The Five Ordered Steps of ProblemSolving
Step 2: Generating Options
Step 2: Generating options Use an existing ("old" solution) or try a new
solution
Use one of two types of existing solutions:
 Use an algorithm: a problemsolving strategy thatif all
the steps are followed correctlyis guaranteed to eventually
lead to a solution..
2 Problems with algorithms:
 They may involve many steps (and doing many steps both (1)
takes time and (2) uses up shortterm memory's limited space).
Because algorithms are often timeconsuming and involve many steps, they are called
"inefficient." Note, however, that although
algorithms are inefficient, they are not ineffective: Indeed, they are
foolproof formulas.
 Algorithms only fit problems where there are right answers. Thus, there are algorithms for solving some math problems and playing certain simple games
like tictactoe but not for problems with human relationships.
Conclusions about algorithms: Even though algorithms are often called "foolproof formulas", you can go
wrong using an algorithm if
 The algorithm is not the right one for that problem,
 You skip one of the steps (easy to do when there are many steps),
 You mess up one of the steps
 Use a heuristics: a general rule that guides
problemsolving, but does not guarantee
a perfect solution. You can think of heuristics as mental
shortcuts, hunches, or as educated guesses. (Click
here for a weatherrelated heuristic.)
Examples of useful
heuristics:
 Change how you view the problem
 Try to solve a simpler version of the problem.
 Break the big problem into several smaller problems.
 Make a picture or diagram of the problem.
 Think of an analogy or metaphor for the problem
 Imagine the problem solving itself.
 Think of the problem as an opportunity.
 Use or adapt a solution that has worked in the past.
 Google it
 or ask an AI program like ChatGPT
 Ask a friend what to do.
 Ask "what would (a successful person or someone you admire) do?"
For example, you might use
Kobe Bryant's
approach to problemsolving.
 Ask "How have I solved similar problems?"
 Trial and error
 Ask "How could I make the problem worse?"  then do the opposite.
 Work backwardsThink of the final result you want (i.e., imagine
the problem perfectly solved) and then figure out what steps it would
take to get that result.
 Math problem heuristics for solving algebra problems
 Draw a diagram
 Try out numbers
 Get rid of fractions
 Get "x" isolated on one side of the equals sign
6 Barriers to generating new solutions

Fixation/Set: a rigidity in problemsolving due to wanting to
continue to do things the old way.
Examples:
 Continuing to tryunsuccessfullyto open a car door with a remote when
you
could use the key attached to the remote.
 Wanting to add 20 pounds to a barbell, so waiting until four 5pound weights
become available when two 10pound
weights are available.
 Dealing with a problem (e.g., the drug problem) by "doing more of
the same" even though the same isn't working.
 If you follow baseball, here is a video of one the
biggest mental errors (link to video on twitter, link to video on
youTube) made in the history of major league baseball
and it is due to set. If you want to understand why it was such a bad
error (there were several reasonsand see that people don't always forgive errors due to setclick
here).
 Set is sometimes a problem for game show contestantsthis
may be one example.
 Functional fixedness: a type of set where we
consider only the usual function of an object
and overlook other possible uses.
Ex: Thinking that the only
possible use for a brick is to build a wall. (Here, you can see
Duncker's Candle
Problema way of showing the power of functional fixedness).
 We don't think of as many options as we should. This is partly because
short term memory is so limited that
we can't think of many options at once (but sometimes, this failure to
examine options is due to to laziness and
arrogance). One way to get around the problem of not coming up with enough
options is to force yourself to write down at least 3 options. For
interpersonal problems (e.g., dealing with a messy roommate), you usually
have at least three options: (1) Adjust to the situation: Tolerate the
mess, (2) Change the situation: Make the roommate clean up, and (3)Avoid
the situation: Move out.
 Putting limits on yourself, such as saying you can't do it (due to
learned helplessness,
depression, or low
selfefficacy) or that you
can't change (due to having a
fixed mindset rather than a growth mindset).
 Putting limits on the solution by seeing the problem in win/lose terms
when there might be a win/win solution.
 "All or none" thinking  Looking only at extreme options ("I will quit
school or quit the band") when less extreme options are available
(e.g., going to school part time or devoting more time to the band during the
summer).
 Prematurely dismissing options. We reject an idea rather than developing
it. Realize that Step 3the evaluating ideas stepshould come
after, not during, Step 2the idea generation step.
On to Step 3Back to Step 1
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