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This e-book covers problem solving and goal attainment in general. If you want information and expert opinion about a specific difficulty or goal, do Internet searches. Finding needed professional assistance can also be achieved with Internet searches.
The following website links will activate three of the best search engines, Google, Yahoo Search, and Google Scholar. Google scholar is designed for professional level and academic information.
If you want to carry out sophisticated searches that relate to your problem or goal, the following website link will be helpful. This link will take you to one of my websites that provides information on search strategies, and links to a large number of conventional and specialized search engines. This includes video searches, which can be helpful for some problems and goals.
Note: This website is focused on psychological information, but the information and search engines that it provides is useful for any type of information.
A GENERAL PROBLEM SOLVING METHODOLOGY
There are many books that deal with problems and goals. These books generally suggest that you can obtain almost any goal or solution by thinking positively. My book provides a different approach, which is a general problem-solving methodology, and related theory. This is focused on problems and goals of the individual, the family, business, and the physical and social sciences. The methodology consists of many techniques and strategies, to help you solve problems and obtain goals, or to obtain the best possible alternative, when solutions and goals cannot be obtained.
· Some of the techniques and strategies in this book involve:
· Problem solving with the writing process
· Obtaining funding for your goals
· Communicating with experts in written and spoken language
· Computer skills and problem-solving
· Goal setting strategies
· Destructive goal setting strategies to avoid
· How to improve your problem-solving abilities
· Creativity and problem solving
· Long-term and short-term judgments in relation to problem solving
· How to break problematic habits
· How to use the trial and error process and experimentation
· Researching on the Internet for information, funding, technical assistance, and solutions.
One of the primary ideas is the techniques presented in this book must be used as a set of tools. This involves selecting the right tools for the situation that you are faced with. However, unlike a set of metal tools, these techniques are designed to be modified in each individual case, based on the trial and error process, with the aim of obtaining a solution or goal. This is based on the idea that there are no absolute formulas that can solve every problem, but people can workout their own solutions by starting with sound techniques and principles.
The theoretical concepts in this book include general theories, of behavior and creativity, in relation to problems and goals. This leads to many theoretical and practical insights on problem-solving, which is especially useful for difficult problems and goals of all types.
This Book and Related Concepts
Each section of this book presents a set of topics. Each topic is written as an independent article, which includes background information. The individual topics or articles should be understandable as independent units, and some of these articles explain unique problem solving methodologies in detail. However, the individual articles collectively describe a unified general problem solving methodology, which I am calling: The General Problem Solving Methodology
This methodology actually consists of a number of individual methodologies that I devised or compiled.
The individual subtopics are divisions of the articles, and are not understandable as individual units. The subtopics represent a progression of ideas forming the article, and they usually relate to or refer to previous subtopics in the article.
To truly understand the utility of the methods and theories this e-book contains, you should read the entire book. The book essentially provides a set of diverse tools to deal with the challenges of all types of problems and goals. Reading selected portions of the book will provide you with an incomplete set of tools, which nevertheless will probably be quite useful and interesting.
This book was written with the assumption that the reader has at least intermediate computer knowledge and skills, and is familiar with the Windows operating system, the Internet, and word processing software. If the reader does not have the required computer knowledge and skills, it will be necessary to study the above, in order to fully understand all of the material in this book.
There are many Internet websites, books and courses that provide excellent instruction on computers, the Internet, and word processing software.
The individual articles in this book essentially comprise a complete course on problem solving, with practical and theoretical information. The beginning of the book presents simpler ideas, but as the book progresses more complex ideas are presented. A number of basic ideas are explained or presented somewhat differently in different articles in this book. Some of these basic ideas are defining the problem, creating plans to solve the problem, creativity, the writing process, the trial and error process, experimentation, funding, practice, learning and study.
This booklet does not contain very much on the conventional problem-solving and creativity techniques, which are widely available in the literature. If I wrote about all of these techniques and related theories this book would be well over 10,000 pages. In addition, many of the conventional problem-solving and creativity techniques are not very effective when applied to real world problems.
The headings in the table of contents consist of three levels. The first level is the section, the second is the topic, and the third is the subtopic. The table of contents, and the three hierarchical levels, will give you a picture of each section, as well as the entire book.
Note this subtopic presents a summary of some very important ideas about problem solving, and goal attainment, in a unique format. Many of these ideas will be discussed in detail throughout the book.
What is the best thinking strategy for the ideal problem solver: positive, realistic, or negative thinking? The best thinking strategy for an ideal problem solver is none of the above. The ideal problem solver anticipates obstacles, and failures, and then takes action to avoid the adverse outcomes. However, the ideal problem solver assumes that he cannot control everything, but he tries his best to do so. Each time the problem solver encounters an obstacle in the problem solving process, she asks the question: How can I eliminate this obstacle or circumvent it? Are there other ways that I can obtain my solution or goal? Each time the ideal problem solver encounters a true failure, he or she evaluates the situation. What caused this failure? What are all the factors that contributed to this failure? How can I repeat my efforts and succeed. Is there an alternative goal or solution that will be easier to obtain?
The ideal problem solver always looks for and anticipates negative outcomes, and tries to prevent them from occurring. The ideal problem solver also tries to anticipate opportunities and positive outcomes, and tries to maximize the chances of their occurrence. When confronted with opportunities, he tries to make the most of it.
The ideal problem solver is aware that her actions can inadvertently cause problems. Thus, the ideal problem solver tries to understand all the possible cause and effect sequences that might take place as a result of a problem solving effort. He is prepared to change strategies and methods, and correct any unanticipated adverse results stemming directly or indirectly from the problem solving effort.
The ideal problem solver is NOT limited by her knowledge, skills and abilities. This is because she studies and learns about each problem he works on. In addition, she works with experts, technicians, organizations, and anyone else that can provide assistants, when she is trying to solve a problem. The ideal problem solver does not look at any problem from a single discipline. He sees all problems as multidisciplinary challenges, which requires study, experts, and technicians from diverse fields.
The ideal problem solver searches for information, ideas, creative solutions, equipment, experts, technicians, organizations, funding, and anything else that can be used to solve a problem. The ideal problem solver does one or more of the following:
· Solving all or part of the problem herself
· Obtaining assistance from anyone that can help with the problem
· Solving the problem with expert assistance
· Organizing and managing equipment, information, funding, and a team of experts and technicians to get a problem solved
· Obtaining assistance from one or more organizations to get a problem solved
· Employing one or more knowledgeable individuals to organize and manage equipment, information, funding, and a team of experts, and technicians to get a problem solved
· Organizing information or a plan of study and practice for himself and/or for all the people working on the project, to get a problem solved.
As you read through this book, it will become apparent that problem solving and goal attainment can be considered a separate specialty, discipline, subject or course of study. The subject of problem solving is multidisciplinary in nature, and from this perspective the problem solver would be a unique occupational role or service. The role of a problem solver as a service provider, would involve learning about the clients problem, and searching for components, needed to solve the problem, such as information, equipment, materials, experts, technicians, funding, etc. The problem solver would be involved with organizing and managing everything that is needed to solve a problem. The problem solver would communicate, in written and spoken language, with everyone that is involved with the problem solving process.
That is the problem solver can be involved with obtaining: funding, a team of experts and technicians, and everything else needed to obtain a solution or goal. This could include documenting the problem or goal in written language, such as for experts and technicians, for grant proposals, and feasibility studies.
One of the primary roles of the problem solver would involve creating a plan of action to obtain a solution or goal. With complex problems, this would involve working with various experts in efforts to create the best possible plan.
The problem solver would generally be involved with extensive study involving detailed technical information, each time she is working on a problem or goal, because to optimally organize and manage a problem solving effort, it is necessary to become a technical expert. When managers without advanced technical knowledge try to manage experts working on complex problems, severe blunders are often made, because it is necessary to have technical knowledge to evaluate the problem, the alternatives, and the experts.
Another primary role of the problem solver, especially when working with an individual on personal problems, and goals, would involve an assessment of needs and values of the client. As you read through this book, it will become apparent that what constitutes an acceptable solution to a problem, or a desirable goal, or an acceptable alternative, is determined by the values of the individual(s) involved.
The problem solver works somewhat similar to a counselor or psychotherapist, but the difference would be that the role of the problem solver is not limited to counseling, psychology, or any other discipline. Counselors and psychotherapists may provide referrals to other experts. However, when the problem solver suggests specialized expert assistance, he monitors and evaluates their performance in the problem solving process.
Most personal problems and goals involve psychology. This is also true to varying degrees with most business problems and industrial projects. However, it is very rare when any problem or goal is strictly psychological in nature. Most problems and goals cannot be understood or resolved from the discipline of psychology, simply because there are usually a large number of other factors that are not psychological in nature. Of course, there are many types of personal and industrial problems that are primarily psychological in nature, but there is usually financial, cultural, social, technological, and physiological factors involved also. This can eliminate the possibility of solving the problem with only psychological methods. All of this suggests that there is truly a need for the new type of discipline and service provider that I am suggesting.
Generally speaking, all problem solving, involves a goal, which can be a solution to a difficulty, or a desirable or pleasurable objective. Most problem solving strategies require defining or delineating the problem and the goal. This essentially involves setting a goal that relates to the problem. Then a plan is created to obtain the goal. The plan generally consists of a series of steps, or procedures that will hopefully lead to the goal. More sophisticated problem solving methodologies involve many additional steps, but they will involve the three primary components, which are the problem, the goal, and the plan. This basic concept can be represented by three questions, which are:
1. What is the problem?
2. What is the goal (or solution)?
3. What is the plan to obtain the goal?
These very fundamental concepts, by themselves, will not help you very much with complex problem solving. However, these basic concepts are necessary to understand the complex methodologies discussed in this book, which will help you with difficult problems and challenging goals.
There are many factors that interfere with personal goal attainment, and problem solving. You are likely to encounter these factors whether you are working on your own objectives or trying to assist someone else. The most common factors are presented below, in approximate order of importance. Many of these factors are discussed in more detail in different contexts and subtopics throughout this book.
The individual with the problem or goal cannot follow the steps, or consistently follow the steps, needed to obtain a solution or goal, because of various emotional factors. Usually, the individual will understand the steps needed to obtain the solution or goal, but he cannot bring himself to follow the steps, or to carry out the required procedures consistently. The cause of this problem is usually partly related to habits. We develop responses and strategies to deal with the world that become habitual, and it is very often extremely difficult to change these responses and strategies even if they are highly dysfunctional. Some examples of these responses and strategies, are anxiety responses, anger responses, lashing out in anger, avoidance of unpleasant or stressful work, avoidance of physical activity and exercise, avoiding paperwork including schoolwork, poor study habits, poor eating habits, overeating leading to obesity, smoking, oversleeping, under sleeping, excessive or unjustified arguing with people, tendency to get upset at the slightest sign of failure and give up, various types of self-destructive behavior patterns, and dysfunctional problem solving strategies. There are of course a large number of other possible examples. However, the point is: these dysfunctional habitual responses and strategies CAN inhibit the new strategies, methods and related steps that we must follow to obtain our solution or goal. In addition, efforts to obtain a solution or goal are often very frustrating, time-consuming, and may cause some emotional frustration and discomfort, which can be difficult to tolerate, for many people.
Often, the above emotional components are insurmountable, and the individual might verbalize various excuses, such as I do not have the time to do that, I am too busy for that, I do not believe that will work, I am not capable of doing that, that is to difficult, etc. The individual may also agree on an intellectual level that the goal or solution in question is certainly desirable. He may also agree on an intellectual level that he must apply himself, and carry out the new strategies, methods and related steps to obtain the solution or goal. However, on an emotional level the individual may disagree with his own intellect, and may be unwilling to carry out the new strategies, methods and related steps to obtain the solution or goal. This is more likely to happen when there is some discomfort associated with the effort needed to obtain an objective. 1111111fixSSaturday, November 08, 2008 The best solution for this type of difficulty is to make repeated attempts to follow the required methods and related steps that are needed to obtain the solution or goal. When this is done, most of the initial attempts might be unsuccessful or only partly successful. However, if the attempts are continuously repeated, after a period of weeks or months many improvements, or successful outcomes, will usually be obtained. If this is continuously practiced, eventually the new strategies and methods needed to obtain a solution or goal will become less disagreeable, and habitual, with more successful outcomes. When this is done properly, most people will eventually solve at least some of their very difficult problems and obtain some of their very challenging goals. However, it might require many months or years of effort, and it might involve many repeated failures, until success is obtained. Right attitude and techniques prolonged endeavors of this type can be carried out in a way that is pleasantly stimulating and challenging. (A number of subtopics in this book deal with habits, which offers additional solutions to this difficulty.)
The second major barrier to personal problem solving, is a trap- like-situation that often develops with personal difficulties and goals. The trap-like-situations generally involve inhibiting factors from other problems or from the general life situation that the individual is in. The following examples will clarify this idea. If a minimum wage worker, with a sixth-grade education wants to improve his circumstances by obtaining a college degree, to improve his job opportunities and financial condition, he will usually be trapped. He may have to work 40 hours a week or more, and this will make it very difficult for him to attend any type of school, study and pass examinations. In addition, it is unlikely that a trade school or a college would accept him without a high school diploma. Another example is an individual that needs a medical procedure, and cannot work full-time because of a medical condition, but they do not have adequate insurance, and cannot pay for the procedure, because they are to ill to work full-time. Still another example is an overweight young man or woman that eats excessively because he or she is depressed, which is primarily caused by medical and social problems stemming from being overweight.
There are many more possible examples, but generally most personal problems have at least some degree of a trap- like-quality, but not necessarily to the extent illustrated in the above examples.
The solution to this situation is to try to ease out of the adverse set of circumstances in a series of stages. For example, the minimum wage worker, could engage in self-study, and attend night school to improve his literacy, and academic skills to obtain a high school equivalency diploma. This might take a number of years and involve a number of failures, but with persistence, success would probably be obtained. If the individual truly became more knowledgeable and literate, he could probably obtain a higher paying job, apply to trade school or college. When he is ready to apply to college, he would be eligible for financial aid, and student loans, and he would not have to work full-time while he is in college. In the case of the depressed overweight individual, an exercise program, coupled with psychotherapy, and psychiatric treatment for the depression and the overeating, with antidepressants, might eventually solve the problem.
In general, escaping from trap like situations, such as the above examples, involves careful thinking, planning and figuring out a way of easing out of the adverse situation. This usually must be carried out in a series of stages, which will probably involve many failures, before success is obtained.
The difficulty with many trap-like problematic situations is there is often no apparent solution. Escaping from the problematic trap-like-situation can involve a very imperfect and incomplete plan in the very beginning, which can be improved after working on the problem for a period of time. However, with many personal problems the trap-like-components are much less severe than the above examples. In general, it is useful to evaluate all problems and goals, to assess the degree of trap like circumstances that may be involved. This will allow for devising methods of eliminating the difficulties, usually in a series of stages.
Probably the third most important difficulty in solving problems and obtaining goals is lack of money. Most problem solving and goal attainment efforts are very expensive. For example, obtaining a college degree, purchasing a new home, moving to a new locality, can cost thousands of dollars.
This situation is discussed in detail in another section of this book, and briefly the solution is to find various sources of funding, such as government and private grants, special loans, obtain additional employment, and/or start a savings plan.
