Problem-solving skills

1. Identifying the Problem

The first step to solving a problem is to identify it: You need to recognize that you have a problem and define it clearly. Job coach Dale H. Emery [] has developed a series of questions which you can use as a structured first step to solving your problem. Although the questions were originally designed for job coaches, you can still use them to draw out information on your problem that you are not aware of at the beginning. Alternatively, ask a friend or colleague to ask you the questions.

Answering those questions should help you to precisely define the problem. They will help to sort the issue and you will be able to focus your research process to gather only the specific information you require.

Identifying the problem as PDF

2. Developing your grit

When it comes to solving a problem, it is also helpful to have an understanding of how determined you are to follow through. For this, you can use the ‘Grit Scale,’ developed by Angela Duckworth.

Source: Duckworth, A.L., Peterson, C., Matthews, M.D., & Kelly, D.R. (2007). Grit: Perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 9, 1087-1101

3. Grit Pie

Based on Angela Duckworth’s concept of grit, Amy Lyon created the “grit pie”-activity with her students to teach optimism and help them become aware of their thoughts.
The steps of the “grit pie” are a creative, structured, and progressive way to approach to problem-solving.

  1. Imagine your problem as a pie, and each slice of pie symbolizes a cause of the problem. Draw your pie on a piece of paper and name your slices.
  2. For each slice, then determine whether your thoughts about the problem are either permanent (“I’ll never be good at marketing.”) or temporary (“My peers were distracting me.”), and whether you blame yourself (“I should have asked my mentor for help.”) or others (“The client asked for something impossible.”).
  3. Reflect specifically on which causes of your problem are temporary and which are your responsibility. Those are within your control, those you can tackle. You cannot solve issues that are beyond your control.

4. Interview

For this exercise, we provide questions for a guided interview you can conduct with people who you admire for their problem solving skills and grit. You can talk to friends, colleagues, or family members, however, it should be someone who once set themselves a difficult, far-off goal and was able to achieve it.
You may conduct your interview in person, over the phone, or you can also use video calls or email—whatever works best for you and your interviewee. Please keep in mind the interview etiquette, even if you are interviewing a close relative.

Suggested questions to ask (of course, you are not limited to these):

  • In your life, what has been one of the biggest problems you have successfully solved?
  • What inspired you to do it? What was your goal?
  • How did you motivate yourself?
  • How did you keep focus?
  • What was your strategy to tackle the problem?
  • What were the biggest obstacles that got in your way? How did you handle them?
  • Were there any people who helped to solve the problem?
  • How did you find support?
  • Did you ever think of giving up? If so, how did you overcome that feeling?
  • How did solving the problem change you or your life in the long-term? What did you learn from the experience?

After the interview, reflect on what aspects of the person’s problem-solving skills you would like to adopt and transfer into your own skill set. Is there a particularly prominent sentence they said you can use as a motivation or inspiration?