Based on the QS 2019 Global Skills Gap Report Problem Solving is the topmost important skill in employers’ eyes, followed by communication and teamwork. But, it ranks way low in the satisfaction score. It is the 9th skill in satisfaction scores among 15 skills in the list. The gap is huge! Employers want it the most, but can’t quite find what they are looking for. But wait, what is it that they are looking for actually?
For the 3 months between March & June 2020, me and 5 other friends of mine were pretty busy doing research and development. (Believe me, we are normally more social, this was the quarantine time.) We focused on one of the most required but not so much fulfilled skills of 2019: Problem Solving.
p.s. I will share with you our 30-page detailed report at the end of the post. This is the kind of summary.
What is Problem Solving definition?
Problem-solving has so many varied definitions. Wikipedia says “Problem solving consists of using generic or ad hoc methods in an orderly manner to find solutions to problems.”. It is a pretty generic definition, isn’t it? Doesn’t specify what kind of problems or what kind of solutions. A better definition we found is from the University of Waterloo,
“True problem solving is the process of applying a method – not known in advance – to a problem that is subject to a specific set of conditions and that the problem solver has not seen before, in order to obtain a satisfactory solution”.
More clear, in my opinion. It says that the problem solver must not have seen the same problem in advance. This is the most important part because everybody can solve problems that they have encountered before. The real skill comes up when there is a problem nobody has ever seen before. But still, why is it so important?
Why Problem Solving is important?
Because we encounter lootss of different problems every single day! Whether at work or at home, on the way to school or with friends there are small and big, visible and invisible problems all around us, all the time.
Especially when you’re working, your job is to find solutions to the problems. Not just any solution I mean, efficient, effective, sustainable, and cost-effective solutions. You might even need to find better solutions to an already existing solution.
On the other hand, improving your problem solving skill is an most important part of improving yourself. Because as you grow older, your problems grow bigger. Do you remember your biggest problem when you were 10? Dropping the icecream was the nightmare for me. I wish I had the same problems now… 🙂
So, if we all agree on how important it is to develop this skill, how can we learn it? Can you actually teach someone how to solve problems?
Can Problem Solving be taught?
Yes, but not easily. Since it is a very general term, it is hard to teach problem solving skill and improve it. But don’t worry, there are many ways developed over the years to improve different aspects of this important skill. Some of the different aspects being: Creativity, analysis, research, communication, etc…
In the context of our project, we have analyzed both academic and business-oriented ways to teach problem solving, and even introduced an Artificial Intelligence based solution to the teaching problem. So in the report, you will see referrals to the academic papers written decades ago, as well as comments and reviews from experts within various industries working in 2020. Of course, to be able to come up with our own formula, we analyzed many existing problem solving techniques to solve problems of all kinds.
Some of the most common techniques we analyzed (more in the report)
PDCA (Plan Do Check Act) Cycle
PDCA cycle (aka Deming cycle) is an iterative four-step management method used in business for the control and continuous improvement of processes and products. It simply follows the steps of the typical scientific method: Plan is developing a hypothesis and experimental design; Do is conducting the experiment; Check is collecting measurements; Act is interpreting the results and taking appropriate action.
Lateral thinking doesn’t follow a specific methodology, it solves problems by using an indirect and creative approach, with the justification that does not appear immediately and cannot be achieved through traditional step-by-step logic. It is an alternative way of thinking developed against natural, logical, and mathematical thinking.
Root Cause Analysis
The root cause can be defined as the main reason behind any problem. In case the root cause is detected and eliminated, the recurrence of the problem caused by the root cause will also be prevented. The process performed to identify the root causes underlying the problems is called “Root Cause Analysis”
Six Thinking Hats
The Six Thinking Hats Method is used to present and systematize thoughts and suggestions in a certain order. “Hats” refer to a symbol used to separate thoughts. As the color of the hats changes, the thoughts symbolized by the color are expected to be transferred in a certain order. Each hat defines a certain type of thinking.
And we have read about so many other techniques that help people solve problems, before coming up with our own algorithm.
Our own problem-solving algorithm for training the skill
This algorithm below is not something we wrote from scratch. It is a combination of things we learned, backed up from academic literature and business experience. Discussed and updated with other external experts. We wanted to set a new order, along with the techniques we recommend to be used in each step.
Steps of the Algorithm
- Problem Definition: As Albert Einstein once said “If I were given one hour to save the planet, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and 1 minute resolving it”, we also believe that a well-defined problem is much easier to solve, and this should be the first step of the process.
- Impact Measurement & Data Collection: All the factors that are impacted by the issue or potential change is listed according to the data collected. Then, the user identifies the Critical Success Factors (CSF) and Key Performance Indicators (KPI) respectively.
- Goal Setting: Goals are significantly important since they provide a sense of direction. SMART refers to Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely goals that take all the aspects of these elements into consideration and increase the possibility of achieving them.
- Root Cause Analysis: Here, the aim is a deep understanding of the root causes that should be addressed to solve the problem. Fishbone Diagram, Pareto and 5 Why are the methods that can be used in this phase.
- Countermeasures Listing: All the possible solutions are sorted out and alternatives are generated. This helps to identify the best solution and also the actual complexity of the problem.
- Feasibility Analysis: The practicality of all the solutions listed is examined in terms of financial and technical aspects to find the best solution/s. Thanks to Zucchetti’s feedback, a sub-cycle between the feasibility analysis and countermeasures listing is added. If a solution does not seem “feasible” according to the feasibility analysis, the process goes back to the previous step to think of other possible solutions.
- Implementation: The chosen alternative is implemented and modified according to the feedback from trials and errors with an incremental approach.
- Continuous Control: In this cycle, established ongoing measures (eg. KPIs) are monitored. The long-term results are also evaluated based on the solution.
Can Artificial Intelligence help people improve Problem Solving skills?
Artificial Intelligence is being used in every kind of sector in assisting people in many ways. Of course, problem solving can not be separated. Even at this very moment, somebody is using Google Maps to find directions, which uses Artificial Intelligence to consider speed, traffic, roadworks, other people’s past data, and shows you the best route possible. So, the answer is yes. It can be used to solve problems, and it can be used to improve people’s ability to solve problems. That is why we built, with the help of Mr. Gregorio Piccoli, CTO of Zucchetti Group, a simple AI-backed Business Model Canvas Filler.
If you have come so far I hope I could give you some value or information. If so, please consider following me on my social (LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook) or subscribe to my e-mail list on the right.
We know how important it is to fill canvasses, whether it is to understand Business Model or Value Proposition, or even SWOT analysis. Therefore, we developed this filler to help the user decide what kind of information to put in which cell.
Click here to try it out yourself: Business Model Canvas Filler Online.
The Problem Solving Skill Research and Development Report
If you would like to learn more about our project you can download the full report, which includes our sources, academic literature review, and methods we suggested to improve natural problem solving (Such as MicroDYN and MicroFIN) here -> Problem Solving Skill Shortage Research & Report PDF. Also here is the presentation we made to the Professors : Problem Solving Skill Shortage Presentation.
I would like to thank my teammates Dicle Ildan, Giovanni Previato Roja, Mehmet Berk Souksu, Moritz Karl Iason Maier, Umut Sirvan for their great effort and enthusiasm during this project. And I would like to thank Mr. Gregorio Piccoli for his extraordinary effort in helping us with research & development, as well as mentorship. Also, I want to thank Prof. Antonio Ghezzi, Prof. Angelo Cavallo, Prof. Riccardo Mangiaracina, and Prof Stefano D’Angelo, for their tutorship and all the training they have given us before and during this project.