Lack of time is often used as an excuse, but it can very often be a valid difficulty that interferes with problem solving and goal attainment. Very often people have poor time management skills, which can involve inadequate priority setting. For example, excessive television watching, spending an excessive amount of time socializing, spending excessive lengths of time on housework and spending excessive amounts of time shopping. There are many more examples, but generally these activities can be greatly reduced or even eliminated, which can be unacceptable or difficult for some individuals. This can make many goals such as completing college impossible. In addition, employment can take up a considerable amount of time for most people.
The solution to this difficulty is obviously setting priorities, and eliminating unnecessary activities. The importance of an activity can be assessed by asking your self the question, what impact this activity would have if I reduced it, or eliminated it, in one week from now, one month from now, one year from now, five years from now. If the answers to these questions are essentially zero impact, the activity in question might not be very important, and can possibly be reduced or eliminated. There are generally many activities that can be done quicker, more efficiently, if you carefully evaluate the situation. Another good solution is to allocate fixed time intervals to work on your problem or goal, such as studying college work everyday, from 6 PM to 10 PM, which allows plenty of time for other activities, such as employment, housekeeping, and recreation. Another example is goals related to physical exercise, can be done during recreational time, such as exercising while watching television.
A major difficulty that people often face with problems and goal attainment efforts is confusion about relevant information. There is usually a tremendous amount of contradictory information (or information that appears to be contradictory) in relation to many personal problems and goals. One of the best examples in this regard is nutrition and weight control. People, without adequate knowledge of nutrition, are generally extremely confused. They switch from one dieting strategy to another in an attempt to lose weight. This can include misinterpretation of the various diet concepts, and in proper attempts to lose weight with various diet plans.
This problem can be dealt with by prolonged study of information that has been scientifically evaluated. If the above appears to be one of your difficulties, you can ask experts what is good reading material to study. For example, you can ask your physician, if he recommends any books on diet and nutrition. Consulting experts for assistance and information can also be very helpful.
In addition, careful evaluation of information and methods can be quite useful. Evaluations of successful results generally can be evaluated based on time intervals of one to three years, with some exceptions of course. Wednesday, November 05, 2008ddddddddFor example, if you ask a friend if a specific diet, exercise program, or medical procedure is successful or beneficial, ask about relevant time intervals. If they state that they have been on diet-X for two months, and it is excellent, their statement has little validity. However, if they state that they have been on diet-X for two years, and lost all their excess weight, their statements have at least some validity. However, the most important strategy to use when you are unsure of what is really valid information or procedures is to employ the trial and error process to determine what works in your individual case.
Sometimes a problem is so difficult that the individual involved, simply does not feel it is worth the cost in time, money, and effort to make an attempt to obtain a solution or goal. This is a value judgment, and it can be quite sensible, for some individuals, and some objectives. However, it can also be an example of poor judgment and/or a psychological disorder, when the problem involves life-threatening habits, or when giving up will lead to severe financial or social problems, or other severe consequences. (Mental health and mental illness are based on value judgments, but most experts would probably agree that any behavior pattern that is severely self-destructive can be classified as a psychological disorder in most cases.) For example, if an individual gives up hopes, or goals, of opening his own business, or buying a second home in the wilderness for vacations, the decision is almost certainly rational. However, if an individual gives up on a severe life-threatening overweight problem, or a life-threatening addiction problem, the decision is most likely the result of poor judgment and/or a psychological disorder.
When decisions to give up are rational, there is no problem and no solution is needed. However, it is always a good idea to keep an open mind, and goals that are too difficult at one point in time, might be easier at a later point in time. Of course, they may also be more difficult at a later point in time. Nevertheless giving up can be a sensible strategy in many cases.
However, the second category of problems discussed above, (involving life-threatening habits or problems that threaten the financial or social well-being of the individual) presents a serious challenge that requires at least an attempt at a solution. Part of the solution should include professional assistance from mental health providers, and a general effort to alleviate psychological difficulties. This should be coupled with ongoing efforts to alleviate or solve the life-threatening or otherwise destructive problem.
In the previous topic three questions were asked, in such a way as to convey some general ideas, and to stimulate thinking. These questions were: What is the problem? What is the goal (or solution)? What is the plan to obtain the goal? These questions can be answered many different ways depending on the circumstances. Some other examples of questions in this category are: What are the worst five experiences you ever had? What are the best five experiences you ever had? What makes an experience good for you? What makes an experience bad for you? What is the biggest success you have had, and what caused it? What is the biggest failure you ever had, and what caused it? What are the factors that help you succeed? What are the factors that interfere with your success or cause you to fail? Can you list all the factors that help you succeed, and all the factors that help you fail? What are five of your worst problems, and what are all the possible ways that you might be able to solve them? There are many more examples of questions of this type in various sections of this book.
I have found that a series of questions of the type presented above, sometimes coupled with instructions, and/or explanatory text, can be a very effective way of stimulating the thought processes of readers. It is also a good way of facilitating and guiding creative thinking. This is especially useful for explaining general problem solving procedures, and for constructing certain types of problem solving templates. 1111112345Monday, November 03, 200809:37:07---- I am calling this technique: Creative Instructional Questioning. I am also calling it CIQ method, or CIQ. I am calling the questions Creative Instructional Questions.
The CIQ method is primarily for guiding and stimulating creative thinking, and to convey general instructions, especially for problem solving. Specifically, the CIQ method involves a series of related questions that are designed to guide the reader’s thinking within certain parameters, especially in relation to creative problem solving. That is unlike conventional questions that have one correct answer, CIQ involves questions that are designed to facilitate innovative assessments, and the questions can be interpreted and answered many different ways, but within certain limits. The series of questions may be combined with various instructions, such as how to perform various steps or procedures, especially in relation to the problem solving process. CIQ method can also be useful to convey certain general ideas, especially when the goal is to stimulate the readers thought processes.
The Creative Instructional Questioning method can also be thought of as a problem solving method. Specifically, when you have a problem, you can create a series of Creative Instructional Question similar to the above, which relate to your problem or goal. Then try to answer them, which ideally should be done in writing, with word processor software, on a computer screen. Providing details in your answers, including explanations, will help you develop insight and stimulate your creative thinking even more. With this method, the more you write, the more you will gain. This is not difficult writing, because you do not have to worry about other people understanding it. You do not have to be concerned about grammar and spelling. The only important idea here is that you understand your writing. If you decide, for some reason, that you want to show your creative thoughts to others, you can always revise your writing at a later point in time.
The following topic employs the Creative Instructional Questioning method and the writing process. This topic will further clarify the CIQ method, and illustrate how it can be used for problem solving.
The following series of questions will guide you through the creative problem solving process. These are Creative Instructional Questions, as explained in the previous topic. These questions should be answered in writing, on a computer screen, with word processor software (such as Microsoft Word). As explained above, the more details you provide in your answers the better. The more you write with this method the better. As previously stated, keep in mind that you are writing to stimulate your own thought processes, and you do not have to be concerned about other people understanding your writing. You do not have to worry about spelling or grammar. If you decide to show your writing to others, you can always revise it, at a later point in time.
Any of the questions that are presented below, should be modified if they do not relate to your objective, or if you do not understand them. As you read through these questions, you should also create your own Creative Instructional Questions that relate to your specific problem or goal.
1. What is the nature of your problem? What are all the possible causes of your problem? List all the possible causes that you can think of. When you complete your list, rearrange it by placing the most likely causes on top of your list and the less likely causes at the bottom of your list, in descending order of importance.
2. What are all the contributing factors to your problem? List all the factors that may be contributing to your problem. These factors do not have to be the original or primary cause of the difficulty. When you complete your list, rearrange it so that the most significant factors are on top of your list, and the least significant are at the bottom of your list, in descending order of importance.
3. What are all the possible solutions to your problem? List all the possible solutions to your problem. When you complete your list rearrange it so the best solutions are on top of your list and the less desirable solutions are at the bottom of your list. Then create another list by rearranging the possible solutions based on the relative degree of feasibility of the solutions. Place the easiest solutions on top of your list, and the more difficult solutions at the bottom of your list.
4. Do you have enough information to devise a plan, involving a series of steps, to solve your problem? If not, what components would you need to help you create and carry out a feasible plan to solve your problem? Would expert assistance, such as from a physician, a lawyer, an instructor, or guidance counselor, help you? Are there any organizations that can possibly help you with your problem? Would money help you create and carry out a plan to solve your problem? Would additional information be helpful in creating a feasible plan to solve your problem? Would equipment, tools or materials be helpful for your problem solving efforts? List all the components including equipment, tools, and assistance that you would need to create and carry out a successful plan, to solve your problem. How can you obtain these components? List all the possible ways that you can obtain the resources, equipment and assistance you need to solve your problem.
5. Can you now create a plan that will lead to a solution? If not, create the best possible plan, and start working on your problem, and as you gain experience and information, you can improve your plan.
6. If you created a plan to solve your problem, what are all the possible ways that you can improve your plan. List all the possible ways of improving your plan, and place the most feasible methods on top of your list.
7. How can you increase the chances of obtaining an optimum solution to your problem? List all the possible ways that you know of. (In general, you must use the trial and error process, seek assistance from experts, and study information about your problem from various sources, to successfully solve it.)
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8. If you cannot solve your problem, what would be a good alternative to a solution? List all the possible alternatives to a solution, or all the possibilities that will improve your problematic situation. Then rearrange the list in order of feasibility, with the most feasible alternative on top of the list. Then create a second list, with the best alternative on the top of your list, and the least desirable alternatives on the bottom of your list. Keep in mind that the most desirable alternative can sometimes be unrealistic, excessively difficult, or less feasible then less desirable alternatives. However, this is certainly not always the case. Very often, the most desirable alternative is the most realistic and best choice.
9. When you complete your problem solving efforts answer the following questions: Did you succeed in your efforts? Did you partially succeed in your efforts? If not, what are all the possible causes for the failure? List the possible causes in order of importance. Then try to obtain more information and assistance, and consider the possibility of repeating your efforts to solve your problem or obtain your goal.
The above problem solving concept will be presented in various sections in this book in more detail, and combined with other techniques.
A very important general principle that applies to most strategies, technologies, methods, and tools is when they are first utilized they are often less efficient than older ways of doing things. The older ways usually appear to be simpler, more efficient, and more logical because we are more experienced with them. When dealing with anything that is new often requires learning and a psychological adjustment. When we are faced with new procedures or equipment we may notice a significant drop in our efficiency, until we master the needed skills and adjust to the new situation. When faced with anything new we should be prepared to practice and employ the trial and error process to help us learn and adjust to the new ways. All of this simply means that it is necessary to use new strategies, methods, technologies and tools for awhile before making final judgment. All of these ideas apply to this book, because it offers new strategies, technologies, methods, and tools for problem solving and goal attainment.
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Good problem solving plans and techniques provide alternatives, which is a very important concept mentioned throughout this book. Thus, I will provide an excellent alternative for the software mentioned above, which is OpenOffice.org 2.0. OpenOffice.org is an excellent word processor that will open any Microsoft Word document, including the electronic version of this book. OpenOffice.org is very easy to use, and it functions similar to Word. OpenOffice.org has a huge number of features, and it appears to be as good as Microsoft Word. OpenOffice.org has almost all of the features that Word has, including a spell checker that indicates errors as you type by underlining in red. OpenOffice.org is combined in a free software package, which includes all the features of Microsoft Office. This includes spreadsheets, presentations, and tools to insert photographs, create drawings, diagrams, and mathematical equations.
Many of the techniques in this book require a computer and word processor software. If you do not have a high-quality word processor you can obtain one of the best, OpenOffice.org, for free. One of the very few advantages Microsoft Word has over OpenOffice.org is popularity. This could be important if you are searching for employment, because many jobs require a high degree of experience with Microsoft Word. If this does not apply to you, I suggest you do not purchase any word processor software, and use the OpenOffice.org.
OpenOffice.org does not stop working after a predefined trial period, and it can be used for commercial purposes. You can make as many free copies as you want, and distribute it to friends, family, and business colleagues, according to its open source license agreement. Even if you have Microsoft Word, you should obtain this software package. To obtain OpenOffice.org and its related software package for spreadsheets, and presentations, click on this link: www.openoffice.org If you are using the hard copy of this book type the above into your address bar and press Enter.
This book is written in the form of an electronic book. This format is often called an E-book, ebook, or Ebook. One of the primary advantages of an E-book is computerized links, which can be incorporated directly into the text. There are a number of different types of links that can be added to an electronic document, such as hyperlinks, icons, and embedded documents, and many variations of the above. Links can be used to activate software on your computer from an electronic document. Links can be used to open other documents, activate web pages on the Internet, download software, connect to other computers, dial the telephone, and in theory can be used to operate any type of device that can be controlled by a computer, even if it is thousands of miles from the electronic document that contains the controlling links.
The most comment type of link is the hyperlink. Hyperlinks are widely used on the Internet, such as http://www.google.com
Another variation of hypertext is used for e-mail addresses, such as the following hypothetical e-mail address: email@example.com The first link will take you to the Google web site and search engine, and the hypothetical e-mail address will activate your e-mail software.
In Microsoft Word, and in many other word processor programs, to create an Internet hyperlink you only have to type the link, and press the Enter key. The software will figure out that you want an active Internet hyperlink, by recognizing www. For e-mail links the software will recognize @, and assume you are writing an e-mail address. This means you can simply type any Internet address in a Microsoft Word document, and it will automatically take you to the website, if you click on it with the mouse.
However, there are often mechanisms built in to the software that restricts activation of hyperlinks. This is for security purposes and to prevent the accidental activation of links while working in a document. In Microsoft Word, it is usually necessary to press the Ctrl key while left clicking with the mouse. However, if you click on Tools, Option and Edit, you will see a box with the words Use CTRL + Click to follow hyperlink. If there is a check mark placed in that box it will be necessary to use the Ctrl key and the mouse to activate hyperlinks. If you remove the check from the box it will not be necessary to use the Ctrl key. However, this box is usually checked, by default, and in less it is unchecked, it is generally necessary to press the Ctrl key while clicking the mouse to activate hyperlinks, in Microsoft Word.
Hyperlinks can also be used to open documents and activate software on your computer. When hyperlinks are used for this purpose it is often necessary to edit them if you make any changes in your computer that affect the location of relevant documents or software. This same idea applies to web sites also, if they change their web address. That is if the address of any component hyperlinked to a document changes, the link becomes useless, unless it is re-established, by applying it to the new address. How to do this is explained in the following paragraphs. However, first it is necessary to explain how hyperlinks to documents and software can be created.
In Microsoft Word you can create hyperlinks to other documents and software, by first placing the cruiser in the location where you want the hyperlink. (Alternatively, you can select text to use as the hyperlink.) Then click on word Insert and the menu will open. Then scroll down to Hyperlink and click on it. Then another menu will open, which allows access to all of the files and software on your computer. Select the relevant software or document, and click on OK. Then you should have a hyperlink in your document.
Alternatively you can create hyperlinks in Microsoft Word by simultaneously pressing Ctrl and k key, and a menu will open, which will provide access to all your files on your computer. Select the file you what to link to, and click OK.
