Defining a Problem Study Guide (page 3)

Updated on Sep 19, 2011

Roadblock to Defining a Problem

Often the biggest impediment to defining a problem is speed. When you are busy, especially on the job, you may be tempted to simply deal with superficial evidence, especially when it comes in the form of an aggravation or irritation. In such as case, you act quickly, rather than stop to look and see if the problem is merely the symptom of a larger or more serious issue.

However, what seems like a time saver (quickly resolving an aggravating situation) could actually cost you more time in the long run. If you have mistakenly identified the symptoms of a problem as the true problem, as stated earlier in this lesson, then your solution will be inadequate and the real problem will still be there.

In addition to wasting time by focusing on the false problem, you should keep in mind that there are many instances when doing the right thing is actually faster and simpler that dealing with the symptoms of a problem. For instance, in the elevator scenario described previously, the real problem is that the tenants do not like the effect the extra floors have on their elevator use. When the problem is defined this way, you eliminate expensive and complicated solutions such as where to buy faster elevators or how to construct additional elevator shafts.


Solving problems is mainly a skill of recognizing patterns and then using techniques you've seen before.

In Short

Effective problem solving begins with the identification of the real problem, as opposed to the perceived problem. Do not allow the size of the problem, your own assumptions, or a lack of information stand between you and an effective solution. Think the situation through, and do not be tempted to deal quickly with consequences or symptoms of your problem instead of the actual one.

Skill Building Until Next Time

Have you ever tried to follow a recipe, only to discover three steps into it that you're missing an ingredient or that the food will need to cool in the refrigerator overnight? Always read instructions thoroughly before you begin any process so you have all the information, and utensils, you need.

The next time you try a new recipe or set up equipment, like a DVD player or a new bookcase, spend at least ten minutes reading and reviewing the instructions first. Effective problem solving happens when you know exactly what you're facing. Skill Building Until Next Time

Exercises for this concept can be found at Defining a Problem Practice Exercises.

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