In other words, you knew all along that things would turn out the way they did. Representative bias describes a faulty way of thinking, in which you unintentionally stereotype someone or something; for example, you may assume that your professors spend their free time reading books and engaging in intellectual conversation, because the idea of them spending their time playing volleyball or visiting an amusement park does not fit in with your stereotypes of professors.

Finally, the availability heuristic is a heuristic in which you make a decision based on an example, information, or recent experience that is that readily available to you, even though it may not be the best example to inform your decision . Biases tend to “preserve that which is already established—to maintain our preexisting knowledge, beliefs, attitudes, and hypotheses” (Aronson, 1995; Kahneman, 2011). These biases are summarized in the table below.

Were you able to determine how many marbles are needed to balance the scales in the figure below? You need nine. Were you able to solve the problems in the figures above? Here are the answers.

The first puzzle is a Sudoku grid of 16 squares (4 rows of 4 squares) is shown. Half of the numbers were supplied to start the puzzle and are colored blue, and half have been filled in as the puzzle’s solution and are colored red. The numbers in each row of the grid, left to right, are as follows. Row 1: blue 3, red 1, red 4, blue 2. Row 2: red 2, blue 4, blue 1, red 3. Row 3: red 1, blue 3, blue 2, red 4. Row 4: blue 4, red 2, red 3, blue 1.The second puzzle consists of 9 dots arranged in 3 rows of 3 inside of a square. The solution, four straight lines made without lifting the pencil, is shown in a red line with arrows indicating the direction of movement. In order to solve the puzzle, the lines must extend beyond the borders of the box. The four connecting lines are drawn as follows. Line 1 begins at the top left dot, proceeds through the middle and right dots of the top row, and extends to the right beyond the border of the square. Line 2 extends from the end of line 1, through the right dot of the horizontally centered row, through the middle dot of the bottom row, and beyond the square’s border ending in the space beneath the left dot of the bottom row. Line 3 extends from the end of line 2 upwards through the left dots of the bottom, middle, and top rows. Line 4 extends from the end of line 3 through the middle dot in the middle row and ends at the right dot of the bottom row.

   Many different strategies exist for solving problems. Typical strategies include trial and error, applying algorithms, and using heuristics. To solve a large, complicated problem, it often helps to break the problem into smaller steps that can be accomplished individually, leading to an overall solution. Roadblocks to problem solving include a mental set, functional fixedness, and various biases that can cloud decision making skills.


Openstax Psychology text by Kathryn Dumper, William Jenkins, Arlene Lacombe, Marilyn Lovett and Marion Perlmutter licensed under CC BY v4.0. https://openstax.org/details/books/psychology

Review Questions:

1. A specific formula for solving a problem is called ________.

a. an algorithm

b. a heuristic

c. a mental set

d. trial and error

2. Solving the Tower of Hanoi problem tends to utilize a  ________ strategy of problem solving.

a. divide and conquer

b. means-end analysis

d. experiment

3. A mental shortcut in the form of a general problem-solving framework is called ________.

4. Which type of bias involves becoming fixated on a single trait of a problem?

a. anchoring bias

b. confirmation bias

c. representative bias

d. availability bias

5. Which type of bias involves relying on a false stereotype to make a decision?

6. Wolfgang Kohler analyzed behavior of chimpanzees by applying Gestalt principles to describe ________.

a. social adjustment

b. student load payment options

c. emotional learning

d. insight learning

7. ________ is a type of mental set where you cannot perceive an object being used for something other than what it was designed for.

a. functional fixedness

c. working memory

Critical Thinking Questions:

1. What is functional fixedness and how can overcoming it help you solve problems?

2. How does an algorithm save you time and energy when solving a problem?

Personal Application Question:

1. Which type of bias do you recognize in your own decision making processes? How has this bias affected how you’ve made decisions in the past and how can you use your awareness of it to improve your decisions making skills in the future?