When a hyperlink fails to work, such as when the address has changed the hyperlink can be re-established by repeating the above. Alternatively, you can place the cruiser on the link, and left click with the mouse, and a menu will open. Click on Edit Hyperlink and another menu will open, which will provide access to all of the files on your computer. Select the relevant file and click OK.
Icons can be hyperlinks that consist of some type of graphic, such as a photograph or sketch. To create a hyperlink with a graphic, select the graphic, and follow the same procedures described above for creating hyperlinks with words.
Another way of creating icons directly in a document is to cut and paste the conventional Windows icons directly into your document. This method does not always work well, but it does not cause any harm when it fails. A better way of placing icons into a Microsoft Word document is to use the special paste function. This involves placing the cruiser where you want the icon pasted in your document, then selecting the icon with the Windows copy function. However, before pasting it, click on Edit, and a menu will open. Then scroll down to the words Paste Special and click on it. Then a dialog box will open. Scroll down to the type of object you want to paste, such as a Microsoft Word document, an Excel worksheet, a Shortcut Object, a file. If you are not sure of the correct selection, select file, or you can use trial and error with the other settings. In addition, in this box place a check mark on Paste Link, and a check mark on Display as Icon. Then you can paste the icon into your document, by clicking on OK.
A Very important note: Conventional Windows icons placed in a document, require a double-click to activate, in the same way that they are activated on the Windows desktop. However, if an icon is created with a hyperlink and a drawing or photograph it requires only one click, and usually the Ctrl key as well if it is in Microsoft Word.
Embedded documents are another type of link, which can be very useful and interesting. For example, the following embedded document was created with Excel, and if you click on it, you can change the numbers (n, k, A, and B) and it will perform the indicated calculus computation automatically, if you have Excel on your computer.
There are a number of ways that embedded documents can be inserted into a word processor or program. In Microsoft Word, you can create embedded documents, similar to the method described above for creating icons, but do not select Paste Link, and Display as Icon. Specifically, the steps are: place the cruiser where you want the embedded document, then select the document you want to embed with the copy function. After this, click on Edit, Paste Special, and then select the type of object you want to paste, such as an Excel worksheet, or a Microsoft Word document, and then click OK. If you select the wrong type of object, you might end up with an image that does not function as intended. If this happens, you can delete the object, and try again.
There are other ways of creating icons and embedded documents in Microsoft Word, and in many other word processors. The alternative method in Microsoft Word, involves placing the cruiser where you want the document or icon placed. Then click on Insert, and a menu will open. Then, scroll down to Object and click on it. After this another menu will open with a list of objects that can be inserted into Microsoft Word. Scroll down the list until you find the object you want to insert. Then click OK, if you want an embedded object. If you want an icon instead of an embedded object, place a check mark in the box that states: Display as Icon.
There is a problem with hyperlinks, icons and sometimes embedded objects that result when a document was created on one computer, and is being viewed on another computer. Because of differences in configuration of the software on different computers, hyperlinks, icons, and occasionally embedded objects do not function. Part of the reason this often happens is the addresses of the files are different on each computer. This can be corrected by editing or re-creating the links on the viewing computer.
This book contains hyperlinks, icons and embedded objects, which may or may not work on your computer, as a result of the above. Most likely, some of the links will function on your computer, and some will not. However, the primary idea here is that the links should be edited on the viewing computer, so they function properly. How to do this was explained above.
I have found that embedded objects and icons that relate to specific documents that are recorded on the same CD as the primary document are usually quite reliable. However, hyperlinks very often have to be edited or re-created on each computer, especially when they relate to the location of software on the computer. However, hyperlinks and icons that relate to websites and specific web pages, usually function perfectly on any computer, because the addresses are the same on all computers. The same applies to hyperlinks that link one section of a document to another section in the same document. For example, hyperlinks from the table of contents of an electronic document will usually function on any computer.
Later on in this book a problem solving methodology will be discussed that uses computerized links and other techniques. Thus, it can be quite useful to master the techniques discussed above, because they can be helpful in the problem solving process. Keep in mind, that to master any computer technique requires trial and error learning coupled with practice. If you want additional information about the above techniques you can conduct an Internet search for more information. You can also obtain some useful information from the help menu in Microsoft Word.
One of the many problem-solving skills emphasized in this booklet is Internet searching. There are many highlighted words in this book that are meant to be used as search terms, such as: brainstorming, fuzzy logic, problem solving software, set theory. That is when you see words that are highlighted I am suggesting that you use the words to conduct an Internet search, if you are interested in additional information. This will usually provide one or more of the following:
· Information on organizations, retail outlets, experts, technicians, software, funding and other resources that relate to a problem. (This is often the most important set of components for problem-solving.)
· More detailed information on the topic I am discussing in the booklet (Searching for additional information is also important for most complex problem-solving efforts.)
· An alternative or traditional point of view on the topic that I am discussing in the booklet (Additional points of view can stimulate creative thinking, and can also lead to solutions.)
· A different description of the topic I am discussing in the booklet (This can provide comprehension and insight which is also important for problem solving.)
Usually a search with the highlighted terms in this book can provide many thousands of results, which is generally the case with most Internet searches. Obviously, it would be impossible to review all such results. You can sometimes refine your search, and reduce the number of unwanted results, by placing the words in quotation marks, such as “How to conduct an Internet search” This works with some search engines, such as Google, or Google Scholar. However, this can sometimes produce no results, or eliminate the results you are looking for. Often, the best strategy is to start your search with quotation marks. Then repeat the search without the quotation marks, if you do not obtain ideal results with the first attempt.
To obtain the best search engines click on the Blue Web links in this subtopic. Google ( http://www.google) is the best search engine when you want to make an extensive search. Google Scholar (http://www.google.com/scholar ) focuses on academic and scientific material, which is generally at an advanced level. Google groups http://groups.google.com/?hl=en& is a search engine primarily focused on the opinions of individuals, which can sometimes be very useful when you are trying to determine how individuals experience products, services, life experiences, etc. However, sometimes the search engine at Yahoo! (http://www.yahoo.com) produces better search results than any of the above, because it is usually more selective. Thus, when you are doing your searches do not overlook Yahoo!
If you were not using the four search engines mentioned above, you have no idea what the Internet is really about. Most of the other search engines, with some exceptions of course, usually produce a relatively limited number of results, which are aimed at selling you products, as opposed to providing information. However, you should become familiar and skillful with a number of search engines, because even the less useful search engines sometimes produce good results.
One of the best ways of becoming familiar with a large number of search engines is to obtain the Girafa toolbar, and/or the Advancedsearchbar. These toolbars contain well over a dozen search engines, including Google and Yahoo! You can obtain these toolbars by clicking on the Internet links at the end of this subtopic. However, before you do so, you should have knowledge of how to uninstall them, in case they cause problems with your system, which they sometimes do. (Do an Internet search for uninstalling software in Windows)
Toolbars of this type, also sometimes spontaneously download many pop up advertisements and Spyware. This can slow down or jam up your computer. If you use the Internet, even without these toolbars, you are likely to have serious problems with pop up ads, and Spyware, unless you have an anti-Spyware program on your system that you run regularly. You should of course also have antivirus software on your system. If you are not familiar with the above, do an Internet search for all of the following: anti-Spyware, Spyware, viruses, and antivirus software.
To obtain the Girafa toolbar click on the following Web link:
Click on http://www.advancedsearchbar.com/index.html to obtained the Advancedsearchbar.
It is very useful to have icons on the Windows desktop of the search engines you find most useful. Once you have an icon of a search engine, you just click on it, and the engine opens, and it is ready to be used. To obtain icons for over 100 search engines, click on the following link. Search Engines
This folder is very useful, and you can copy it, and place it on a convenient place on your computer, such as the Windows desktop.
The search engine folder that I created has some advantages over the toolbars mentioned above. First it contains more search engines than any of the toolbars, and it does not attract Spyware or pop-up advertising, in the way that toolbars do. It is also easy to organize the search engines in the folder I created. You can remove the search engines that you do not use very often to another folder. However, you might want to create your own icons and search engine folder. You can learn how to make your own icons by reading the following paragraph.
There are two ways of making icons in the Windows operating system, but one of the two will only work if you are using Internet Explorer. With Internet Explorer when you are at a website of any type, including a search engine's website, you can create icons by right clicking with the mouse. Then a menu opens, and you then click on create shortcut. Then a box opens, asking you if it is OK to place the icon on the desktop, and you should click on yes. If you want to know more about creating icons click on this link http://www.ehow.com/how_14057_create-internet-explorer.html or do an Internet search with the following terms: how to create icons in Internet Explorer, making icons of websites, how to create icons in Netscape, how to create icons.
To search the Internet there are two basic components that are required, one is a browser, and the other is a search engine. The browser is software on your computer, which opens web pages on the Internet, or any document that you have on your computer that is in the web page format (HTML). A search engine is essentially software on a website, which generally involves a powerful computing system that searches the Internet. I have not noticed much of an advantage from one browser to another, but as noted previously, I found a tremendous difference between search engines. Internet Explorer is the most popular browser, and it is compatible with just about any website, and it is essentially part of the Windows operating system. That is if you have Microsoft Windows, you will have Internet Explorer. If Internet Explorer is not loaded into your system, you can obtain it from the Windows CD, or directly from Microsoft's website, by clicking on this link: http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/Products.aspx?displaylang=en
Some of the other browsers might occasionally encounter an error as a result of compatibility with a website, but it is generally not a problem. You can have a number of browsers on your computer, in the same sense that you can have a number of word processors. If you want to obtain additional browsers, click on the links below. However, the warnings previously given for toolbars, regarding Spyware and other problems, also applies to the browsers.
Firefox 1.5.exe http://www.mozilla.com/
The second page of this book presents a problem, with the statement: To truly understand the utility of the methods and theories it contains, it is necessary to read the entire book. What do you do if you do not have the time to read the entire book? Keep in mind that this problem is not limited to this book. Students, instructors, business people, homemakers, and everyone else are faced with excessively large amounts of material to read. In addition, the problem solving process often involves extensive study, which usually requires reading a huge amount of material. The most important problem solving skill is the ability to read and study a large amount of text, and successfully learn from the effort. This leads us back to the problem in the beginning of the paragraph: What do you do if you do not have the time to read large amounts of material.
Since this is a book on problem solving, I will use the above to illustrate some general methods of solving problems of this type. The first step is to define (delineate, or described) the problem. This ideally should be done in a way that will lead to a solution that will be useful for many similar problems, which usually provides maximum benefit for your investment of effort, time and money. Often a problem can be defined in terms of a question, which in this case is: How can I manage to read large amounts of material, such as this book, when I do not have the time to do so? Before I attempt to find a solution, I am asking you to try and come up with your own solution to this problem.
There are of course many obvious solutions, such as: read a few pages every day until you complete this book, or any other long reading assignment. Another obvious solution is: read the interesting or important topics, and glance over the rest of the material. Still another possible solution is to study speed reading. These are all commonsense solutions. There is nothing wrong with commonsense solutions. Sometimes this is the best approach, and some of the strategies in this book are based on commonsense. However, this book goes beyond the commonsense ways of solving problems. This can involve unique strategies, methods, theories, and technologies.
The solution to the above problem is simply to listen to this book or any other material that involves many pages of text. Listening can be done while you are doing something else, such as cleaning the house, traveling on the bus, taking a walk, etc. However, this does not appear to make sense, and it seems impossible, which is often the case with many good solutions. How can you listen to a book? This brings us to another important principle about problem solving, which is to postpone final judgment. Often people believe that a problem cannot be solved, and they reject any possible solution as impractical, or nonsense. The above idea, listen to this book or any other lengthy document is actually quite possible, and how to do this is explained in the next paragraph.
There is special software that you can download from the Internet for free, simply by clicking on the links on the end of this paragraph. This software will read aloud any text on a computer screen, including this book, assuming you have it in electronic format. The software will also read aloud text on any website. In addition, it will also read any documents you typed on your computer. This might sound strange to you. Computers don’t read and talk, do they? They answer is computers read text in spoken language, better than human beings, with good quality text-to-speech software?
This might sound pretty good to you, but it gets even better. The software can convert several dozen pages in a few seconds into audio files, which can be recorded on CD-R or an MP3 player. For example, to transform 50 pages of text, into sound, and put it on a CD or a MP3 player will take about three minutes. Once the text is converted and recorded, you can listen to this book, or any other text, on a portable CD or MP3 player. When this is done, you can listen to text anywhere, such as while shopping, while traveling, while jogging, while waiting online, etc.
If you do not have a portable CD or MP3 player, they are very inexpensive. A portable CD player can cost anywhere from $15 to about $100. A portable MP3 player is more expensive, but it is probably better for most people, because they generally do not have any moving parts, and can hold bigger files. Portable CD and MP3 players are available at almost any store that sells portable electronic devices.
I purchased the COBY MP-CD511 portable CD player, (approximately $30) because it is especially useful for the purpose described above. It can play a number of formats besides the conventional CD format, such as MP3 files, CD-R, and CD-RW.
The text-to-speech software to read text on the computer screen, or convert it to sound files for portable devices, is available from the number of manufacturers. Most of the brands of text-to-speech software can be downloaded from the Internet and used for free for a trial period of 15 to 30 days. After the trial the software can be purchased with a credit or debit card for prices ranging from $25 to $50. If you want to obtain better quality voices for your text-to-speech software, you can purchase additional high-quality voice engines for approximately $25 to $35. Based on my personal evaluations the best text-to-speech software is Alive Text to Speech, and the best speech engines are AT&T Natural Voices Mike16 and Crystal16. With this system, the computer sounds as if a real person, (a trained announcer) is reading the text.
The Internet links to obtain the various brands of text-to-speech software, and voice engines are as follows:
Alive Text to Speech http://www.alivemedia.net/
I purchased this for about $25 and it is the best.
Text Aloud http://www.nextup.com/index.html
They also sell a large number of high-quality voice engines. I purchased the AT&T voice engines from them. They also provide a number of older voice engines for free.
There are many other brands of text-to-speech software on the Internet, and you can do an Internet search with the words text-to-speech software. However, there is text-to-speech software that is intended for other purposes, such as for advertising, or for the blind. This category of text-to-speech software is very expensive, and generally does not provide the functionality needed by the general consumer. A second category of text-to-speech software is designed for the general consumer, for proofreading documents, reading web pages and electronic books. This software is generally easy to use, and very inexpensive as indicated above.
You can also do an Internet search for additional voice engines to be used with text-to-speech software. Use the search terms voice engines or computer voices. Many of these voices are free. However, the very high-quality voices generally cost about $25 to $35.
Now we have a possible solution to the problem: How can I manage to read large amounts of material, such as this book, when I do not have the time to do so? With all the above (text-to-speech software, CD or MP3 player) it is possible to listen to this book or any written text, on your computer, or with a portable CD or MP3 player. However, we did not actually solve the problem. We just created a plan that may or may not lead to a total or partial solution to the problem, in your particular case. After a plan of this type is created, it is usually necessary to engage in all of the following: the learning process, the trial and error process, and experimentation. This involves learning how to use the equipment in an efficient way that actually solves the problem in your particular case. This effort might also require modifications in strategies, techniques, plans, and possibly in the software and equipment as well, to obtain a solution that truly works for you. Many problem solving efforts fail because the above is not understood, or it is not properly carried out. However, even after you work extensively with the problem solving process, plans, and new technology, you may or may not find a solution that is practical for you.
