Big companies around the world agree on one thing: They like to hire problem solvers. Governments across the globe could also use a few more leaders able to find solutions to problems.
So school officials wonder: How do we turn today’s students into problem solvers? Employers ask: How can we help our people turn lemons into lemonade?
Promote thinking skills
A few years ago, we called it critical thinking. Today, we’re more likely to recognize the phrase complex problem solving. They’re pretty much the same. Problem solving is the ability to look at situations, think critically about them to make the best possible decisions in an increasingly complex world. This type of thinking requires:
- Reading, seeing, or hearing all sides of an issue.
- Ability to analyze information beyond its literal meanings.
- Aptitude to ask probing questions and assess the ideas of others.
- Capacity to seek out diverse points of view and multiple perspectives.
- Use of evidence and reasoning to support ideas and opinions.
- Competence in solving complex problems with apt solutions.
Teach problem solving
Teachers who encourage classroom discussion are on the right track. To become problem solvers, students need lessons that go beyond read and regurgitate. Rather than requiring 11th-graders just to read a chapter on the Civil War and list Who?, What?, When? and Where? on a work sheet, educators must urge them to probe further. Ask students and staff alike: Why? and How?
Why was there a Civil War in the U.S.?
Why couldn’t North and South get along?
Why did each side feel the way they did?
How did North and South differ in their views?
How could states have resolved their differences peacefully?
How can we avoid this type of national disaster in the future?
Questions like these, along with facts and figures, help develop skill in finding solutions for complex problems. Relying on Why and How, rather than habit or instinct, or doing things as they’ve always been done, leads to deeper answers – both in the classroom and on the job.
It’s good to know the facts (Who, What, When and Where), but more important are the reasons (Why) and alternatives (How). Answers to those questions can change organizations, change lives and change the world.
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