anchoring bias

availability heuristic

confirmation bias

functional fixedness

hindsight bias

problem-solving strategy

representative bias

trial and error

working backwards

Answers to Exercises

algorithm:  problem-solving strategy characterized by a specific set of instructions

anchoring bias:  faulty heuristic in which you fixate on a single aspect of a problem to find a solution

availability heuristic:  faulty heuristic in which you make a decision based on information readily available to you

confirmation bias:  faulty heuristic in which you focus on information that confirms your beliefs

functional fixedness:  inability to see an object as useful for any other use other than the one for which it was intended

heuristic:  mental shortcut that saves time when solving a problem

hindsight bias:  belief that the event just experienced was predictable, even though it really wasn’t

mental set:  continually using an old solution to a problem without results

problem-solving strategy:  method for solving problems

representative bias:  faulty heuristic in which you stereotype someone or something without a valid basis for your judgment

trial and error:  problem-solving strategy in which multiple solutions are attempted until the correct one is found

working backwards:  heuristic in which you begin to solve a problem by focusing on the end result

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Rational Decision Making Model

A rational decision making model provides a structured and sequenced approach to decision making.

Using such an approach can help to ensure discipline and consistency is built into your decision making process. As the word rational suggests, this approach brings logic and order to decision making. Our rational decision making model consists of a series of steps, beginning with problem/opportunity identification, and ending with actions to be taken on decisions made.

There seems to be a problem with decision making. According to Ohio State University management professor, Paul C. Nutt , we only get about 50% of our decisions in the workplace right! Half the time they are wrong, so there is clearly plenty of scope to improve on our decision making processes. Based on his research into over 300 decisions, made in a range of organizations, he discovered that

Some tactics with a good track record are commonly known, but uncommonly practiced.

Why? Well one reason that emerged from his research is that:

Too often, managers make bad tactical selections ….. because they believe that following recommended decision-making practices would take too much time and demand excessive cash outlays.

Nutt argues that using good decision making practices actually costs very little. (Even less in this case because our rational decision making model is a free tool to help improve the way you make decisions!).

This article is part of our series on decision making. Our first article, types of decision making outlines a range of decision making approaches. Rational decision making forms part of what we have termed types of decision, categorized by process. In this category we have put two contrasting approaches, that of rational decision making and that of judgement or intuitive decision making .

A General Rational Decision Making Model

Rational decision making processes consist of a sequence of steps designed to rationally develop a desired solution. Typically these steps involve:

Rational Decision Making Model

1: Identifying a problem or opportunity

The first step is to recognise a problem or to see opportunities that may be worthwhile. A rational decision making model is best employed where relatively complex decisions have to be made.

(So the first decision making lesson should be to ask yourself if you really have a problem to solve or a decision to make. Then read this article for more specific advice: Problem Solving Skill: Finding the Right Problem to Solve ).

2: Gathering information

What is relevant and what is not relevant to the decision? What do you need to know before you can make a decision, or that will help you make the right one?

3: Analyzing the situation

What alternative courses of action may be available to you? What different interpretations of the data may be possible? Our Problem Solving Activity uses a set of structured questions to encourage both broad and deep analysis of your situation or problem.

4: Developing options

Generate several possible options. Be creative and positive. Read The Power of Positive Thinking for our five questions that create possibilities.

5: Evaluating alternatives

What criteria should you use to evaluate? Evaluate for feasibility, acceptability and desirability. Which alternative will best achieve your objectives?

6: Selecting a preferred alternative

Explore the provisional preferred alternative for future possible adverse consequences. What problems might it create? What are the risks of making this decision?

7: Acting on the decision

Put a plan in place to implement the decision. Have you allocated resources to implement? Is the decision accepted and supported by colleagues? Are they committed to to making the decision work?

Strengths and Weaknesses of the Rational Decision Making Model

Rational decision making model

However, we should always remember that whilst the model indicates what needs to be done, it’s often how things are done that characterises effective decision making.

Paul C. Nutt’s research illustrates that bad decisions were usually bad because two things were missing:

  • Adequate participation of stakeholders in the decision making process
  • Sufficient time spent generating a range of possible solutions

Too often those who should have been involved weren’t, and solutions were proposed and acted upon too quickly. Often with disastrous effects!

A second weakness arises if we attempt to use the model in isolation. This is particularly important where complex or important decisions are involved.

The principle assumption of the rational decision making process is that human beings make rational decisions. However, there are numerous factors which determine our decisions, many of which are not rational. In many situations decisions have to be made with incomplete and insufficient information.