All of the above represent general principles about problem solving, which are very important. However, there are many more important concepts to problem solving, and I will continue with these ideas in the following subtopic.
In the preceding paragraphs, we created a plan to solve the problem: How can I manage to read large amounts of material, such as this book, when I do not have the time to do so? When a plan is created it is a good idea to ask the question: Can this plan be improved? It is often a good idea to ask yourself this question all throughout the problem solving process, and to make any improvements that you can. To illustrate this idea, I will continue with the problem we started with.
Do you have any idea how the plan explained in the proceeding paragraphs can be improved, to obtain a better solution to the problem? Look for weaknesses in the plan, and make corrections for any weaknesses. Sometimes you can add additional ideas to the plan. Sometimes you can simplify the plan. Sometimes you can make the plan more realistic. There are actually a very large number of ways that plans focused on a problem solving effort or a goal can be improved. This will become apparent if you read the entire book, but I will focus on a few simple ideas here.
I will continue with the problem, how to deal with excessively long reading assignments. We can add some additional ideas to the plan to deal with this problem. Pacifically, it is probably more efficient for most people if they combine conventional reading with the text-to-speech computer reading (described above). That is reading written language provides certain advantages in the learning process, such as the ability to precisely control the pace that each sentence is read at. You can easily reread any section of text if you do not understand it, or if you want to commit it to memory. Listening to a computer reading out loud, or any recorded information, can complement conventional reading, and the best strategy would be to combine both methods, into our plan.
If we are going to incorporate conventional reading into the plan, we should also incorporate the common sense ideas of dealing with a large amount of text, mentioned at the beginning of this topic. That is, when you have large quantities of text to read, such as this book, you can read the most interesting or important sections, and glance over the rest of the material, and then listen to the entire book read aloud with speech to text software. This or some variation similar to this might provide the most efficient way of learning large amounts of material. However, if the material is used in some way, it will further enhance the learning process. This can involved applying the material, experimenting with it, writing about it, or talking about it.
Now we have an even better plan to deal with large quantities of reading material. However, we can make further improvements, if we consider the possibility of employing special reading techniques. One of the concepts that we can use is speed reading. However, speed reading has many disadvantages, if you are trying to learn new material. For example, people that speed read often skip over the most important material inadvertently, and worst of all, they fill in the blanks that they did not read, or fully comprehend. Using this strategy, with this book, would result in a total misunderstanding of the concepts. However, if you keep the above difficulties in mind, you can avoid these drawbacks of speed reading, with a little effort. This is especially the case if you combine speed reading with all of the other techniques mentioned above, including listening to the text read aloud by the text-to-speech method.
Now that we determined that speed reading is useful, if combined with the above techniques, how do we learn speed reading? There are many speed reading courses, most of which are based on many different philosophies and incorporate different methods. However, these courses are expensive and they are not the only way to learn speed reading.
The best way to learn speed reading, is to ask your self the question: How can modern technology help me learned speed reading? Is there any technology that can be used to learn speed reading? When I asked myself similar questions, it led to Internet searches. This resulted in a number of excellent software packages that teach speed reading, as well as a number of other concepts that relate to reading, such as comprehension. Most of these software packages can be adjusted in difficulty, ranging from elementary levels to the most advanced levels of speed reading. They also contain built-in automatic timers, electronic pacers that flash words a various speeds, and comprehension tests that electronically tabulate your score. Some of these devices incorporate various games, and techniques to increase reading speed and comprehension. An important component of speed reading involves various types of eye movements, which many of these software packages deal with. To obtain this software for a free trial period, click on the following links:
· http://www.stepware.com/download.html AceReader has a number of versions, such as: original, or pro deluxe, for a free download trial of 30 days. The purchase prices range from approximately $25 to $80. I downloaded the AceReader Pro, and ithad a large number of features, and appeared to be
· http://www.bio-health.com.au/speed_reading.htm this is much simpler than the above program, but has much less features, and it only deals with reading speed, without measuring speed of comprehension. Thus, it has limited utility, but it only cost about $25
· http://www.rocketreader.com/download/RocketReaderDownload.html RocketReader has many features, including speed reading and rate of comprehension.
If you want to do your own search, use the words speed reading software as search terms.
Did we solve the problem by improving the plan? The answer is no, but we have a better plan. It incorporates a number of strategies and techniques to solve a problem we started with: How can I manage to read large amounts of material, such as this book, when I do not have the time to do so? As previously stated to solve the problem, requires implementation of a plan. This plan is typical of what is often required to solve moderately difficult problems. To obtain the solution or goal requires many hours of work, learning, studying, and the application of the trial and error process. Once the plan is initiated, the trial and error process might suggest ways of improving the plan, and the strategies, techniques, and technologies that the plan contains. A good plan is designed to be modified and improved based on the trial and error process.
Question: did we create a good plan to solve the problem: How can I manage to read large amounts of material, such as this book, when I do not have the time to do so?) The answer is this plan has many good features that should be incorporated into any plan designed to solve a difficult problem, or obtain a challenging goal. First, with this plan, even if the problem does not get solved, the equipment and the skills that you are likely to obtain have other uses besides solving the above problem. For example, the CD and MP3 players required to solve the problem, can be used to listen to stereophonic music, and relaxation recordings. The overall effort is likely to result in an increase in computer knowledge and skills, which can be quite useful for other situations. Another good feature incorporated into the plan is multiple methods and technologies. For example, if the computer text-to-speech reading turns out to be of little used to you, the other technique involving speed reading software may be helpful. (The general ideas, presented with the above problem, should be incorporated into your efforts to obtain challenging goals and solutions.)
The above plan, with all its good features, to deal with excessive reading material, is not necessarily a good plan for you, personally. Any problem solving effort of this type requires hours of work, and learning, and the problem that we started with may simply not warrant the effort based on your current needs in value system, to solve the problem: How can I manage to read large amounts of material, such as this book, when I do not have the time to do so? This is another very important principle. Very often there are problems we would like to solve, but the cost in time, effort and money is simply not worthwhile for us. Sometimes it is better to live with a problem, or not to attempt to obtain a goal, because it involves too much of an investment in time, effort, and/or money. In such cases, the simplest and quickest commonsense resolution is often the best approach.
An understanding of our own true values and needs can be used to help us decide on how much time, money and effort we are willing to invest to obtain an objective. If you are ever in a situation where you are assisting someone else with their problems or goals, the above is very important to understand. We may consider someone else's difficulties and goals in terms of our own value system. The idea to keep in mind is someone else’s value system may place a higher or lower value on resolving specific difficulties and obtaining specific goals.
To explain the ideas that I am presenting in this book, I had to be somewhat creative with terminology. This was partly done to prevent redundancy. The most important terminology is defined below. Additional terms are defined in the various sections throughout the book. Incidentally, the terminology is not difficult, and they are common words, but they are used in a slightly different way in this text.
I use the terminology trial and error, or trial and error process, trial and error learning, experimentation, and experiment throughout this book. These concepts are explained in more detail in a different section of this booklet. However, I am providing some information here, because these terms are used in the beginning pages of this booklet.
Trial and error and experimentation are quite similar, but there are also very important differences between these two concepts. Trial and error is a process that is aimed at obtaining a goal. The goal can be to learn how to perform a task, such as operating a computer, hitting a base ball, riding a bicycle. The goal can also involve an effort to create something, such as making a sculpture from clay. In addition, the goal can relate to other attainments, such as hitting a target with a dart, finding a lost item, getting to a destination with incomplete travel directions.
Trial and error involves a repeated cycle that involves all of the following:
· A trial which is an attempt to do something, such as hitting a target with a dart
· An evaluation of the results of the trial, such as a quick visual assessment of how close a dart landed to the center of the target.
· Modification of efforts, such as slight change of body and hand position so the dart will be closer to the target on the next trial
· Then a new trial begins, and the cycle continues until the goal is obtained, or the effort is stopped for some other reason.
Experimentation (experiment), generally involves one goal, which is to obtain information. Very often the experimentation is carried out to prove or disprove a hypothesis. Often, experimentation involves testing two systems, under identical conditions, except for one factor. For example, medications are often tested with two similar groups of people. One group is given the medication. The other group is given a placebo. The two groups are compared, to evaluate the effectiveness, and side effects of the medication. Experiments are often carried out under controlled (or at least semi-controlled conditions).
Experimentation is not just done by scientists. People all throughout life engage in various types of simple experiments. This involves simple trials, and evaluations. We may try the new product to see if it is useful for us. We may try one brand of shaver, use it for a while, then try another brand, and decide which brand is better. Thus we all experiment, but the results we obtain might only apply to our personal situation. We want to experiment and see what works best for us. We want to find out what works for our needs and problems.
Keep in mind, when the theories, strategies, and methods in this book, or from any other source, are applied to complex problems, you must use trial and error, and experimentation.
In this book I frequently use the words difficult problem, challenging problem, challenging goal, very difficult problem or goal. The words difficult or challenging essentially have a number of slightly different meanings. That is a problem or goal can be difficult or challenging because under the given set of circumstances there is no apparent solution, or there is a high likelihood of failure because of the number of unknowns involved. For example, an individual might want to start a business, but he cannot figure out a way of obtaining all the money that would be needed to run it for a couple of years until the break even point was reached. Another example, a do-it-yourselfer might want to build his own home, but he is not certain that he can master the needed skills to do so. There are medical problems that have many unknowns, and are usually considered incurable diseases, such as cancer.
The second kind of difficult or challenging problem or goal does not contain any insurmountable unknowns, but it is difficult because of its complexity. A simple example is a complex mathematics homework assignment, which is difficult because of its complexity. It may also be difficult because of inadequate mastery of the skills needed to complete the assignment successfully. There is another important concept here, which is the relative degree of developed skills of the individual or individuals that are trying to solve the problem. That is to solve a specific problem often requires skills, and if needed skills are not present, or if they are not developed, the solution or goal will be very difficult to obtain or maybe totally unattainable.
Other good examples of difficult problems and goals can be seen with large-scale industrial projects. For example, if a large corporation decides to build a skyscraper, this is a difficult problem, but there are no significant unknowns. Specifically, there have been many skyscrapers built by large corporations over the last hundred years, but nevertheless it is a very difficult problem because of its complexity. However, if the average person wanted to build a skyscraper, there would be a huge amount of unknowns, especially in relation to funding. In this case the problem would be difficult from two perspectives, one because of the complexity of the project, and the second reason would be because of the unknowns.
It should be kept in mind that it is not only the number of unknowns that make a problem difficult or challenging, it is also the likelihood of resolving the unknowns. If we returned to the above example of a skyscraper, the individual that wants to build a skyscraper may be faced with only one unknown, which is financing the project. For the average person this would be an unknown that probably could not be resolved.
Another way that people often use the word difficult is related to the degree of discomfort involved with solving a problem or obtaining a goal. For example, reading a novel for an English assignment may be perceived as difficult. However, reading the same novel under different circumstances may be perceived as a pleasurable task with little difficulty associated with it. Often, a problem or goal is perceived as difficult because of the circumstances involved, such as the possibility of adverse consequences if there are initial failures. Using the novel as an example, when you are reading it for pleasure, there will be no adverse consequences if you fail to understand a chapter. However, there may be significant penalty if you fail to understand a chapter when you are reading it for an English assignment. All of this suggests that when you are specifically focused on solving a problem or obtaining a goal, you should do it in a way that alleviates this type of difficulty, if that is feasible. This involves removing pressure from yourself, and devising ways of eliminating any adverse consequences in the event that you initially fail on the first attempts.
However, removing pressure from your self, or from other individuals that are working on a problem, may or may not produce good results. On the positive side, when pressure is removed, it can produce better results because it gives the people involved the freedom to be creative. In addition, it avoids the adverse consequences of pressure, which can result in physical and psychological illness. On the other hand, pressure can sometimes motivate people to work harder, and without it some people inadvertently or intentionally procrastinate.
Problems and goals are sometimes perceived as difficult because of extraneous discomforts that are not directly related to the problem. For example, homework in the summer months may be perceived as significantly more difficult for students that do not have air conditioning. Another example, is outdoor construction work performed in either the winter or summer may be more difficult because of the excessively cold or warm weather. Thus, the idea is to try to eliminate any factors that are causing the problem solving effort to be uncomfortable or more difficult than it would be otherwise. All of the above suggests a very useful strategy when dealing with problems and goals. The strategy simply consists of evaluating a problem or goal in terms of the factors that relate to the concept of difficulty presented above. When this is done, it is possible sometimes to reduce the number of factors that are related to the relative degree of difficulty. In addition, it is also possible sometimes to reduce the significance of the factors, or circumvent them in various ways. This strategy can sometimes make a difficult problem or goal much easier. It can sometimes make unattainable solutions or goals obtainable. All of this will be clarified by reading the following instructions and questions.
To use the strategy, and reduce the difficulty of your problem or goal, answer the following questions:
· How many unknowns are there in your problem? List the unknowns in order of importance. Are any of these unknowns likely to be unsolvable? What are all the possible ways that you can circumvent or eliminate these unknowns? Is there any information that will be helpful in resolving these unknowns? Would assistants from experts, technicians, or anyone else help resolve these unknowns?
· Is your problem or goal difficult because of the complexity that is involved? How many components or factors are involved with your problem or goal? Try to list in order of importance all the components or factors that relate to your problem or goal. How many factors or components are involved? Can you reduce the number of components or factors that are needed to obtain the solution or goal?
· Is your problem or goal difficult because you do not have adequate skills to achieve your objective? If so, what are all the skills that you are lacking or are weak in? List the skills that you are lacking in order of importance. Then list in order of importance all the skills that you are weak in, in terms of your problem or goal. Can you obtain assistants from experts or technicians that have the skills that you lack? What are all the possible ways that you can obtain your objective without the skills? Can you master the skills? What are all the possible ways that you can develop the needed skills to an adequate level to obtain your objective?
· Is your problem or goal difficult because of pressure from others, such as superiors, instructors, family, friends, etc? If so, what are all the possible ways of removing or reducing the pressure?
· Is your problem or goal difficult because of environmental discomforts? Is the room that you are working in comfortable, if not what is producing the discomfort? List all the uncomfortable and distracting factors that are making your problem solving effort more difficult. What are all the possible ways of reducing the adverse factors?
· Can you add any factors that would make your problem solving effort less difficult, more comfortable, or more pleasurable? List all the possible ways that this can possibly be done?
In this booklet, I use the word real-world to delineate any activity, planning or problem-solving that is not limited to a cognitive process, pencil and paper or a computer screen. For example, real-world problem-solving is seen in engineering projects, where mathematics and plans are created on paper, or a computer screen, and applied to create a new product. However, if the effort stops at the stage of mathematics and plans and goes no further, it is not real-world problem-solving, as the terminology is used in this booklet.
In this booklet I use the word problem in a very general sense, and it means any situation that is perceived to be less than optimal. An unsolved equation or crossword puzzle can be perceived as less than an optimal situation, if your goal is a solved equation or puzzle. If an individual is motivated to make a change, such as solving the equation or puzzle, he is changing the situation to a more optimal state, based on the way I am using the terminology. The same is true for a medical condition, a leaking roof, termite infestation, an automobile that will not start, a high crime rate, and any other condition that is perceived as undesirable. When any goal is set, a less than optimal state is perceived and delineated, which is a problem based on the way I am using the terminology. When the goal is obtained the problem is solved. Thus, goals such as completing college, starting a new business, buying a house, learning how to dance, becoming a marathon runner, building a skyscraper, introducing a new product, are all problems.
