The process of problem solving                          6/1

# Perspective

It's time to put problem solving in perspective. The definition of a problem provides considerable insight.
Definition
A problem is a request for a result subject to conditions that must be simultaneously satisfied.
The request, the goal to be accomplished, is typically clear. Whether the problem is to tie your shoe strings, brush your teeth, land a man on the moon or compute the period of a sattelite, the ultimate goal is not in doubt. It is the process of arriving at this goal in a manner consistent with the conditions that must be simultaneously satisfied that we need to understand. Understanding this will provide us with a reliable problem solving process.

A significant step in arriving at this understanding is the realization that problem solving is a natural process. We are born problem solvers. Twenty four hours a day we solve a succession of problems.

This observation tells us how to proceed in developing an understanding of the problem solving process. We need only to look in detail at the process we use in solving these daily problems.
Start
at
the
beginning
As an example consider the process of going from the kitchen to the living room.

In the simplest situation solving this problem is straightforward consisting of walking one step after the other, turning as necessary, till the goal is reached. There are two important observations to be made. First solution of the problem required a resource, in the case at hand, the ability to walk. Second there are implied conditions to be satisfied. These might be to not walk through a closed door, avoid knocking over the vase on the stand and not stepping on the dog.

We are
born
problem
solvers
Problem solving becomes understandable once you are willing to accept the idea that problem solving is a natural process. We are born problem solvers and use a Request-Response-Result process in solving all problems. This is most straightforward in problems that involve the use of mathematics for there the methods and procedures are well defined. Subject matter problems in physics and chemistry are additional examples of problems which can be solved reliably since the concepts needed are well defined. Social and political problems are more difficult since the concepts and tools vary widely among different cultures.
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