Putting the Rational Decision Making Model to work

Regardless of any perceived weaknesses these models are essential tools.

Making Better Decisions

You’ll find more on these and other practical techniques in our related e-guides (below) or in Making Better Decisions.

Use the tools in this guide to help your decision making:

Tool 1: Do you need to make a decision? Tool 2: The POCA decision making model Tool 3: Decision levels Tool 4: 7 step decision making process Tool 5: Team decision making Tool 6: Evaluating alternatives

See for yourself that a rational decision making model can help us to make better decisions – and thus help us to be better managers.

Further Reading

Definition of decision making Intuition and decision making

>>> Return to the Decision Making Knowledge Hub

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Overview of the Problem-Solving Mental Process

Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."

the rational/logical approach to problem solving is only suitable for which of the following

Rachel Goldman, PhD FTOS, is a licensed psychologist, clinical assistant professor, speaker, wellness expert specializing in eating behaviors, stress management, and health behavior change.

the rational/logical approach to problem solving is only suitable for which of the following

  • Identify the Problem
  • Define the Problem
  • Form a Strategy
  • Organize Information
  • Allocate Resources
  • Monitor Progress
  • Evaluate the Results

Frequently Asked Questions

Problem-solving is a mental process that involves discovering, analyzing, and solving problems. The ultimate goal of problem-solving is to overcome obstacles and find a solution that best resolves the issue.

The best strategy for solving a problem depends largely on the unique situation. In some cases, people are better off learning everything they can about the issue and then using factual knowledge to come up with a solution. In other instances, creativity and insight are the best options.

It is not necessary to follow problem-solving steps sequentially, It is common to skip steps or even go back through steps multiple times until the desired solution is reached.

In order to correctly solve a problem, it is often important to follow a series of steps. Researchers sometimes refer to this as the problem-solving cycle. While this cycle is portrayed sequentially, people rarely follow a rigid series of steps to find a solution.

The following steps include developing strategies and organizing knowledge.

1. Identifying the Problem

While it may seem like an obvious step, identifying the problem is not always as simple as it sounds. In some cases, people might mistakenly identify the wrong source of a problem, which will make attempts to solve it inefficient or even useless.

Some strategies that you might use to figure out the source of a problem include :

  • Asking questions about the problem
  • Breaking the problem down into smaller pieces
  • Looking at the problem from different perspectives
  • Conducting research to figure out what relationships exist between different variables

2. Defining the Problem

After the problem has been identified, it is important to fully define the problem so that it can be solved. You can define a problem by operationally defining each aspect of the problem and setting goals for what aspects of the problem you will address

At this point, you should focus on figuring out which aspects of the problems are facts and which are opinions. State the problem clearly and identify the scope of the solution.

3. Forming a Strategy

After the problem has been identified, it is time to start brainstorming potential solutions. This step usually involves generating as many ideas as possible without judging their quality. Once several possibilities have been generated, they can be evaluated and narrowed down.

The next step is to develop a strategy to solve the problem. The approach used will vary depending upon the situation and the individual's unique preferences. Common problem-solving strategies include heuristics and algorithms.

  • Heuristics are mental shortcuts that are often based on solutions that have worked in the past. They can work well if the problem is similar to something you have encountered before and are often the best choice if you need a fast solution.
  • Algorithms are step-by-step strategies that are guaranteed to produce a correct result. While this approach is great for accuracy, it can also consume time and resources.

Heuristics are often best used when time is of the essence, while algorithms are a better choice when a decision needs to be as accurate as possible.

4. Organizing Information

Before coming up with a solution, you need to first organize the available information. What do you know about the problem? What do you not know? The more information that is available the better prepared you will be to come up with an accurate solution.

When approaching a problem, it is important to make sure that you have all the data you need. Making a decision without adequate information can lead to biased or inaccurate results.

5. Allocating Resources

Of course, we don't always have unlimited money, time, and other resources to solve a problem. Before you begin to solve a problem, you need to determine how high priority it is.

If it is an important problem, it is probably worth allocating more resources to solving it. If, however, it is a fairly unimportant problem, then you do not want to spend too much of your available resources on coming up with a solution.

At this stage, it is important to consider all of the factors that might affect the problem at hand. This includes looking at the available resources, deadlines that need to be met, and any possible risks involved in each solution. After careful evaluation, a decision can be made about which solution to pursue.