In general, any task that involves some type of goal fits the definition of a problem based on the way I am using the terminology. This includes everything from solving a difficult calculus problem, to inventing a new electronic device, to repairing the toaster, to the simplest routine tasks that are usually not considered problems, such as answering the telephone. The reason I am using these general definitions is many of the methodologies and theories discussed in this book apply to all types of goal related tasks. In addition, by analyzing tasks at various levels of difficulty, including the simplest, we can obtain insights that have wide application in all types of problem-solving.
Based on the concepts presented in this book, problems can be placed into four categories, which are as follows:
Pencil and paper problems are essentially limited to a cognitive process, and include logic problems, adding figures, solving geometric or algebraic problems, putting together a child's puzzle, *writing a computer program or book. Problems in this category do not require consumable resources to solve, except for paper, pencil, pen or ink. Some nonconsumable resources may be required, such as a computer with appropriate software, a calculator, and similar devices. These problems can be solved by one individual, without spending money on structural materials, and professional services.
*Writing a computer program or a book is not a real world problem if it is done strictly for practice, learning or personal satisfaction. However if it is done for publication, to earn money, or some other practical purpose, then it is a real world problem. When a problem is strictly limited to paper or a computer screen it is not a real-world problem. The following three categories represent real-world problems.
Adverse problems are undesirable situations that are usually considered to be abnormal states, and include a broken arm, the flu, any medical condition, a malfunctioning computer, a termite infested house, a building on fire, leaky pipes, a power failure. Adverse problems involve attempts to restore a normal state, or to gain something that was lost, such as good health, a functioning computer, a misplaced diamond ring. Adverse problems also involve attempts to obtain necessities that most people have, such as basic literacy skills, food, clothing and shelter. Adverse problems usually require consumable resources, and/or professional assistance, as well as some type of funding.
Goal-related-problems, involve goals that are not related to adverse-problems, and often relate to some type of achievement or improvement that is at least a little above the norm. Goal-related-problems also include efforts to do something, or obtain something, which are not basic necessities or routine tasks. All of the following are examples of goal-related-problems: building a closet, completing graduate school, starting a business, making money in the stock market, becoming more successful, making more friends, developing skills in computer technology, building a skyscraper, carrying out an engineering project to create a new type of automobile, obtaining a professional level job that pays a high salary. Problems in this category often involve spending or earnings money. They often require other people, and sometimes they require professional assistance.
Routine-problems, are tasks that are routinely performed, and are usually simple, such as sharpening a pencil, turning on the lights, driving to work, shopping for food, walking to your friend’s house, cooking, answering the telephone, making a phone call. Problems in this category are usually not considered problems by most people. However, all of us found most of these tasks challenging to varying degrees when we were in early childhood. They may be considered challenging problems by some adults, because of lack of skills, physical handicaps, or lack of time. For example, cooking an entire three course meal is a challenging problem, if you do not know how to cook well, or if you do not have the time to prepare elaborate meals. In addition, routine tasks can be relatively challenging problems under unusual conditions. Some examples, in this regard are sharpening a pencil when there is no sharpener available, finding and turning on a light switch in an unfamiliar broom incomplete darkness, getting to work during a subway and bus strike, walking a couple of blocks on an ice covered street with dangerously high wind conditions.
All of the above is another major reason for defining simple tasks as problems. That is studying simple tasks as problems result in the delineation of the steps involved, and related insights about the task. When a simple task is truly difficult for one of the above reasons, this information can be used to circumvent the difficulty. This information can also be used to simplify the task, improve the effectiveness of the task, and increase efficiency.
The word goal and solution have identical meanings in this booklet. For example, when you are trying to solve an algebraic equation, the goal is to find the solution. When you are suffering from a medical problem, the solution or goal is to cure the condition. If your goal is to earn a Ph.D. the problem will be solved: when you obtain your doctorate.
Problem-solving, problem-solving efforts and goal-attainment efforts have identical meanings in this book. I use the above to avoid redundancy.
In this book techniques and methods mean exactly the same thing. Based on the way I am using the terminology, the word methodology, means away of performing a task, or solving a problem, by using two or more techniques or procedures, that work well together, especially in relation to the guiding principles of a theoretical or a philosophical perspective. This usually involves using different techniques to perform different parts of a task, similar to the way a set of tools are used. A good example of a methodology is the set of problem-solving techniques in this book.
Creativity (or creative) means actions that result in the creation of a new entity, as the term is used in this text. The entity can be just about anything, such as a poem, music, a new electronic device, any invention, a theory, a new technique, a new philosophy, a unique process, an essay, a book, a new recipe for apple pie, etc. The entity must be either an original, or it can be original on a personal level. This example will clarify what I mean by original on a personal level. If a student discovers the mathematical principles that relate to gravity, as a result of his own calculations and experimentation that is creative work, and it is original on a personal level. However, these principles were discovered many years ago by Sir Isaac Newton. Thus the students work is not original from the perspective of the scientific and academic community. For the student, it is only creative work on a personal level. However, the learning process by itself does not necessarily represent creative work. For example, if another student learned the same principles of gravity by reading a book, that would not be creative work.
Creative work is not necessarily good work. For example, a child’s drawing might show a tremendous amount of creativity, as a result of a good imagination, but the drawing would probably not be considered good art.
Creative Problem-solving involves attempts to obtain a creative solution. This also includes unique ways of solving problems and obtaining goals. When there is no apparent solution to a problem, attempts to obtain a solution must be creative. When the standard solution to a problem is less than optimal, a creative approach might produce better results.
Creative problem-solving is not necessarily better than conventional techniques. A creative approach to problem-solving, or any task, usually involves a considerable degree of uncertainty, and it may be time-consuming, sometimes expensive, and the results may or may not be satisfactory. When there is a standard method of performing a task or solving a problem, it is very often the best approach, unless you are interested in experimenting. Of course, if there is no satisfactory solution to the problem, the creative approach is the best.
Creativity techniques, means in this text any technique that is intended to help with creative thinking or creative problem solving. The most well-known creativity technique is probably brainstorming. There are many creativity techniques discussed in this book.
I use the word strategy in this book for procedures that are generally too simple to be called techniques, and they involve ways of dealing with problems, especially by the application of common commonsense, or the sequence of applying techniques or commonsense procedures. The following are examples of strategies:
· When faced with a problem, apply the quickest and simplest procedure first, if that doesn’t work, proceed progressively to more complex problem solving procedures, involving research, detailed study, and expert assistance.
· When faced with a major decision, hesitate a while before acting. Ask yourself questions about the situation. If you cannot answer the questions that come into your mind, do some research, ask your friends, and consult experts.
This is an important topic, because most complex problems require the assistance of experts and technicians. I use the word expert in this book in a general sense, and it means any professional, or any individual that is highly knowledgeable in a specific field or subfield. This includes physicians, lawyers, psychologists, sociologists, instructors, engineers, scientists, as well as any individual that acquired expertise as a result of self-study or personal experience. I use the word technician to mean an individual that acquired hands-on knowledge in a specific technical field. This includes electricians, carpenters, plumbers, or any individual that acquired hands-on technical skills. It is sometimes difficult to distinguish between a technician and an expert. Usually it is assumed that the expert has an advanced college degree, and a wider theoretical knowledge than the technician. However, from the perspective of problem solving this is not important. What is important is an understanding of certain principles of human nature, which is explained in the following paragraphs.
Often, people are faced with the challenge of choosing the best expert or technician, and they look at formal credentials, affiliations, and work experience. This is not a good method of evaluation. The ideal way to evaluate is to start by looking at your problem. Then find an expert or technician that has been successfully dealing with this type of problem for a number of years. For example, if you need throat surgery, and you go to a surgeon that is world-famous, and graduated from the best schools, but he only occasionally does throat surgery, you probably made a bad choice. A surgeon that has been successfully performing the specific type of surgery you need, for many years is the best surgeon for you. This is even true if he has minimal credentials, as long as he is properly licensed. The important principle to understand about experts and technicians, and human nature in general, is people are most successful with tasks that they have been doing for many years. The more experience an individual has with successfully performing a specific task, the greater the chances he will have of future success with that task. The very important concept to keep in mind is practice makes perfect, in relation to a specific task, especially when it has been carried out extensively and successfully for many years. This is a general concept that has wide application, and it will be discussed in other sections of this book.
However, very often an expert or technician, who does not have experience with your specific type of problem, will understand the problem quite well. If you present technical literature about your problem, they will probably understand it. This is especially the case with the prolonged training that experts receive, but you should keep in mind that we are dealing with reading comprehension skills in a technical field. This does not necessarily mean they can solve your problem, it just means they can understand it.
Sometimes, we are dealing with an unusual problem or goal, and we cannot obtain any expert or technician that has the needed experience. When this is the case, the best choice would be an expert or technician that is willing to take the time and effort to work on your problem.
Another important consideration with experts and technicians relates to the quality of work they generally produce. For example, a cabinet maker that has been working in a shop that sells inexpensive furniture will be experienced in producing an economical product. If you requested a luxury cabinet, he probably would not have the wood, or the tools, or the experience to adequately meet your request. Obviously, if you want a luxury cabinet built, you would have to go to a cabinet maker that specializes in luxury furniture. However, the luxury cabinetmaker probably would not have the experience needed to produce low-priced furniture of good quality. The same idea generally applies to lawyers, physicians, medical facilities, schools, and just about any type of expert or technician.
Another relevant consideration when dealing with experts and technicians is there willingness and ability to carry out your requests. Willingness is a very important factor when you are dealing with anything that is complicated or unusual. If you find that you are dealing with someone that is somewhat reluctant to carryout your requests, you should seek assistance elsewhere.
Another important principle when dealing with experts and technicians are their role in your problem solving or goal attainment efforts. One commonsense strategy is to transfer your problem to the expert or technician, and let him or her solve it. This is not always feasible, but it is very often possible with simple technical problems, such as plumbing, and electrical malfunctions. Often, with medical and educational problems and goals, we must be a participant in the problem solving process. Medical decisions often involve personal values, and efforts at rehabilitation. With educational goals, the primary burden is usually almost entirely placed on the student. In these cases, you must keep in mind that you are working with the expert or technician, and the final result will probably be determined by your efforts.
I wrote this book from the perspective of a technical writer. Technical writers use the Internet and the computer extensively for research and for writing. They act as teachers, but they use writing instead of spoken language to convey ideas. A good technical writer also uses the writing process and other techniques to solve problems. In addition he tries to prevent problems from occurring, especially when he is writing instructions, such as for new products. This involves writing that presents information in an easily understandable format, about products, with appropriate safety warnings. This is done with the goal of preventing accidents for the consumer and preventing liability problems for his employer. That is technical writers can be thought of as teachers and problem solvers, who use written language to achieve their objectives. More precisely, the above is the perspective that I developed in my study of technical writing.
There are a large number of ways that the writing process can be used in the problem solving process. Writing about a problem, especially with the computer connected to the Internet, with word processor software, often clarifies the problem, and the steps needed to obtain a solution. Even when problems seem unsolvable, the writing process can lead to a solution, a good resolution, or an alternative path to a goal. There is no mystery involved with this process. Writing extensively about a problem, involves research, study, and organizing of ideas and text. All of this facilitates the learning process. That is if you did not know how to solve a problem, by writing about it in detail, you might learn how to solve it. This is especially true if your efforts involved extensive research and study about the problem, which is often necessary to write about it.
In addition to the above, when you write about a problem its components become more apparent, as a result of efforts to explain it in written language. These components often represent smaller factors that comprise the problem, which can sometimes be solved individually.
Writing about almost any entity, including problems, solutions, goals, necessitates descriptions of sections of the entity, in terms of a series of sentences, and paragraphs. This is essentially the process of analyzing. A simplified example will make this idea clear. If you write about a famous painting, describing its overall look, the colors, the subject, the background, and the ideas that the painting conveys, you will be involved in a process of analyzing. This will probably provide you with new insights about the painting. However, if you write about the painting in even more detail, perhaps examining the different textures of the paint, the brush strokes, the type of paint, the individual components comprising the background and the subject, you will obtain even more insight. The same idea applies to a problem, the more detail you consider, especially in terms of the writing process, the more insight you will obtain.
A major component of complex problem-solving is communicating with experts and technicians. This usually can be done most effectively in writing. Often, there are many people involved with the problem solving process, and each individual needs a description of the portion of the problem he is to deal with. The most obvious example in this regard, can be seen in the construction industry. The architect deals with specific portions of the project, structural engineers deal with another section, financial experts deal with the economics involved, etc. Each individual must have written documents explaining relevant information about the project.
If you carefully read the preceding paragraphs in this topic, you already have two very valuable problem-solving tools. These tools can be used to solve problems that you previously could not solve. However, there are many other ways that the writing process can help you solve problems, which are discussed throughout the book along with many other techniques.
Many of the problem-solving techniques discussed in this book involve the computer, the Internet, and various types of software. The computer is the most powerful problem solving instrument that ever existed. It can help the user carry out all the functions needed for complex problem solving. I am calling all problem solving methodologies that extensively involve the computer, a Computer Aided Problem Solving Methodology, or CAPS Methodology, or CAPS. Many of the problems solving methodologies in this book fall into this general category.
The computer can be very helpful with many of the essential functions of complex problem solving. To illustrate this, I divided these functions into eight categories, and they are presented in the following paragraphs.
1) Searching is probably one of the most important problem solving functions. This involves searching for information, materials, equipment, experts, technicians, and funding. When this is done with the computer connected to the Internet it usually produces optimal results. This will be discussed in more detail in other topics.
2) Communications is probably the second most important element for advanced problem solving. This is because most complex problems require many individuals to solve, and they must communicate with each other to obtain a solution. The computer provides many ways of communicating including e-mail, instant messaging, two-way audio transmission (similar to the telephone) faxing directly from word processors software, and, the latest development, two-way video conferencing. All of this can totally eliminate the need to travel for conferences, and for complex problem solving it has many advantages over conventional methods of communication. Communications with the computer is not limited by distance, time of day, day of the week, or the number of participants.
3) The learning process is a major part of complex problem solving. This involves the acquisition of knowledge, and skill development involving practice, which is often needed to solve a problem. The computer can help with learning and practice in many ways. There are many types of programs that are design for different types of learning. This should be obvious from the speed reading software that was already discussed. There are programs that are designed to teach various subjects, using many different techniques, such as programmed learning, and video instruction. In spite of the many programs and methods available for learning, most problem solvers probably learn by research, trial and error, conversations with others, creating diagrams, and by writing about the project. However, incorporating other learning strategies, such as the above, might result in significant improvements in the quality of the solutions. In addition, the text-to-speech, software, which was previously discussed, can also be considered an example of a learning aid, because it allows the review and assimilation of more material then could be done by conventional study methods alone.
