As a problem solver, you may be working on a problem that concerns
only yourself. However, most of the time you will be working a problem
that affects others. Therefore, you should be familiar with the procedural
principles and theories that have been discussed over the centuries. There
are no established standards concerning these procedural principles and
theories. Controversy exists about some, if not all, of them. Because
they do not always apply to every circumstance, they must be considered
and applied with an open mind as you pursue problem solving.
I have abstracted some of the principles from the literature for your
guidance and investigation.
Major Procedure of Problem Solving. The use of the stages
of SM-14 and its supporting ingredients in a flexible manner is the major
procedure of problem solving. It is a system of problem solving that has
been found after centuries of study and experience to be superior to all
other methods or guides. It is basically the scientific method –
the complete method of creative problem solving.
Logical analysis is an important part of problem solving,
but creative thinking is often necessary.
Control of Variables. The control of variables in evaluation
and testing is extremely important.
Peer Review. In matters of public concern, conclusions
reached following the scientific method of problem solving should be submitted
to peer review. While the peer review system may have faults, it is still
part of the best system devised for determining reliable knowledge.
Replication. A conclusion is reached after researching
and using the stages of the scientific method of problem solving. Can
others reach the same conclusion? In other words, is it replicable?
Problem Questions. They should be testable or answerable
even if multiple hypothoses must be presented.
Statistics. Knowing how to use and develop statistics
is of great importance to problem solvers. Mathematics is said to be the
language of physics.
Trial and Error. The great importance of the scientific
method of problem solving is its superiority to trial and error. However,
there are still many times in the course of problem solving that you have
to revert to trial and error.
Evidence and Falsification. Evidence is highly desirable
to support a solution to a problem. However, some reasonable attempt must
be made to falsify a proposed solution.
Authoritarianism. This is not an acceptable way to establish
Skepticism. No statement is immune to doubt. An open
mind is essential.
Allegiance to Truth and Person Integrity. Problem solvers
must have a high regard to proceeding honestly and with high standards
of personal integrity.
Proper Credit to Co-workers and Others. Problem solving
as a universal activity will not function properly unless proper credit
for success is given.
Impartiality and Avoidance of Bias. This is highly desirable
but often difficult to obtain. Nevertheless, it is a goal.
Accidental Discovery Can Help Solve Problems. Some of
the world’s greatest problems have been solved by accident. Be alert
for accidents that may lead to solutions. The solution or lead may concern
the problem on which you are working or some other unsolved problem.
Hypothetico-Deductive (or Conjecture and Refutation) Method.
Some philosophers and others claim that this is the problem-solving method.
This method begins with the hypothesis. My advice is to disregard these
claims. The SM-14 formula is a complete one.
Predict Consequences. After you have chosen a hypothesis,
you must predict why and how something will occur. Testing these predictions
helps you challenge, justify, or falsify the hypothesis.
Ethics. Successful problem solving requires that problem
solvers follow a code of ethics. Many domains have their own codes. The
Federal government has established regulations about the integrity of
the research enterprise. See my blog at www.scientificmethod.org beginning
with the entry for March 8, 2006.
Break Complex Problems into Sub-problems. Complex problems
should be broken down into sub-problems and sub-sub-problems. Solve the
important sub-problems first. Often, solving the sub-problems first makes
the overall problem seem less complex.
Work Backward. Sometimes problem solvers find problems
that can be worked backward rather than forward.
Other Procedural Principles. Read my booklet The Scientific
Method Today at www.scientificmethod.com.