6. Monitoring Progress

After selecting a problem-solving strategy, it is time to put the plan into action and see if it works. This step might involve trying out different solutions to see which one is the most effective.

It is also important to monitor the situation after implementing a solution to ensure that the problem has been solved and that no new problems have arisen as a result of the proposed solution.

Effective problem-solvers tend to monitor their progress as they work towards a solution. If they are not making good progress toward reaching their goal, they will reevaluate their approach or look for new strategies .

7. Evaluating the Results

After a solution has been reached, it is important to evaluate the results to determine if it is the best possible solution to the problem. This evaluation might be immediate, such as checking the results of a math problem to ensure the answer is correct, or it can be delayed, such as evaluating the success of a therapy program after several months of treatment.

Once a problem has been solved, it is important to take some time to reflect on the process that was used and evaluate the results. This will help you to improve your problem-solving skills and become more efficient at solving future problems.

A Word From Verywell​

It is important to remember that there are many different problem-solving processes with different steps, and this is just one example. Problem-solving in real-world situations requires a great deal of resourcefulness, flexibility, resilience, and continuous interaction with the environment.

Get Advice From The Verywell Mind Podcast

Hosted by therapist Amy Morin, LCSW, this episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast shares how you can stop dwelling in a negative mindset.

Follow Now : Apple Podcasts / Spotify / Google Podcasts

You can become a better problem solving by:

  • Practicing brainstorming and coming up with multiple potential solutions to problems
  • Being open-minded and considering all possible options before making a decision
  • Breaking down problems into smaller, more manageable pieces
  • Asking for help when needed
  • Researching different problem-solving techniques and trying out new ones
  • Learning from mistakes and using them as opportunities to grow

It's important to communicate openly and honestly with your partner about what's going on. Try to see things from their perspective as well as your own. Work together to find a resolution that works for both of you. Be willing to compromise and accept that there may not be a perfect solution.

Take breaks if things are getting too heated, and come back to the problem when you feel calm and collected. Don't try to fix every problem on your own—consider asking a therapist or counselor for help and insight.

If you've tried everything and there doesn't seem to be a way to fix the problem, you may have to learn to accept it. This can be difficult, but try to focus on the positive aspects of your life and remember that every situation is temporary. Don't dwell on what's going wrong—instead, think about what's going right. Find support by talking to friends or family. Seek professional help if you're having trouble coping.

Davidson JE, Sternberg RJ, editors.  The Psychology of Problem Solving .  Cambridge University Press; 2003. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511615771

Sarathy V. Real world problem-solving .  Front Hum Neurosci . 2018;12:261. Published 2018 Jun 26. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2018.00261

By Kendra Cherry, MSEd Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."

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Organization and Self-Management

22 Effective Problem Solving and Decision Making

Types of decision makers.

Problem solving and decision making belong together. You cannot solve a problem without making a decision. There are two main types of decision makers. Some people use a systematic, rational approach. Others are more intuitive. They go with their emotions or a gut feeling about the right approach. They may have highly creative ways to address the problem, but cannot explain why they have chosen this approach.

Six Problem-Solving Steps

The most effective method uses both rational and intuitive or creative approaches. There are six steps in the process:

Identify the problem

Search for alternatives, weigh the alternatives, make a choice.

  • Implement the choice
  • Evaluate the results and, if necessary, start the process again

To solve a problem, you must first determine what the problem actually is. You may think you know, but you need to check it out. Sometimes, it is easy to focus on symptoms, not causes. You use a rational approach to determine what the problem is. The questions you might ask include:

  • What have I (or others) observed?
  • What was I (or others) doing at the time the problem occurred?
  • Is this a problem in itself or a symptom of a deeper, underlying problem?
  • What information do I need?
  • What have we already tried to address this problem?

For example, the apprentice you supervise comes to you saying that the electric warming oven is not working properly. Before you call a repair technician, you may want to ask a few questions. You may want to find out what the apprentice means by “not working properly.” Does he or she know how to operate the equipment? Did he or she check that the equipment was plugged in? Was the fuse or circuit breaker checked? When did it last work?