4) Simulation probably sounds less familiar than the functions discussed above. However, people routinely create conceptual models of the world and carry out evaluations based on simulations. This involves picturing and evaluating various behaviors associated with various entities. For example, most of us can roughly predict how our close friends and relatives will respond under different circumstances. Simulations are usually not perfect, especially when dealing with complex systems such as human beings. Computer simulations are often used in predicting the weather, engineering, science, and training airplane pilots. For example, the functionality and behavior of a new design for an airplane can be evaluated on the computer screen, before the actual plane is built. This allows the trial and error process of many different designs, before building any prototypes. (Simulation and conceptual models will be discussed in more detail in other topics.)
5) Writing has many functions in the problem solving process, as previously noted. The computer makes it relatively easy to create documents, with word processor software. These documents can easily be used for communication purposes, by transmitting directly from the word processor by fax, e-mail, or directly from one computer to another through telephone lines, cable or the Internet. Writing on the computer screen can also help an individual think, and work out problems. That is seeing your thoughts in written language on a screen, can help you evaluate, re-evaluate and improved your ideas. In addition, others can examine your concepts, and provide needed feedback or assistance to improve your ideas when they are presented in written language.
6) Storing and retrieving of information is necessary for most complex problems, because there is usually a huge amount of data involved. Some of the information may be quite unnecessary and some of it may be essential to the solution. Generally, with complex problems, it may not be obvious what information is needed, until the solution is obtained. This can involve gathering large amounts of information, which must be stored. The computer is excellent in this regard. It can store all types of information, including text, photographs, sound recordings, and video.
The computer can also easily retrieve any type of data. Documents that contain text can be found on the computer even if they are misplaced, just by doing a search with one or two words that is contained in a document. Searches can also be based on the filename, or part of the filename for any type of data including sound and video. The Windows operating system comes with software components that can perform all of the above. However, there are many other types of search devices that are available.
One of the more interesting search devices is available from Google, for free. This device searches your computer, indexes the material it finds, and when you search for information on your system it retrieves the data in a way that is similar to an Internet search. This software also allows you to instantly convert a search on your computer into an Internet search. To obtain this software click on the following link: http://desktop.google.com/
7) Mathematical and logical computations are often a major part of a problem solving effort, especially in engineering and science. Most types of computations are easily performed by the computer with appropriate software. This can range from simple arithmetic, to the most advanced algebra and calculus problems. This can involve sophisticated mathematical software, spreadsheets, or a simple calculator, such as the one that is provided with Windows.
8) Drawing is a major part of many types of problem solving, and this involves the creation of illustrations, engineering diagrams, and architectural plans. Drawing diagrams can often help in the problem solving process, by illustrating cause and effect relationships, or the series of steps needed to solve a problem. Drawing can be done with many types of software, including Microsoft Word, OpenOffice.com, the Windows Paint program, as well as a large number of CAD and Drawing software packages.
Note (This subtopic starts with very simple commonsense ideas. However, it proceeds into ideas that are quite theoretical from the perspective of this book, because we are not dealing with computer programming. However, it is very often useful to understand theoretical principles, because the insight that results can be helpful in the proper use of techniques and equipment. Theoretical principles often suggest possibilities, limitations, and often stimulate creative thinking. This is not just limited to this subtopic or to computer technology. It is a general principle, which suggests the utility of understanding theoretical perspectives, especially in relation to the problems you are working on.)
The many functions needed to solve advance problems can of course be done without computer technology, which is obvious if we examine history. However, it is usually much faster, and more precise to incorporate the power of the computer, when carrying out these tasks. Without a computer certain tasks would be so time-consuming that they could not be performed. For example, if you wanted to search the entire world for the best physicians in a specific medical specialty, you could do so in less than a day, and possibly even less than an hour, with the computer connected to the Internet. If you used conventional methods it might take several weeks to one year if not longer. It might require traveling to foreign countries, collecting information from a large number of publications, and reading hundreds of pages.
However, certain tasks can be performed more efficiently, quicker and
more precisely without a computer,
under certain circumstances. It is very important to understand when this is
the case. Computers do not have
sophisticated ability to apply common sense, to problem solving, unless the common sense is specifically
programmed into the software. I
have seen one of my older computers, with sophisticated math software struggle
with trigonometric expressions that equal 1, such as the following:
When you are dealing with complex culturally based concepts, especially if it involves human values, it is totally beyond the capability of most, if not all computers and software, unless the relevant components were programmed into the software. However, this is also true with human beings. Cultural values must be learned over a period of many years. This includes learning when certain cultural concepts apply, and when they do not apply. This is a very important and useful principle. Specifically, the idea here is certain types of relationships, such as culturally based concepts and believes, including many common sense ideas, must be programmed into the software, as individual units. A general example is: in a certain culture, under condition-X, response-Y might be deemed correct, except under circumstances, A, B, and C. Arbitrary concepts and relationships in this category are learned by human beings, and they are not derived through logic. The same principle would apply to computers.
However, when computers (or human beings) are dealing with logical
principles, it is not necessary to deal with individual cases. It is just necessary to program into the
computer (or teach the human) the logical relationships. For example, the computer (or human) is
programmed (or taught) that the area of a rectangle equals its length times its
The idea here is that with many common sense and culturally derived concepts the thousands of individual cases must be programmed into the computer. A good example of this is seen with high-quality text-to-speech voice engines, where thousands of words are programmed into the software individually. There are older text-to-speech engines that were created by using various sounds that relate to letters and syllables, which resulted in very low quality synthetic speech, where most words were very poorly pronounced.
Very often the limiting factor of a computer is the availability of software that can perform the needed task. For example, if you wanted to simulate the behavior of a system, such as your boss, on a computer, you can probably do so, if you invested enough money and time. Let us assume that you wanted to do this to determine his responses, if you demanded a raisin salary. However, you could probably create a simulation in your mind that might be more than adequate for the purpose, in a few seconds. Your mental simulation may or may not be more accurate than a computer simulation. However, if there already was a simulation program of your boss, it might be worthwhile buying it to determine his responses. The point here is, we should not attempt to do everything with a computer, and we should use the computer for procedures that can be carried out more efficiently and precisely with the software we have available.
I organized a number of problem solving techniques into a unique system, which I am calling Template Aided Problem Solving methodology, or TAPS. This is one of many types of Computer Aided Problem Solving methodologies.
The TAPS methodology is based on templates. Templates are found in a number of different types of programs, such as mathematics, presentation, spreadsheet, word processor software. Microsoft Word has many different types of templates, such as to make resumes, to create calendars, to write letters, to write reports, to write advertising leaflets, etc. These templates are read-only. This means they can be opened as regular documents, but you must save the resulting document as a new file. This allows people to use the same templates over and over again, because when the templates are used they are not changed in any way.
The TAPS methodology that I created, involves problem solving templates that contain a number of items that can help with problem solving. This can include hyperlinks and/or icons to access whatever might be needed to solve a problem. This can include computerized links to all of the following: search engines, web sites, databases, other documents, software downloads on the Internet, cable or Internet connections to other desktop computers, supercomputers, computerized equipment, experts and technicians, etc. In addition, the hyperlinks can connect to various software packages that might be needed to solve a problem, such as spreadsheets, mathematics software, CAD, etc.
The problem solving templates can even have links that will dial specific telephone numbers, if your computer is hooked up to telephone lines with a modem. The easiest way to create templates that have specific telephone numbers is to hyperlink to the Windows Address Book, or any other type of similar software. The address book can be accessed from Outlook Express, or from the start menu. If you do not know how to use the windows Address book, click on its help menu, and/or conduct an Internet search.
The same general idea can be used to contact other computers through conventional telephone lines, which includes electronic bulletin boards that require a direct telephone connection. You can do this by creating a hyperlink to the Windows Hyper Terminal.
If you do not know how to use the Hyper Terminal carry out an Internet search on using the Windows Hyper Terminal, or read the Windows help menu in the Hyper Terminal.
You can send faxes a number of ways with the Windows operating system. The most convenient way is to send it directly from a word processor, such as Microsoft Word, by pressing print, and then switching to a fax setting in the dialog box that opens. You can also send faxes through the Windows Address Book, in a similar way. Still another way is to send the faxes through the Windows fax console.
I created a number of problem solving templates, of the type described above. These templates are of course linked to this book, (assuming you a reading the electronic version, on a computer screen.) The links that activate these problem solving templates will be presented later on in this section.
In addition, to the hyperlinks mentioned above, the problem solving templates contain relevant information to help with the problem solving process. This can involve a series of questions and related instructions to stimulate creative thinking, and to guide the user through the problem solving process. This can be in the form of one or more of the following: text, diagrams, photographs, sound recordings, and video.
The problem solving templates should generally have one or more places to utilize the writing process. This can include a place to answer in writing the questions that the template contains. There should also be plenty of room to write ideas, and develop written plans on how to solve the problem. In addition, the templates should have a place to write letters and reports to experts, technicians, and agencies assisting with the problem solving process. Alternatively, some, or all of these documents can be created in separate files that are hyperlinked to the problem solving template. The relevant documents can be faxed, or e-mail directly to relevant sources, directly from the template, or one the documents linked to it.
Obviously, the word processor or other software comprising a problem solving template, must have hyperlink capability, which makes all of the above possible. Most modern word processors, presentations and spreadsheet software have hyperlink capability. This includes just about all of the software bundled in Microsoft office, and OpenOffers.com.
What is the difference between Template Aided Problem Solving, and conventional templates found in word processor software, spreadsheets, and mathematics software? Conventional templates are focused on a particular type of problem solving. These templates are designed to be used when you already know how to solve the problem. For example, there are word processor templates that will help you make a calendar, if you follow the directions precisely. There are also many types of spreadsheet templates, which will do various types of calculations for you, if you have the needed data. These templates only provide mathematical computation, of a specific type, if you have all the data. For example, if you want to know the breakeven point, based on your investment in a business, the right type of spreadsheet templates will help you with this calculation. However, if you want to know how to increase your profits, to get to the breakeven point, as quickly as possible your problem cannot be solved with spreadsheet templates. This is the kind of problem that can be solved with the aid of Template Aided Problem Solving. Problems of this nature do not have a predefined solution, and generally involve all of the following to solve: creativity, trial and error, experimentation. In addition, they require extensive searches, for various components needed to solve the problem, such as for information, equipment, experts, and technicians.
TAPS templates might have embedded or hyperlinked spreadsheets, especially for the problem mentioned above, but calculations are a very small part of the major problem. Generally, TAPS templates are for problems that involve some degree of uncertainty. Such problems can very often be solved many different ways, and when they cannot be solved the Template Aided Problem Solving methodology, can help you find the best possible alternative.
Another important concept to understand is when you are using a conventional template designed for a specific type of problem involving calculations, you supply the data, and a computer does the calculations, and works out the answer. With non-computational problems and Template Aided Problem Solving one or more individuals is working out the problem, and the computer is just providing assistance. The assistance that a computer can provide was already discussed, and one of the major functions were searching for the components needed to solve a problem. In general, whether you actually solve the problem you are working on, will be determined by your ability, the amount of studying you engaged in, the effort you invest, the amount of funding you obtain, and the abilities of the experts and technicians you obtain. Template Aided Problem Solving can help you maximize your chances in this regard.
You should keep in mind that the template aided problem solving methodology, involves the learning process. This involves two types of learning. First you must understand, that when you use the templates, you must make a deliberate effort to use them in such a way that you learn about all the factors that relate to your problem or goal. The learning process is one of the most important components when dealing with difficult problems and goals, and one of the primary purposes of the templates is to help with the learning process. This includes learning how to obtain the components you need to obtain your goal. In addition, you must also realize that to effectively use the problem solving templates you must practice using them for a while. This should involve learning and practicing the skills needed to use the templates optimally. This also applies to any methodology or problem solving technique.
There are three problem solving templates hyperlinked at the end of this subtopic. I listed these templates in order of their complexity. The simpler templates are for relatively simple problems, and the more complex templates are for difficult problems. To examine the templates, or use them, click on the following hyperlinks.
In addition, hyperlinked to this document there is a template folder, which contains a number of problem solving templates, including the following. The folder can be accessed by the following hyperlink.
· This template is for relatively simple problems and goals that can probably be solved in less than one week. Click on the following hyperlink or icon to open the template:
· This template is for moderately difficult problems and goals that can probably be solved in one week to six months. To open, click on the following hyperlink or icon: Moderate challenges
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· This template is for very difficult problems and very challenging goals, which probably require more than six months to solve. Problems and goals in this category might not have any apparent solution. However, during the problem solving process, one or more solutions, or satisfactory alternatives may develop. Long-term Problem or Goal
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There is a folder linked to this document, which contains the above templates, as well as a number of other problem solving templates. To access the folder, click on the following hyperlink or icon. Problem Solving Templates
The problem solving templates, presented above, are general problem solving documents, for all types of problems and goals. Problem solving templates can be specialized for a specific purpose or goal. That is templates can be created to deal with a specific type of problem or goal, such as organizing a party, medical problems, engineering problems, etc. Problem solving templates can even be created for goals related to study and learning, such as learning trigonometry, studying speed reading, studying history, etc. This essentially, involves writing specialized instructions, and perhaps providing a set of specialized questions, to assist in creative thinking. This can also include detailed information comprising an entire course of study, in the form of text, sound recordings or video. Then relevant hyperlink connections are made to websites, software, files, sources of communication, cable or telephone connections to experts, or instructors, etc.
Each individual has his own set of unique circumstances and problems. This suggests in need for a personalized problem solving template. Thus, I will explain how to create personalized problem solving templates. The easiest way of making a personalized or specialized problem solving template, is to select one of the template that I created, and open a document from it. Than, modify it, so that it is optimized for your needs. This can involve, deleting everything that is irrelevant to your problem solving efforts, and adding relevant text, hyperlinks to websites, software, files, phone numbers, etc. When you have the document optimized for your needs, you should save it in a template format, so you can use it over and over again.
The easiest way to do this is to change the file extension to the template format. That is each software package that has templates generally has a separate file extension for the templates. For Microsoft Word, .dot is the file extension for templates. If you are working with an individual Microsoft Word file icon, just renamed the file, with the extension .dot. (See the note on the end of this page)
Alternatively, you can save the file in the usual way, but instead of clicking on save, click on save as, then a window will open, scroll down to Document Template (*.dot), and save it. When it is save this way, it is automatically stored in the Microsoft Word template folder.
All of the above is essentially the same for OpenOffice.com, but .stw is the template extension.
Note, to see the file extensions it is necessary to have the folder settings, in the Windows Control Panel set appropriately. Specifically, the following statement in the Folder Options should not have a check mark on it: Hide extensions for known file types. If you have to change the setting, go to the Windows Control Panel, then click on Folder Options, then click on view. Alternatively, you can try to use this hyperlink to the Folder Options, which I tested on my computer with Windows XP. Since each computer is configured somewhat differently, it may or may not work on your computer. After clicking on the following link you must minimize, close or exit this document (the electronic book) to see the Folder Options dialogue box. Click on this link: Hyperlink to the Folder Options. When you open Folder Options you must remember to clicked on view, to see your current settings.
Very important note: As previously stated, in the beginning of the book remember to hold down the Ctrl key when clicking on hyperlinks in Microsoft Word. If this is not done the hyperlinks may not operate in Microsoft Word. However, in OpenOffice.com this is not necessary, at least for the specific version I downloaded.
