Analytical problem solving is a structured process of breaking a problem down to the simplest elements while analyzing possible solutions systematically.
From the beginning of time humans have been weaker and slower than predator species. We managed to survive and thrive thanks to our ability to solve problems.
Fortunately, most problems can be solved without any significant effort or technique. However, solving larger more complex problems (usually most important) can prove to be difficult, unproductive, and frustrating. It is when dealing with these more difficult problems that we will benefit from using analytical problem solving techniques. Unfortunately, most school systems today do not teach analytical problem solving techniques. And, even when we’ve learned some of the methods, we often convince ourselves we are too busy or the problem is too urgent to use analytical techniques.
If you ever worked on a large jigsaw puzzle you likely grouped similar pieces by color, shape, or texture. You were analytically solving the problem by creating structure, allowing you to focus on a smaller subset of pieces without having to continuously sort through all 500 or more pieces. More often than not, we don’t use this approach when we solve real world problems. Instead, we frequently look at all pieces at once and try to make sense of it all. This overwhelms the problem solver, influences the solution chosen, and often encourages procrastination.
Before discussing specific analytical problem solving techniques, it is important to understand how our mind works when attempting to solve a problem. Initially, we attack a problem using a divergence thought process and then we narrow our focus using a convergence thought process. Most individuals will rapidly alternate between the two while favoring convergence thinking.
When you first start to address a problem, you may look at a variety of new ideas or alternative solutions with an open mind. This is called divergent thinking. Brainstorming is a perfect example of a divergence thinking activity. Brainstorming done properly will suspend all judgment and is simply creating an inventory of ideas. Many times we get distracted by trying to rationalize our ideas, hindering our ability to maintain an open mind to new possibilities.
Convergence is a very narrow focused thinking process where we try to eliminate alternative solutions or seek closure. Convergent thinking is what most of us are good at and use instinctively. Unfortunately, this often results in tunnel vision and will assassinate creativity. Personally I am a very analytical thinker and I have to force myself to use divergence thinking. I will talk soon about how I get around this obstacle in another article.
Convergence and divergence are both required to solve problems. Without divergence we could not analyze a problem creatively or objectively, while the lack of convergence thinking would result in continuously analyzing problems without resolution.
In the future I will provide specific analytical problem solving techniques. These techniques will help you solve complex problems and arrive at better solutions.
Do you have a technique that works well for you? Let us know!