You may be able to avoid an expensive service call. At the very least, you will be able to provide valuable information to the repair technician that aids in the troubleshooting process.

Of course, many of the problems that you will face in the kitchen are much more complex than a malfunctioning oven. You may have to deal with problems such as:

  • Discrepancies between actual and expected food costs
  • Labour costs that have to be reduced
  • Lack of budget to complete needed renovations in the kitchen
  • Disputes between staff

However, the basic problem-solving process remains the same even if the problems identified differ. In fact, the more complex the problem is, the more important it is to be methodical in your problem-solving approach.

It may seem obvious what you have to do to address the problem. Occasionally, this is true, but most times, it is important to identify possible alternatives. This is where the creative side of problem solving really comes in.

Brainstorming with a group can be an excellent tool for identifying potential alternatives. Think of as many possibilities as possible. Write down these ideas, even if they seem somewhat zany or offbeat on first impression. Sometimes really silly ideas can contain the germ of a superb solution. Too often, people move too quickly into making a choice without really considering all of the options. Spending more time searching for alternatives and weighing their consequences can really pay off.

Once a number of ideas have been generated, you need to assess each of them to see how effective they might be in addressing the problem. Consider the following factors:

  • Impact on the organization
  • Effect on public relations
  • Impact on employees and organizational climate
  • Ethics of actions
  • Whether this course is permitted under collective agreements
  • Whether this idea can be used to build on another idea

Some individuals and groups avoid making decisions. Not making a decision is in itself a decision. By postponing a decision, you may eliminate a number of options and alternatives. You lose control over the situation. In some cases, a problem can escalate if it is not dealt with promptly. For example, if you do not handle customer complaints promptly, the customer is likely to become even more annoyed. You will have to work much harder to get a satisfactory solution.

Implement the decision

Once you have made a decision, it must be implemented. With major decisions, this may involve detailed planning to ensure that all parts of the operation are informed of their part in the change. The kitchen may need a redesign and new equipment. Employees may need additional training. You may have to plan for a short-term closure while the necessary changes are being made. You will have to inform your customers of the closure.

Evaluate the outcome

Whenever you have implemented a decision, you need to evaluate the results. The outcomes may give valuable advice about the decision-making process, the appropriateness of the choice, and the implementation process itself. This information will be useful in improving the company’s response the next time a similar decision has to be made.

Creative Thinking

Your creative side is most useful in identifying new or unusual alternatives. Too often, you can get stuck in a pattern of thinking that has been successful in the past. You think of ways that you have handled similar problems in the past. Sometimes this is successful, but when you are faced with a new problem or when your solutions have failed, you may find it difficult to generate new ideas.

If you have a problem that seems to have no solution, try these ideas to “unfreeze” your mind:

  • Relax before trying to identify alternatives.
  • Play “what if” games with the problem. For example, What if money was no object? What if we could organize a festival? What if we could change winter into summer?
  • Borrow ideas from other places and companies. Trade magazines might be useful in identifying approaches used by other companies.
  • Give yourself permission to think of ideas that seem foolish or that appear to break the rules. For example, new recipes may come about because someone thought of new ways to combine foods. Sometimes these new combinations appear to break rules about complementary tastes or break boundaries between cuisines from different parts of the world. The results of such thinking include the combined bar and laundromat and the coffee places with Internet access for customers.
  • Use random inputs to generate new ideas. For example, walk through the local shopping mall trying to find ways to apply everything you see to the problem.
  • Turn the problem upside down. Can the problem be seen as an opportunity? For example, the road outside your restaurant that is the only means of accessing your parking lot is being closed due to a bicycle race. Perhaps you could see the bicycle race as an opportunity for business rather than as a problem.

Working in the Food Service Industry by The BC Cook Articulation Committee is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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the rational/logical approach to problem solving is only suitable for which of the following

the rational/logical approach to problem solving is only suitable for which of the following

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the rational/logical approach to problem solving is only suitable for which of the following

6 Approaches to Problem Solving- How Does Your Mind Work?

By Lisa Woods (1630 words) Posted in Professional Development on August 17, 2017 There are ( 4 ) comments permalink

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the rational/logical approach to problem solving is only suitable for which of the following

Your ability to solve problems impacts personal success in life, success as a team, and ultimately, the success of your business. That’s why it is so important to understand your strengths and weaknesses as you approach problems. This awareness can help you gage whether or not the situation requires your skill, the skill of another team member or a combination of the two. Effective problem solving offers an opportunity to move forward, rather than mitigate a setback. If you approach a problem in that light, your solution changes, your process changes and so does your team dynamic. As a leader or manager, consider identifying the strengths and weaknesses of your team as they relate to problem solving. Once you do, you will be able to tackle problems as a powerful team and create a competitive advantage for your organization.