An alternative way of making a problem solving template that cannot be overwritten, is to record it on a CD-R. A CD-R can only record once, and they cannot be erased. If you open any type of document on a CD-R, and make changes, and try to save it, you must use a different drive letter from the CD. This usually involves saving it on the hard drive, with a different filename. For example, if you have this book, in the original CD-R format, the book and all the files and problem solving templates associated with it are read-only, and cannot be overwritten.
Another alternative way of creating read-only problem solving templates, is to simply open up the icon that is associated with the template (the file), and change the settings to read-only. To do this right click on the icon with the mouse, and a menu will open. Then scroll down to the bottom of the menu to the word properties, and click with the mouse. A dialog box will open. In this dialog box, look for the words: Read-only and place a checkmark by clicking on it with the mouse. Then click on Apply, and finally click on the word OK.
In general, when you are working with any type of problem solving template, whether it is a general, specialized, or personalized template, you should gradually modify it, based on your problem, and the trial and error process. This will often involve a gradual redesign of the entire template, based on your specific problem and needs. If all this is done correctly, it should result in a personalized template, which is specialized for the specific problem or goal you are working on. This process can result in templates that contain very useful information for you, such as telephone numbers of people and organizations that you find helpful, Web addresses, hyperlinks to files, documents and software that you used to solve problems. Thus, you should probably save the templates that result, for future use. This simply involve saving it into template format, as described above.
The above is a very important procedure that should be used when using problem solving templates. If this is not done the templates may not be very useful for you.
One of the very useful skills that you should master is the creation of hyperlinks. This was already discussed in the subtopic: Additional Information on Computerized Links This subtopic should be reviewed. You can obtain more detailed information about hyperlinks and how to create them, by doing an Internet search for creating hyperlinks, and how to create hyperlinks in Microsoft Word. You can also obtain information on hyperlinks, and other procedures, by looking in the help menu of the software that you are using.
The general ideas in this subtopic was already discussed in the subtopic on: Additional Information on Computerized Links. However, it is discussed here from the perspective of problem solving templates.
Note, the word object means here any type of electronic document, icon, photograph, sound recording, video recording, file, or any entity that you see as a movable physical structure in the Windows operating system.
Another useful procedure to learn is how to insert objects from other software directly into your problem solving template. This is a very useful technique. You can insert mathematics software, spreadsheets, CAD software, directly into your template, or document. The software that is inserted in this way can generally carry out the functions it was designed to perform. For example, mathematics software, inserted into Microsoft Word, will be capable of carrying out mathematical calculations, directly from the Microsoft Word document. Another example will clarify this. An Excel Worksheet is inserted here below. You can carry out mathematical calculations with this worksheet, if you are familiar with Excel. This worksheet will automatically perform various mathematical calculations.
There are a number of important principles to understand about inserted objects, such as the Excel worksheet presented above. First, when a template or other document is opened, you must have the software of the inserted object on your computer system. For example, if you do not have Excel on your computer system, you will not be able to use the Excel worksheet presented above. You will just see gray borders where I inserted the worksheets. When you want to use the inserted objects, such as the Excel worksheet, you click on it with the mouse, and use it in the same way that you normally use the software.
Most high-quality modern word processors have the functions needed to insert objects into their documents. However, there may be variations on what can be inserted. Both Microsoft Word and OpenOffice.com have the functionality needed to insert objects.
Now, all of the above, raises the question, how do you insert objects into a word processor document, such as Microsoft Word. The answer is start by clicking on insert, and then a menu will open. Scroll down the menu, to the word object and click on it, and another menu will open. Scroll down this second menu until you find the object you want to insert. If you cannot find the object you want to insert, click on the tab that states: create from file. Then click on brows, and search for the file you want to insert. If you want to create an icon of a file, you can do so, by placing checkmarks on link to file and on display as icon.
Incidentally, making icons in this way produces very good results, and they do not have the drawbacks of the techniques previously explained. For example, below there are icons for the Windows Paint program, and the Windows Explorer. If you click on them they should open these programs. When icons are made in this way it is not necessary to press Ctrl while clicking with the mouse, in Microsoft Word. In fact, these icons will not function if you press Ctrl.
Note, do NOT press Ctrl when clicking on these icons, because they will not function.
In OpenOffice.com the steps to insert an object into a document are similar to the steps for Microsoft Word. However, with OpenOffice.com after clicking on object, another menu opens, which gives you the choice of different categories of objects. For most purposes, click on OLE object, unless you see the type of file you want to insert.
Theoretically it is possible to add far more than hyperlinks and icons to the problem solving templates. It is possible in theory to add buttons, menus, and virtual control dials. However, the hyperlinks provide all that is necessary for practical purposes.
In theory, it is possible to control just about anything with hyperlinks, because it can be configured to control directly or indirectly just about any type of software or computer. Computers can be set up to control everything from spacecraft, astronomical telescopes, microscopes, robots, and just about any type of experiment. It is relatively easy to put hyperlinks that control all of the above in a problem solving template.
In theory, problem solving templates can be created that are far more sophisticated than those discussed in this section. Templates can be created that have hyperlinks to vary sophisticated scientific equipment. Such problem solving templates could be an excellent scientific tool, and used for the most difficult research and engineering problems. It is quite simple to construct templates of this nature, with a large number of communication links. This would make it very simple for a large team of scientists and engineers to work together on the same problem, no matter where they are located. This would involve distributing the same problem solving templates, with all the relevant communication links through e-mail, to all the individuals working on the project. The templates could also be distributed from a website, by means of downloading.
Note, I’m using the word individual in the following paragraphs to simplify the sentence structure, but keep in mind that the word stands for individual person, group, organization, nation, etc.)
I compiled a number of steps, and procedures to solve problems, into a methodology, which I am calling Multiple Approach Problem Solving methodology. (I am also calling it MAPS methodology, or MAPS.) However, the steps involved with this methodology are not necessarily followed sequentially, and may be repeated many times over with difficult problems. The MAPS methodology employs when necessary a multidisciplinary approach, the writing process, the computer, and problem solving templates, which was discussed in the previous topic. (If you did not read the previous topic, you may not be able to understand the following text.)
The MAPS methodology is useful for all types of problems and goals. However, this methodology is especially useful for extremely difficult problems and goals, especially when there are no apparent solutions. When applying MAPS to simpler problems many of the steps can be simplified or skipped if they are irrelevant to the solution or goal.
The MAPS methodology requires a computer connected to the Internet, with Microsoft Word, or OpenOffice.com, or any other word processor that can open the MAPS problem solving template, when it is applied to difficult problems or challenging goals. If you do not have either of these programs, go to www.openoffice.org and obtain OpenOffice.com for free.
The MAPS methodology can be represented in 25 steps, which will become apparent in the following paragraphs. However, this does not imply that your problem can be represented or solved in a series of 25 steps. It just means that MAPS can be explained in a series of 25 steps. Simple problems can sometimes be solved in three steps, and complex difficulties and challenging goals can require hundreds, or thousands of steps, if not more.
It certainly is not necessary to master all the information presented here to successfully use the MAPS methodology. When dealing with simpler problems much of this material is usually unimportant. When dealing with complex difficulties or challenging goals use the MAPS problem solving template, linked to this book. The MAPS template illustrates the 25 steps and related information, with a series of questions and instructions. However, the large amount of information presented in the following pages should ideally be read also. This information will greatly increase your effectiveness with problem solving and goal attainment in general, even if you are not using the MAPS methodology.
This subtopic provides a brief overview of how to use the MAPS methodology. A more detailed discussion of the MAPS methodology will be provided in a series of separate subtopics, which follow this one. However, the basic information provided here will not be repeated in the more elaborate discussion.
To use MAPS, skip the steps that obviously do not apply to your problem or goal. When dealing with complex problems or goals, before skipping a step, carefully assess the relevancy or irrelevancy of each step to your problem. The steps do not have to be followed in sequence, and very often the best sequence to follow is based on your individual situation.
It is generally more effective if you periodically return to various steps during the problem solving process, to update and improve your plans and goals, based on the knowledge and experience you gained during the problem solving process. This is extremely important for most complex problems and goals. In general, you should try to continuously improve everything involved with your problem solving effort on an ongoing basis, when dealing with long-term goals. This means trying to continuously improve your plans, goals, techniques, equipment, and availability of expert assistance. Keep in mind, when working on any problem or goal, the learning process takes place, and you develop experience from the trial and error process. This provides the needed information to make improvements in everything involved with the problem solving process. With long-term goals, your entire set of circumstances can change significantly before you obtain your objective, which can suggest better or more realistic approaches to problems and goals.
The change of circumstances that can take place during a long-term problem solving effort can involve your health, your financial situation, your skills, your knowledge, and the availability of equipment and expert assistance. If you keep this in mind during your long-term problem solving efforts, you can guide your destiny to some extent towards improvements, which will increase your overall chances of successfully obtaining your objectives. This involves making a conscious effort to improve your health habits, your knowledge, your skills, and everything else in your life. It also involves purchasing and maintaining the equipment needed to obtain your objectives. In addition, establishing a list of experts that relate to your objective, and developing good working relationships with them, can also be extremely important with some long-term goals.
When dealing with very complex or difficult problems and goals it is sometimes necessary to start out with a poorly defined goal and an incomplete or imprecise plan. This actually can be an effective strategy, if you do not have the information you need. The needed information and experience will generally be obtained once you start working on your problem for a while. This is especially the case if you study relevant information and utilize the trial and error process in your problem solving efforts.
An understanding of the above principles is an essential part of the MAPS methodology, but of course these ideas apply to all challenging problem solving efforts.
The individual steps involved with the methodology are outlined in the MAPS problem solving template, with a series of questions. When reading the steps you should keep in mind that they are meant to be procedures to consider, especially when faced with challenging problems and goals. It is not possible to provide a precise set of steps that will automatically lead you to obtain difficult objectives. However, the general set of procedures provided by the maps methodology can help you work out a precise set of steps to obtain your goal. It is also possible to obtain a difficult goal by working out a general set of imprecise steps, coupled with the trial and error process. Keep in mind that challenging problems and goals are difficult because we do not know how to solve them. However, by applying sophisticated methodologies we can significantly increase the chances of finding a solution, or at the very least the best possible alternative to the ideal solution.
A problem solving template designed for the MAPS methodology is hyperlinked to this book at the end of this paragraph. (I am calling this document the MAPS problem solving template, or MAPS template.) Examine the template, and then return to this document. Then read the remainder of this topic, which will provide the background knowledge to use the template effectively.
When you open a MAPS problem solving template, it is necessary to save the resulting document using a unique file name, which can relate to your problem or goal. You can obtain the template designed for the MAPS methodology by clicking on the following hyperlink or icon:
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Note, there is a considerable amount of additional information on the Multiple Approach Problem Solving Methodology in the following 25 subtopics, which relate to the individual steps of the MAPS methodology.
The first step when dealing with difficult problems or goals, with the MAPS methodology, is to open and prepare a problem solving template. The templates contain all of the following:
· Instructions for the MAPS methodology
· A set of questions and instructions to stimulate creative thinking and guide the problem solving process
· A place to write answers to the questions, and create the documents needed for the problem solving process
· A place to keep notes that relate to your problem solving efforts, such as research information, results of various efforts, advice that you obtain from others, etc.
· A place to create tentative and/or actual plans needed to obtain your goal
· Internet links to search engines
· Internet links to telephone directory search engines
· Embedded spreadsheets that perform mathematical calculations
· Hyperlinks to software
To prepare the MAPS template first save it with a filename that relates to your problem or goal. Then, if you are not already totally familiar with the template, examine the entire template. Then carefully read the instructions.
After the above is completed answer the questions that are relevant to your goal in writing. Some or all of the questions can also be answered in your mind, especially for simpler problems. With more complex problems it is better to answer the questions in writing, and the more you write the better, from the perspective of stimulating creative solutions. This type of writing is very easy, because you are only writing to organize your thoughts, and to stimulate your creative thought processes. You do not have to worry about other people understanding your work. If you decide to use some of the material you are writing about, for other purposes, you can always revise it, at a later point in time.
A primary idea of the MAPS methodology is each time you use a template, gradually redesign it, so that it is optimized for the specific problem you are working on. This is done based on the research and studies of your problem, coupled with the trial and error process. This means, as you work with the maps template you should modify it so that it helps you obtain your goal or solution. This involves deleting questions, instructions, and other material that are irrelevant to your goal. When instructions, questions, hyperlinks, embedded objects, are no longer needed they should be deleted. If you accidentally delete anything that you need, you can always open a new template. You should add your own questions and instructions that will help you with your goal. You should also search for relevant links that will help you with your problem and add them to the template. Your links can include connections to websites, software, databases, word processor documents, electronic books, video and sound recordings, telephone numbers, computer to computer connections, as well as embedded objects, or anything that will help you solve your problem.
One of the primary objectives of the template is to help you organize the components you need to solve your problem, including the hyperlinks and embedded objects mentioned above. Generally this should include contact information or hyperlinks to organizations, experts, and other individuals that can help you solve your problem.
The second step of the MAPS methodology involves assessing the circumstances surrounding the problem or goal. The circumstances surrounding the problem or goal are usually extremely important. It may determine if the solution or goal is obtainable. The circumstances surrounding the problem include everything that might possibly affect the problem solving process or the attainability of a solution, except the specific factors that comprise the problem. Thus, the circumstances include the physical, social, and cultural, environment, as well as abilities, skills, and financial resources of the individual with the problem. It also includes the cultural components, values and psychological and emotional inclinations of the individual with the problem or goal. The important idea to understand is that the circumstances surrounding the problem can either make it easy, moderately challenging, difficult, very difficult, or impossible to obtain a solution. With some problems and goals the circumstances might have little or no effect on obtaining a solution. That is with certain goals the individual’s circumstances may not help or hinder obtaining a solution.
When the circumstances are making the problem solving effort difficult
or impossible, the best strategy might be to work on improving the
circumstances. Examples of adverse
circumstances in relation to problem solving are seen amongst the developing
countries. Problems that can easily be
solved by most middle-class Americans can be almost impossible to totally
rectify as a result of the adverse circumstances in many of the poorer
countries of the world. To a lesser
extent, you can find similar examples in the
The primary misconception about adverse circumstances in relation to problem solving is that the only factor is money. Often, there are many other difficulties, such as the unavailability of resources, inadequate education, cultural and subcultural beliefs and values and traditions that interfere with problem solving.
Another important concept is
even under good environmental conditions, the circumstances surrounding a
specific problem can make solutions and goals easy, moderate, difficult, or
impossible. A good example can be seen with
employment goals in the
The circumstances surrounding the problem can be subdivided into two sets of factors, which I am calling the environmental set, and the other the personal set. The environmental set is discussed below, which is followed by a discussion of the personal set.
The environmental set includes all the factors that relate to the environment, such as availability of resources, experts, technicians, employment, medical services, and education, as well as the economic status of the community, cultural norms, values, beliefs, , the health status of the locality, and the degree of air and water pollution. These factors generally cannot be eliminated by an individual problem solver, unless he can move to a new environment, which is sometimes an optimum or very realistic strategy. An extreme example, in this regard, can be seen when girls and women who want to obtain an education in a culture that does not support education for females. This can be an almost insurmountable problem in extreme cases, which can be solved by changing the environment, in theory. In practice, girls and women in such cultures may not have the freedom and/or financial resources to leave their environment.
