The Importance of Problem Solving

The title of this article seems to induce a kind of "duh" feeling, even within myself. I might as well have titled it "The Importance of Eating" or "The Importance of Breathing." The truth is that most can see that problem solving has an extreme importance in today's fast-paced society. We are continually pressured to make important decisions with more speed and more efficiency. It is important though to examine just where all the emphasis upon problem solving came from and why the idea came about.

The emphasis upon problem solving in everyday situations arose significantly from the ideas of the philosopher John Dewey. His works in the philosophy of education had a profound effect on the manner in which teachers do their job. But it is important to realize what Dewey was battling in his ideas. The antagonist to Dewey's emphasis upon problem solving was the teaching style of earlier times, namely, that of fact memorization-listen and repeat. Dewey believed that self-reflection was the key to education, as it utilized the surrounding environment and social structure with a thinking and involved individual. Self-reflection came about through a problem in the norm, and involvement by the individual meant that individual believed the problem to have meaning. If the individual believes there is no meaning, the problem never even seems to be a problem.

Even though it may seem that the two sides of the coin, fact-learning and problem solving, are in opposition, they are not at all. The two different styles work in unison. Both are needed to create a system where learning capacity is at it's utmost.

Problem solving itself deals with experimentation. An individual is experimenting whenever they are attempting to solve a problem. But experimentation relies upon past experience, past knowledge, current beliefs, etc. Thus we can see where fact-memorization comes into play. As an example, an young man is walking down a street. As he comes to crossing he realizes he is not quite sure where to go. He wants to go to the pool. He has learned a fact that the pool is on the north side of the town, and he has also done well to learn his directions. One of the streets heads south while the other heads north. As a problem solver, he calls upon his past recollections and reflects and decides it would be logical to take the northbound road. On their own, the facts are basically useless, neutral. They have no purpose other than for remembrance. But when a problem arises where these facts are called upon, they now become relevant and good uses of time.

Thus, solving a problem relies upon one's basis in facts. But problem solving is much more than that. It involves imagination. It involves being able to take all of what one has learned and incorporate it into seemingly unrelated endeavors. Experimentation involves imagination and problem solving is experimentation. Without the ability to tie facts to a situation, the facts are useless and are merely good for a gameshow.

Also, the imaginative mind is able to tie meaning to a given situation. It can find importance in things once thought not. What this allows is that a person is much more able to notice all the variables within a situation and that allows for greater control of the situation. This means a better solution to that particular problem.

The take away point of this article is that although problem solving has grounds in fact-learning, merely knowing facts does not make one a good problem solver. Also, while learning facts pertaining to your particular endeavors is important, is can also be noted that things not within that field can still be applied with enough imagination.

A good problem solver puts to use all the tools at their disposal and facts are tools, just waiting to be taken out and used.

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