Here are Six Common Approaches to Problem Solving:  

How does your mind work, 1:  analytical problem solving.

An analytical thinker has the ability to get into the detail of a problem, evaluate all components & perspectives to understand it and determine what’s missing. Analytical thinkers ask questions to fill in any gaps they see in order to foresee next steps. They have confidence in their ability and make assumptions & decisions because of their constructive fact finding process. Although their assumptions are credible & decisions well supported, they may not move quickly enough to a solution if they do not have all the facts. Because their fact-finding process takes time, they may not offer any opinions unless specifically asked.

2:  Logical Problem Solving

A logical thinker has the ability to continuously collect detail and put it into sequence, allowing them to see the big picture & evaluate where the problem exists and why. Then using historical data, they infer solutions based on similar situations. If this worked before in a similar situation, it will work again in this one. The problem with inferring solutions based on past situations occurs when past situations do not exist. When the search for past situations has been exhausted or a new solution is required, the logical problem solver may be at a loss.

3: Rational Problem Solving

A rational problem solver has the ability to take information that is available & make assumptions based on that information, deducting the most optimal solution given their personal perspective. A rational person may use the words “From my perspective here is the problem and the best approach to solve it is xyz in order to achieve what I believe to be the best solution.” The problem is that although the approach may be rational for that individual, the starting point of that reasoning may be completely unjust to another. Rational problem solvers often do not see the world from perspectives other than their own.

4: Absolute Problem Solving

An absolute problem solver has the ability to see a problem as black or white and a solution as right orwrong. Absolute thinkers believe there is a right way of doing something and if there is a problem it is because those involved were unaware of the solution that exists. They try to find that solution by seeking an authoritative source that can confirm the answer. These individuals often have difficulty moving past a problem, they do not like making decisions without affirmation that they are moving forward with an accepted approach. Absolute thinkers also tend to group their thoughts based on information that they have confidence in; inferring a solution that worked elsewhere must work in a parallel situation.

5: Creative Problem Solving

A creative problem solver has the ability to envision several outcomes, make assumptions as to what needs to be done to achieve an outcome & is willing to take risks because they have confidence in their own judgment. Creative thinkers start from scratch and are not limited by steps or processes; instead they create unique paths and new solutions. The limitation of creative problem solving is often that there is no limit to the creative process. If a problem has a deadline or budget constraint, creative thinkers may struggle because they have difficulty focusing and can lose sight of more obvious solutions.

6: Positive Problem Solving

A positive problem solver has the ability to compartmentalize a problem as an individual event and seek solutions with an open mind. Positive thinkers are not restricted by fears or past results, instead they predict improvement and are more open to finding ways of achieving it. Thus they listen for opportunities to improve and collaborate. The limitation of positive thinkers is that they may not hold situations or individuals accountable when they are required to do so. This makes it possible that problems reoccur several times before solutions are put in place because they are not pragmatic enough to solve the issues.


So which approach to problem solving do you usually take? Do you find that it works for you all the time?  Some of the time?  Never ? 

Most people are skilled at one approach vs. another because that’s where their mindset naturally takes them. But when you understand the different paths, you can open the door to the best problem solving technique for a given situation.

Now that you have taken the first step of “self” evaluation, what about the people on your team? Chances are you have more than one type of problem solver among you. I challenge you to cultivate these talents and make them into a competitive advantage. Your team’s ability to solve problems quickly, creatively and successfully can be a competitive advantage for your organization. It is one thing to say your problem has been solved, it is another to say that you were able to use it as a means of improving and strengthening your business; catapulting you forward. That should be your goal, leave the short-term problem solving bandages for your competition! 

