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Recognizing a Problem Study Guide

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Updated on Apr 25, 2014

Lesson Summary

We are continually faced with a series of great opportunities brilliantly disguised as insoluble problems.

John W. Gardner, American politician, former Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare (1912–2002)

If you want to begin to think critically so you can solve problems, you first have to recognize that there is a problem and decide its importance or severity. This lesson focuses on how to do just that!

We all face problems every day. Some are simple, like running low on gas in your car, and take a short period of time to solve. Others are complex and demand more time and thought. For example, someone's boss might ask him or her to figure out why the company's latest sales pitch to the most important client failed, and come up with a new one.

Once you know you have a problem, you need to prioritize—does the problem demand immediate attention, or can it wait until you are finished working on something else? If there's more than one problem, you need to rank them in order of importance, tackling the most important first.

What is a Problem?

A problem is defined as a question or situation that calls for a solution. That means when you are faced with a problem, you must take action and make decisions that can lead you to a resolution.

Problems that occur in the form of questions typically don't have one easy answer. Imagine you're asked, "Why are you voting for candidate X instead of candidate Y?" or "Why do you deserve a raise more than Tannie does?" You know the answer, but it's not always easy to put it into just a few words.

Situational problems require thinking analytically and making decisions about the best course of action. For example, Raquel learns that a coworker has been exaggerating the profits of the company for which she works—and he is doing it on orders from the company president. Should Raquel blow the whistle, jeopardizing her career? If so, to whom?

Road Block to Recognizing a Problem

One of the most common reasons for not recognizing a problem is a desire to avoid taking action or responsibility. People think that by not acknowledging the problem, they have no responsibility for solving it. This kind of thinking can cause someone to "not notice" there are only five checks left in his or her checkbook—if acknowledged, he or she would need to order more checks. Or, a worker looks the other way as faulty items come off a conveyor belt and are packed for distribution—if noticed, this should be reported to management. Then the worker might be asked to find out what went wrong.

If people don't acknowledge a problem, it could become larger and more complex, or more problems might be created. For example, if the person in the first situation doesn't notice a need for more checks and order them, he or she will run out of checks. Then, the person not only will be without checks when they're needed, but will have to go to the bank for temporary ones. And if a worker fails to report the faulty products, there could be lawsuits that might cause the company to cut staff, including the worker who first saw (but failed to recognize) the problem. Always remember, failing to recognize a problem usually creates more work—and more problems.

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