“Problems are meant to be solved, but unfortunately, a lot of people choose to complain, worry, and cry about them.” ― Edmond Mbiaka

In this quote, self-help writer Edmond Mbiaka identifies a key issue in our society. Instead of seeking to solve problems, many of us choose to simply complain about them. This negative choice does not help solve the problems we face. Rather, complaining and worrying lead us further away from finding a solution. In this post, we will look closely at the importance of problem solving in the critical thinking process.

Problem solving is the ability to work through problems by using critical thinking skills to arrive at a solution. In the workplace, you face new problems every day. Sometimes you’ll be expected to solve these problems on your own, other times you will work with a team to solve the problem. Sometimes a team is created just for the purpose of solving a specific problem. No matter whether you are solving a problem on your own or with a group, the problem solving process is the same and follows the following five steps:

1. Find the problem
2. Define the problem
3. Describe the problem
4. Diagnose the problem
5. Test the diagnosis

Find the problem. A problem exists when there is a difference between what is happening and what should be happening. For example, let’s say that you work in a retail store and the t-shirts are supposed to be organized by size, but you find out that they are actually organized by color. The problem is that there is a gap between how the shirts are organized and how they should be organized.


In the workplace, you should try to be proactive about finding and solving problems. To be proactive means, instead of waiting for a problem to come to you, you look for a problem and try to solve it. This means you sometimes solve problems before they even become problems! In most cases, the longer you wait to solve a problem, the worse the problem becomes and the harder it becomes to solve. If you are proactive about finding problems, you will save time and money.

Define the problem. To define the problem means to make a statement that tells what the problem is. It has been said that how we define a problem usually determines how we will solve it. This powerful statement sends us in a direction, which will determine whether or not we find a correct solution to the problem. (Jones, Morgan. Thinker’s Toolkit: Fourteen Powerful Techniques for Problem Solving.) The problem can be defined by answering one of the following questions: “What is not happening that should be happening?” or “What is happening that should not be happening?” (Arnold, John. The Complete Problem Solver.)


Describe the problem. Once you have defined the problem, the next step is to describe the problem. The description should include three parts: an identity, a location and timing. The identity should state who or what is involved, location describes where the problem is happening, while timing tells us when the problem is happening. (Arnold, John. The Complete Problem Solver.)

Diagnose the problem. To diagnose the problem means to find the cause of the problem. It requires that you think carefully about the information you have to come up with a hypothesis or explanation. The hypotheses that you came up with in Forming a Hypothesis are your possible diagnoses.


Test the diagnosis. Now that you’ve come up with several hypotheses or ideas about the possible causes of the problem, it’s time to test them to see if any are correct. The key here is to look at each hypothesis separately and ask yourself, “Does this hypothesis explain why something did or did not happen?” Do this for each possible cause until you feel you have found the hypothesis that best explains the problem.

Let’s say you tested your diagnoses and found that the hypothesis that correctly explained the cause of the t-shirts being sorted incorrectly was that they weren’t marked with sizes. Your next step in solving the problem is to make a decision about how to solve the problem so that the t-shirts are sorted correctly from now on. Check back next week to see our post on Decision Making!

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