4 Steps to Making Your Team’s Problem Solving Strategy a Competitive Advantage

First, align yourself, and each of your team members with one of the 6 problem solving strengths :.

Ability to get into the detail of a problem and evaluate all components & perspectives to understand it and determine what’s missing. 

Ability to continuously collect detail and put it into sequence, see the big picture, evaluate where the problem exists and why.

Ability to take information that is available and make assumptions based on that information, deducting the most optimal solution based on personal perspective.

Ability to see a problem as black or white and a solution as right or wrong by seeking authoritative approval & consensus.

Ability to envision several outcomes, make assumptions as to what needs to be done to achieve an outcome & is willing to take risks because they have confidence in their own judgment. 

Ability to compartmentalize a problem as an individual event and seek solutions with an open mind. 

Second, take the same approach to align yourself and your team with one or more of the 6 problem solving WEAKNESSES :

Difficulty moving quickly enough to a solution without all the facts.

Difficulty developing a unique solution when comparative situations from the past do not exist.

Difficulty seeing things from perspectives other than their own.

Difficulty making decisions to move past a problem, without affirmation that they are moving forward with an accepted approach.

Difficulty focusing when faced with a deadline or budget constraint, losing sight of more obvious solutions.

Difficulty being pragmatic enough to solve the issues, allowing problems to reoccur several times before a solution is put in place.

Third, discuss the Problem Solving Evaluation Process, Strengths & Weaknesses with your team as a whole, as well as the Individual Evaluation with each team member one-on-one.

Train your team on each of the problem solving mindsets, making it an open discussion amongst them.  This will help you tackle problems more strategically when they do indeed occur. 

Work with each individual to overcome their weaknesses by leaning on other team members who can use their strengths to assist. 

Once you meet with everyone individually, it is up to you whether or not to share the conclusions with the entire team. Personally, I believe this is an important step, but it really depends on your team and if you think they are ready to share the information. You may choose to wait until positive steps have been taken to improve weaknesses, then share. Team members may also decide to share the information on their own.

Fourth and finally, you are now ready to tackle your next business problem!

Once a problem is identified-

Assign the problem to one team member to lead the solution process based on their strengths. 

Assign other team members as support based on leader’s weaknesses. 

This team approach will get you to the best, most competitive solution faster.

It all starts with the ability to self reflect and develop your own skills. Here is a really useful tool to get you and your team started, 4 Essential Skills for Leaders, Managers & High Potentials .


Lisa, a thought leader in Business Management and Leadership, founded ManagingAmericans.com in 2011 after 20+ years successfully leading and driving growth in the corporate world. Her objective is to help mentor and develop professionals to be better leaders, managers, team players and individual contributors in a “do-it-yourself” learning environment using unique & practical tools to support the process. Lisa’s career spans from Global Sales & Marketing to General Management of Multinational Conglomerates. Today she continues to consult small business owners through her private practice, as well as teach leaders and mangers as an Adjunct MBA Instructor for Southern New Hampshire University. Lisa's publications include: • 4 Essential Skills for Leaders, Managers & High Potentials © 2013 • The Cross Functional Business: Beyond Teams © 2015 • Action Item List: Drive Your Team With One Simple Tool © 2016 • Small Business Planning Made Simple: What To Consider Before You Invest © 2017

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Comments (4)

I find it to be a mix of everyone you mentioned :) although I recognized myself the most in Positive and Logical problem solver.

Thank you so much for the information about Problem Solving.

I was very happy to discover this great site. I need to thank you for your time just for this fantastic read!

Outstanding post, I believe people should larn a lot from this website, its really user pleasant.

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the rational/logical approach to problem solving is only suitable for which of the following

A Logical Problem Solving Strategy

This page was developed by David DeMuth based on: Heller & Heller, "The Competent Problem Solver, A Strategy for Solving Problems in Physics", calculus version, 2nd ed., Minneapolis, MN: McGraw-Hill, 1995.  If you are a faculty member or researcher and would like a complimentary copy of "The Competent Problem Solver", please contact McGraw-Hill Publishing @ 1-800-338-3987-3, or go to McGraw-Hill Higher Education Website . 


