The Five Ordered Steps of Problem-Solving
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:

  1. Use an algorithm: a problem-solving strategy that--if all the steps are followed correctly--is guaranteed to eventually lead to a solution..

  2. 2 Problems with algorithms:
    1. They may involve many steps (and doing many steps both (1) takes time and (2) uses up short-term memory's limited space). Because algorithms are often  time-consuming and involve many steps, they are called "inefficient."  Note, however, that although algorithms are inefficient, they are not ineffective: Indeed, they are foolproof formulas.
    2. Algorithms only fit problems where there are right answers. Thus, there are algorithms for solving some math problems and playing certain simple games like tic-tac-toe 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
    1. The algorithm is not the right one for that problem,
    2. You skip one of the steps (easy to do when there are many steps),
    3. You mess up one of the steps
  3. Use a heuristics: a general rule that guides problem-solving, but does not guarantee a perfect solution. You can think of heuristics as mental shortcuts, hunches, or as educated guesses. (Click here for a weather-related heuristic.)
    Examples of useful heuristics:

6 Barriers to generating new solutions

  1. Fixation/Set: a rigidity in problem-solving due to wanting to continue to do things the old way.

  2. 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.
  3. Putting limits on yourself, such as saying you can't do it (due to learned helplessness, depression, or low self-efficacy) or that you can't change (due to having a fixed mindset rather than a growth mindset).
  4. Putting limits on the solution by seeing the problem in win/lose terms when there might be a win/win solution.
  5. "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).
  6. Prematurely dismissing options. We reject an idea rather than developing it. Realize that Step 3--the evaluating ideas step--should come after, not during, Step 2--the idea generation step.


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