If this problem-solving thing is so important to daily life, what is it? Problem-solving is the process of observing what is going on in your environment; identifying things that could be changed or improved; diagnosing why the current state is the way it is and the factors and forces that influence it; developing approaches and alternatives to influence change; making decisions about which alternative to select; taking action to implement the changes; and observing impact of those actions in the environment.
Each step in the problem-solving process employs skills and methods that contribute to the overall effectiveness of influencing change and determine the level of problem complexity that can be addressed. Humans learn how to solve simple problems from a very early age learning to eat, make coordinated movements and communicate — and as a person goes through life problem-solving skills are refined, matured and become more sophisticated enabling them to solve more difficult problems.
Problem-solving is important both to individuals and organizations because it enables us to exert control over our environment. Fixing things that are broken : Some things wear out and break over time, others are flawed from day Personal and business environments are full of things, activities, interactions and processes that are broken or not operating in the way they are desired to work.
Problem-solving gives us a mechanism for identifying these things, figuring out why they are broken and determining a course of action to fix them. Trying to solve a complex problem alone however can be a mistake. The old adage " A problem shared is a problem halved " is sound advice. Talking to others about problems is not only therapeutic but can help you see things from a different point of view, opening up more potential solutions.
Effective problem solving usually involves working through a number of steps or stages, such as those outlined below. This stage involves: detecting and recognising that there is a problem; identifying the nature of the problem; defining the problem. The first phase of problem solving may sound obvious but often requires more thought and analysis. Identifying a problem can be a difficult task in itself.
Is there a problem at all? What is the nature of the problem, are there in fact numerous problems? How can the problem be best defined? By spending some time defining the problem you will not only understand it more clearly yourself but be able to communicate its nature to others, which leads to the second phase.
This stage involves: a period of observation, careful inspection, fact-finding and developing a clear picture of the problem. Following on from problem identification, structuring the problem is all about gaining more information about the problem and increasing understanding.
This phase is all about fact finding and analysis, building a more comprehensive picture of both the goal s and the barrier s. This stage may not be necessary for very simple problems but is essential for problems of a more complex nature. During this stage you will generate a range of possible courses of action, but with little attempt to evaluate them at this stage. From the information gathered in the first two phases of the problem solving framework it is now time to start thinking about possible solutions to the identified problem.
In a group situation this stage is often carried out as a brain-storming session, letting each person in the group express their views on possible solutions or part solutions. In organisations different people will have different expertise in different areas and it is useful, therefore, to hear the views of each concerned party. This stage involves careful analysis of the different possible courses of action and then selecting the best solution for implementation.
This is perhaps the most complex part of the problem solving process. Following on from the previous step it is now time to look at each potential solution and carefully analyse it. Some solutions may not be possible, due to other problems like time constraints or budgets.
It is important at this stage to also consider what might happen if nothing was done to solve the problem - sometimes trying to solve a problem that leads to many more problems requires some very creative thinking and innovative ideas. Finally, make a decision on which course of action to take - decision making is an important skill in itself and we recommend that you see our pages on decision making.
Implementation means acting on the chosen solution. During implementation more problems may arise especially if identification or structuring of the original problem was not carried out fully.
The last stage is about reviewing the outcomes of problem solving over a period of time, including seeking feedback as to the success of the outcomes of the chosen solution.
The final stage of problem solving is concerned with checking that the process was successful. Astrobiologists are learning from these experiences and narrowing down the criteria they use to search for aliens — but for now, that search remains unsuccessful.
Perhaps astrobiologists ought not to narrow their search criteria too far, though. Sagan referred to a carbon-centric view of alien life as "carbon chauvinism", suggesting that such an outlook could hold back the search for extra-terrestrials.
In , the discovery of bacteria with DNA containing arsenic in place of the standard phosphorus had a lot of astrobiologists excited. While these findings have since been called into question , many are still hopeful for demonstrations of life that does not follow conventional rules.
Meanwhile, some scientists are working on life forms that are not based on chemistry at all. View image of Artificial intelligence may be quite unlike "normal" life Credit: Science Photo Library.
Once the preserve of science fiction, the creation of artificial life is now a fully-fledged branch of science. At one level, artificial life can involve biologists creating new organisms in labs by stitching together parts of two or more existing life forms.
But it can also be a little more abstract. Ever since the s, when Thomas Ray's Tierra computer software appeared to demonstrate the synthesis and evolution of digital "life forms", researchers have been trying to create computer programs that truly simulate life.
There are even teams that are beginning to explore the creation of robots with life-like traits. That said, many artificial life researchers use what we know about life on Earth to ground their studies.
Bedau says the researchers use what he calls the "PMC model" — a program for example, DNA , a metabolism, and a container for example, a cell's wall. For those artificial life researchers working on non-chemical life forms, their task is to create software or hardware versions of these PMC components.
Teams from around the world have worked on individual components of the PMC model, making systems that demonstrate one or other aspect of it. So far, however, no one has assembled them all together into a functioning synthetic life form.
Artificial life research might ultimately work on a broader scale, building life that is completely alien to our expectations. Such research could help redefine what we understand by life. But the researchers are not at that stage yet, says Bedau. So if even those searching for — and building — new life are not yet concerned about a universal definition, should scientists stop worrying about trying to come up with one?
Carol Cleland , a philosopher at the University of Colorado in Boulder, thinks so. At least for the time being. Their stripes seem the obvious choice, but these are just an accident. They aren't what make zebra mammals. And it is the same with life. Maybe the things we think are essential are really just peculiar to life on Earth. After all, everything from bacteria to lions is derived from a single common ancestor , meaning that on our chart of life in the Universe, we only really have one data point.
In the words of Sagan : "Man tends to define in terms of the familiar. But the fundamental truths may not be familiar. View image of Should viruses count as living things? Until we have discovered and studied alternative life forms, we cannot know if the features we think are essential to life are actually universal.