The personal set of factors include: the abilities, weaknesses,
relative degree of health versus sickness, culture, subculture, personal
beliefs and values, education, and financial status of the individual with the
problem or goal. There are many other
factors in the personal set, but the general principle should be apparent from
the above. Financial problems, lack of education,
and lack of language skills, are probably the most common weaknesses that
interfere with problem solving amongst the disadvantage in the
The examples that I used
above, are obvious. In many real problem
solving situations, adverse factors from the environmental set or personal
set are not obvious. An adverse
factor in one situation may be a neutral or supporting factor in another
situation. For example, a foreign-born
individual that does not speak English very well, might find certain
employment goals easier in the
Often, the most feasible
way of dealing with the circumstances surrounding a problem is to define
a goal that is realistic in the given set of circumstances. This involves considering the
environmental and personal set of circumstances, and creating a goal that is
obtainable under the given set of conditions. However, the realistic goal does not
necessarily have to replace or eliminate the more challenging goal. Often it is quite feasible to conduct a
problem solving effort aimed at a relatively easy goal, a moderately difficult
goal, and a very challenging goal that is a long shot. Some examples will clarify the above
ideas. A healthy individual that has had an excellent high school education, is
very wealthy and living in the
All of the above boils down to a few questions, which are as follows:
· What is the nature of the environmental set of factors, and how do they affect the goal? What are all the factors in the environmental set, and do any of them have any impact on the goal? Is it feasible to improve the environmental factors by moving to a different location?
· What is the nature of the personal set of factors, and how does it affect the goal? Is it feasible to improve the personal set of factors that are interfering with the goal attainment effort? What are all the factors in the personal set, and do any of them have any impact on the goal?
The third step of the MAPS methodology involves describing or defining the problem, the solution or the goal. Defining the problem, the solution or the goal, might seem to be an obvious process that takes place automatically, but this is usually not the case, except with some of the simpler problems. Simpler problems and goals generally do not require much more than a simple statement or thought delineating the final objective. However, with complex challenges, the way the problem, solution or goal is defined can determine the remaining steps in the problem solving process. It can also determine whether or not success will be obtained. It should be understood that when you are faced with a difficult problem that the defined solution or goal is not necessarily the ultimate solution, but it might be the most realistic solution, or the best alternative resolution or goal.
The idea to keep in mind is that difficult goals and problems may or may not have obtainable solutions. There are many good strategies to deal with the uncertainty. If you think of difficult problem solving as a gamble, because you are betting, money, time, and effort on success, you can reduce the risk of losing by following the strategies in the following paragraphs.
One of the simpler strategies is to define your problem, solution or goal, and the best alternative to the goal. With some careful evaluation and thinking, it is often possible to carry out a problem solving effort focused on the goal as well as the best alternative to the goal. This idea is similar, but not identical, to the concept discussed in the previous subtopic.
Define the problem in terms of a solution or goal. For simpler problems you can do this in your mind. However, for moderately difficult an very difficult problems you should do this in writing, by answering the questions in the beginning of the MAPS template. This can involve a number of tentative goals, if you are not certain how to set an appropriate or realistic goal. The tentative goals can be refined into a more precise objective, after you have been working on the problem for a while, and have more information and experience.
Often it is better to consider a number of possibilities before setting a precise goal. It is sometimes better to set three goals, as previously explained, such as the following:
· An easy goal with an estimated chance of better than 90% of obtaining it.
· A challenging, but realistic goal, which can probably be obtain, if you invest a reasonable amount of effort, with a better than 65% chance of success
· A very challenging goal that you might be able to obtain, but the chances are less than one in five that you will
Another important strategy is: Ideally your goal or the solution to the problem should be defined in such a way that it solves more than one problem. This was illustrated in an earlier article in this book: An Introduction to Problem-Solving, Involving the Computer and Other Techniques. The problem used for illustration in this article was how to read this book if you do not have the time. Then the problem was defined in a more general way that would provide solutions to other problems: How can I manage to read large amounts of material, such as this book, when I do not have the time to do so? That is the idea here involves solving more than one problem, with the same effort or goal.
In addition to the above, ideally the goal attainment effort and related plans should be carried out in such a way that they result in other rewards, and benefits besides the main objective. For example in the previous article the technology used to solve the problem of dealing with excessively large reading assignments, provides other benefits that had nothing to do with the original problem. Specifically, the equipment needed to solve the problem included a portable CD or MP3 player, which has other applications, such as listening to music or relaxation recordings. In addition the effort involved in attempting to solve the problem indirectly involved the development of additional computer skills.
The concept presented above is not new. NASA’s space program is an excellent example. The effort to solve problems of space exploration resulted in the development of many technologies. These technologies have additional utility beside space exploration. Some of the more interesting devices include communication satellites, global positioning satellites that have very wide application including tracking aircraft, ships, and automobiles. In addition, the technology developed by the space program also resulted in the development of a large number of devices for medicine and industry.
Similar benefits often result from other science and engineering projects, besides the space program. Generally, all of the additional benefits happen more or less by random chance, and my idea is to try to do this deliberately. That is, try to deliberately solve problems, by delineating goals, and related plans that will provide additional benefits, besides just solving the problem. The most important idea to understand, here is that this is not always practical or even possible, but when it is, you should certainly consider this strategy.
Sometimes people inadvertently do just the opposite of the above, in their goal setting and problem solving strategies. Becoming aware of it, can help you avoid these dysfunctions. That is they inadvertently attempt to solve problems, by setting goals and creating plans that have an adverse effect on other aspects of life. One of the best examples of this can be seen in earlier attempts to solve problems of inadequate energy production, which involved the development of generating facilities that produce air pollution. Individuals, sometimes try to solve a problem or obtain a goal by investing an excessive amount of money, time, and effort, which harms other aspects of their lives. This sometimes happens when an individual tries to start and maintain a small-business. This is a long-term over investment, but there are also short-term over investments. An example is seen when someone wastes several hours on a relatively minor problem, which can involve losing sleep and skipping meals. This can sometimes happen to students with homework or mathematics problems. Long-term or short-term over investments are probably more likely to happen when the problem appears to be easier then it really is.
Obviously, it is important to consider all of the above when you are involved with the problem solving process, and are delineating goals and plans. This can be done by asking your self the following questions, and following the related instructions:
· Is there any way that I can solve additional problems with the same effort, by delineating the goal in a more general way?
· What would be the ideal solution to this problem?
· What is the most feasible solution for this problem?
· What is the easiest and quickest resolution for this problem?
· If I cannot solve this problem or obtain this goal, what would be the best resolution or alternative goal?
· How much time, money and effort should I invest to obtain this goal?
· How long will it take me to solve this problem?
· What would be the minimum amount of time needed to solve this problem?
· How long will it most likely take me to obtain this goal?
· If it takes me twice as long as I expect to obtain this goal, would it be worth it? If it takes three times longer would it be worth it, four times longer? Five times longer?
· How much time and money should I invest in this goal? At what point would the investment be excessive?
There are many types of goal setting strategies that are appropriate for different situations. The strategies and other details are discussed in separate articles in this book. A detailed understanding of these goal setting strategies are very advantageous to all types of problem solving.
The fourth step of the MAPS methodology involves assessing your problem and goal in terms of its individual components, and from different perspectives and levels. This includes assessments of dynamics and interactions. Generally, this can be done from a large number of different perspectives and levels, which can sometimes reveal a large amount of information and possible solutions. This can sometimes be very productive, and at other times it does not really help with the solution. It depends on the problem and goal, how much information you have, and your ability to change or modify the factors that are involved. For example, we can analyze the weather in terms of individual factors. Perhaps we can also theoretically figure out ways of controlling and changing the weather, if we could manipulate these factors. However, there are no practical ways of moving, blocking, diverting, increasing or decreasing the factors that relate to the weather, because they are too large. Often we cannot manipulate the factors that relate to our problem because they are either too large or too small. An example of factors that are too small is seen with many diseases caused by viruses, or cancerous cells. Thus, with some problems step-4 can sometimes be skipped, especially with simple problems. However, with complex problems, it is really never advisable to skip this step, because it often leads to insight. Insight often helps problems from reoccurring, and sometimes leads to creative solutions.
The simplest way of starting an evaluation in terms of this step is to divide your problem or goal into a number of segments or factors. The segments can lead to a better understanding of your problem or goal, and suggest new solutions. The individual segments can sometimes be solved independently of the primary problem. A problem might not have an apparent solution, or an optimal solution. However, when the individual factors comprising the problem are examined individually, very often some or all of them can be solved independently. This can sometimes be done by allocating the different factors to specialists.
Another useful way of analyzing a problem is to try to determine all the components that may contribute to the problem, or may make it worse, or all the factors that might make it more difficult to obtain a goal. The opposite of the above can also be quite useful. This involves trying to determine all the factors that might lessen the severity of the problem, or all the factors that might increase the chances of obtaining a goal.
Analyzing and examining a problem from different disciplines and levels can also provide useful insights and potential solutions. For example, the common cold can be examined from all of the following:
· Psychology: The way people feel and behave when they have a cold
· Social psychology: The way the individual with a cold is treated by others, and how he interacts with other people
· Employment and productivity: How colds interfere with productivity, and absenteeism due to colds
· Physiology: The study of the body organs that are infected with the cold viruses, and the way the body responds to the condition.
· The virus: How the virus functions, reproduces, attacks cells, the internal structures and mechanisms of the virus
· Biochemistry: The chemical processes involved within the virus, and how the body chemistry changes in response to the illness
Perhaps the above would suggest that the optimal solution would probably be to figure out a way of interfering with the molecular or structural mechanisms of the virus. From the perspective of social psychology, it might be possible to reduce the spreading of colds by changing the way people with colds interact with others.
Another way of analyzing and examining is useful when dealing with people. When you are dealing with any type of problem or goal that involves people; it is extremely useful to try to determine how other people think and feel about various situations that relate to the problem or goal. This involves assessing what they believe at an intellectual level, how they feel at an emotional level, and their most likely future actions in relation to the situation that you are dealing with. For example, if you are trying to write advertising for a product, you can try to imagine yourself in the consumer’s position. This can involve several imaginary assessments, based on different segments of the population. Of course, if you can actually determine how people feel about the advertising and the product itself, it would be far better than just imagining. Another example is with job interviews, and just about any type of face-to-face negotiation, you might have an advantage if you can imagine how the other individual thinks and feels. However, with face-to-face interactions you have the option of testing out your assumptions by observation, and by tactfully asking appropriate questions.
Another useful perspective of analyzing and examining involves looking for trap-like situations, which are often primary difficulties with many types of problems. That is very often, difficult problems involve one or more complications that have a trap like quality. For example, an individual may be unable to work, because he needs surgery to correct medical problems, but he has no money, to pay for the surgery, because he is unable to work. Another example, an individual may have received an inadequate formal education, and he wants to rectify the problem, but he cannot get into any college, because he has an inadequate formal education. There can be a number of trap-like sequences associated with one problem. Generally, situations of this nature involve one factor-X that is dependent on another factor-Y, and you cannot rectify factor-X because it is dependent on factor-Y, and you cannot rectify factor-Y because it is dependent on factor-X.
Often, the best solution is to try to ease your way out of the trap in a series of steps, such as trying to improve factor-X slightly, so you can improve factor-Y. Once you have improved factor-Y slightly you can improve factor-X slightly more, etc.
Sometimes problems of this nature can also be solved by obtaining assistance from various agencies or individuals. If we return to the first example, an agency or individual providing financial assistance for surgery, would correct the employment problem. Representing this idea in a general sense involves the following: factor-X is dependent on another factor-Y, and you cannot rectify factor-X because it is dependent on factor-Y, and you cannot rectify factor-Y because it is dependent on factor-X, thus you must rectify factor-X and/or factor-Y from one or more additional factors, such as factors-A, factors-B, or factors-C. The question to ask your self in such a situation is how can I find alternative ways of partially or totally rectifying factor-X and/or factor-Y?
With certain types of problems, there is a vicious cycle such as factor-X worsening factor-Y and factor-Y becomes more problematic and it worsens factor-X. The solution is to first try to stop the vicious cycle by some means, which will probably require additional factors (such as assistants from various organizations and/or individuals) similar to the situation mentioned above. Then the problem can be further evaluated and rectified.
Problems can also be analyzed and examined from the perspective of dysfunctional thought patterns, believes, and strategies. That is often people have problems that they can't solve because of the way they think, what they believe and the strategies they use. It is very common to find people with problems, who cannot solve them simply because they believe that there are a few predefined ways of solving the problem, which they tried, and which failed to result in a solution. This kind of dysfunctional thinking probably happens to all of us with some problems, especially at the beginning of a complex goal attainment effort. It generally takes place inadvertently, and it usually eliminates all the strategies that would solve the problem. A primary dynamic behind this difficulty is we are often used to doing things in certain customary ways, and it can be difficult to switch to a new method, especially if it requires some learning and practice. Thus, this dysfunctional pattern prevents creativity and the implementation of creative solutions.
Based on the above discussion, the important idea to keep in mind is often a major part of problem solving involves a psychological process, consisting of breaking habitual ways of thinking, acting, reacting, and doing various tasks. A useful strategy to deal with this kind of difficulty, is to analyze and examine your problem or goal and related thoughts, believes and behaviors. Make a list of various types of dysfunctional thoughts, believes and strategies that may be preventing you from solving the problem. Then try to gradually force yourself, over a period of time, to try new methods, even if it feels quite uncomfortable. This should be done even if the new methods require learning and practice, and are initially less efficient. This generally requires persistence, prolonged practice over a period of weeks and months, experimenting with new strategies to solve your problem or obtain your goal.
The fifth step of the MAPS methodology involves examining your problem or goal from different disciplines. This can involve dividing your problem into different segments that relate to specific disciplines. For example, if your problem involved designing and marketing a new car, the problem can be divided into engineering, industrial psychology, and marketing. Each of the segments of your problem can be given to experts in suitable disciplines. Of course, it is also possible to apply your own knowledge of the relevant disciplines to your problem, especially when it is not financially feasible to hire a team of experts in a number of fields.
A slightly different multidisciplinary approach, involves the assessment of the entire problem from a number of disciplines. This can also include the presentation of the entire problem to a number of experts from different fields.
Generally speaking, with difficult problems the multidisciplinary approach would involve both of the strategies mentioned above. It probably should also include detailed research and study of the problem from different disciplines. The multidisciplinary process often should involve searching for experts and organizations from different disciplines that might be able to solve all or part of the problem, or provide insight, or other types of assistance.
Generally, most problems and goals, involve the physical, social and biological sciences, at some level. This includes psychology, social psychology, sociology, physiology, medicine, physics and chemistry. For example, if your goal is to obtain a college degree, then the multidisciplinary factors include the following:
· The psychological components include your level of desire to obtain your goal, your self-discipline, your emotional responses to various types of stress, and any habits you have that might adversely interfere with your time and concentration.
· The social psychological factors include the way you interact with other people, and the way other people interact with you. This includes how other individuals perceive you, what they think about you, and how they evaluate you. This also includes your overall ability to interact and communicate with other people.