At one level, problem solving is just that, solving problems. Presented with a problem you try to solve it. If you have seen the problem before and you already know its solution, you can solve the problem by recall. Solving physics problems is not very different from solving any kind of problem. In your personal and professional life, however, you will encounter new and complex problems. The skillful problem solver is able to invent good solutions for these new problem situations. But how does the skillful problem solver create a solution to a new problem? And how do you learn to be a more skillful problem solver?

Research in the nature of problem solving has been done in a variety of disciplines such as physics, medical diagnosis, engineering, project design and computer programming. There are many similarities in the way experts in these disciplines solve problems. The most important result is that experts follow a general strategy for solving all complex problems. If you practice and learn this general strategy you will be successful in this course. In addition, you will become familiar with a general strategy fro solving problems that will be useful in your chosen profession.

A Logical Problem-Solving Strategy

Experts solve real problems in several steps. Getting started is the most difficult step. In the first and most important step, you must accurately visualize the situation, identify the actual problem , and comprehend the problem . At first you must deal with both the qualitative and quantitative aspects of the problem. You must interpret the problem in light of your own knowledge and experience; ie. Understanding . This enables you to decide what information is important, what information can be ignored, and what additional information may be needed, even though it was not explicitly provided. In this step it is also important to draw a picture of the problem situation. A picture is worth a thousand words if, of course, it is the right picture. (If a picture is worth a thousand words, and words are a dime a dozen, then what is a pictures monetary value?) In the second step, you must represent the problem in terms of formal concepts and principles, whether these are concepts of architectural design, concepts of medicine, or concepts of physics. These formal concepts and principles enable you to simplify a complex problem to its essential parts, making the search for a solution easier. Third, you must use your representation of the problem to plan a solution . Planning results in an outline of the logical steps required to obtain a solution. In many cases the logical steps are conveniently expressed as mathematics. Forth, you must determine a solution by actually executing the logical steps outlined in your plan. Finally, you must evaluate how well the solution resolves the original problem.

The general strategy can be summarized in terms of five steps:

The strategy begins with the qualitative aspects of a problem and progresses toward the quantitative aspects of a problem. Each step uses information gathered in the previous step to translate the problem into more quantitative terms. These steps should make sense to you. You have probably used a similar strategy when you have solved problems before.

A Physics-Specific Strategy

Each profession has its own specialized knowledge and patterns of thought. The knowledge and thought processes that you use in each of the steps will depend on the discipline in which you operate. Taking into account the specific nature of physics, we choose to label and interpret the five steps of the general problem solving strategy as follows:

Focus the Problem:

Describe the physics:, plan the solution:, execute the plan:, evaluate the answer:.

Consider each step as a translation of the previous step into a slightly different language. You begin with the full complexity of real objects interacting in the real world and through a series of steps arrive at a simple and precise mathematical expression.

The five-step strategy represents an effective way to organize your thinking to produce a solution based on your best understanding of physics. The quality of the solution depends on the knowledge that you use in obtaining the solution. Your use of the strategy also makes it easier to look back through your solution to check for incorrect knowledge and assumptions. That makes it an important tool for learning physics. If you learn to use the strategy effectively, you will find it a valuable tool to use for solving new and complex problems. After all, those are the ones that you will be hired to solve in your chosen profession.

Book cover

How to Perform a Systematic Literature Review pp 19–30 Cite as

The Aim and Scope of a Systematic Review: A Logical Approach

  • Edward Purssell   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0003-3748-0864 3 &
  • Niall McCrae   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0001-9776-7694 4  
  • First Online: 05 August 2020

6528 Accesses

A systematic literature review is a logical, linear process. By ‘linear’, we mean a purposeful activity that is performed in a sequential order, in other words, a ‘step-by-step’ process. Perhaps you have found to your cost what happens when the instructions for a self-assembly item of furniture are followed in the wrong order! The term ‘logical’ basically means the application of reason. In flat-packed furniture, every piece of wood, grommet and screw is provided for the singular goal of completing the final product. Nothing is random. As we will show in this chapter, logic is your friend when conducting a complex activity such as a systematic review.

  • Question development
  • Systematic review eligibility criteria
  • Systematic review methods

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Niall McCrae

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Purssell, E., McCrae, N. (2020). The Aim and Scope of a Systematic Review: A Logical Approach. In: How to Perform a Systematic Literature Review. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-49672-2_3

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