To achieve Step 9, individuals will show that they can approach complex problems by creating a range of possible options.
In earlier steps, individuals showed that they could identify and explore complex problems through research and looking at causes and effects. This step builds on this by extending this into creating options for addressing complex problems.
The building blocks of this step are learning:
In Step 5, we looked at the importance of generating multiple options to consider when trying to solve complicated problems – those problems where there is an optimal solution, but it is not an obvious one or only one answer which is correct.
Since then, the focus has been on complex problems – those where interdependencies and links between problems mean that even experts might not agree on the optimal solution. In the last couple of steps, we have explored how to build up an understanding of these types of problems through using research and looking at causes and effects.
To build on this, we need to create a range of possible solutions to evaluate. Doing so is particularly important with complex problems because often solving these problems is about a combination of different actions or activities. In essence, no one thing answers or solves the problem.
The most important thing to remember here is that, as with Step 5, we have to take the attitude of trying to create lots of possible alternatives. It is far too easy for the human brain to think that whatever idea it first came up with is good enough and, therefore, to stop trying to create more. To help overcome that, we can set ourselves a goal – for example, coming up with at least ten or twenty possible solutions to the problem. I’ve seen organisations looking at complex problems where they try to create up to fifty or even a hundred ideas.
Feasibility is about whether something is possible and at what cost or level of difficulty.
When generating a range of solutions, it is essential to check that they are feasible by considering these key questions:
It is crucial to start by generating lots of ideas and possible solutions if we are going to have the best possible chance of successfully solving a complex problem. However, once we’ve done this, we should focus our energies on those with the highest likelihood of success.
Within education you may face a number of complex problems ranging from what courses or topics to study, where to study or what to do next. You may have to do a number of different things to get anywhere close to coming up with an answer to the problem. It is important, when learning new things to have a ‘can do’ attitude, of trying to create lots of possible solutions and not just settling for the first, quickest idea you came up with. By coming up with a range of options (10 to 15 is a good target) you give yourself the best opportunity to pick the one most suitable for your needs. It might also be helpful to discuss these with teachers, peers, tutors, coaches or others as they may be able to provide additional advice to you.
Complex problems are not uncommon in the workplace. It might involve deciding on the cost of a service, how to structure a team, how to engage with more customers or the best way to create a product. Employees could be given the task of coming up with a range of possible options to solve a problem they have. Once a range of options have been noted, the organisation may ask those individuals to look at how feasible different options. It will be important to consider key questions such as: Does the solution have the potential to answer part of the complex problem we have explored? Thinking about the causes and effects, would the solution have further effects that might be problematic? If relevant, would the cost of putting the solution into practise be far too high? When thinking about these questions, you will have to keep in mind what is important to the company when considering the range of solutions.
In the wider world, we can benefit from coming up with a range of options when faced with challenging, complex problems. Often the more ideas we generate, the clearer view we have on finding the right solution to the problem. You might be part of a community group exploring ways to reduce pollution and littering in your local area. This is a complex problem with multiple causes and effects. By breaking down the problem perhaps working individually or with others, you can create a range of ideas which could tackle the issue. This process can benefit you in many areas of life where you might face complex difficulties.
To best practise this step of Problem Solving, apply what you have learnt to a real-life situation. Choose one or more of the activities below, remind yourself of the key points and strategies in the step, and have a go!
To teach this step:
This step lends itself to reinforcement in some aspects of broader learning – for example, when discussing more complex phenomena. The complex problem that learners are investigating could also be related to subject matter – whether in religious education, influences on an artist, or understanding a natural phenomenon.
This step is best assessed through an assessed activity. For example:
This step is relevant to individuals who handle complex problems at work. To build this step in the work environment, managers could:
There are plenty of opportunities for building this skill in the workplace:
For those already employed, this step is best assessed through a practical exercise. For instance:
During the recruitment process, this step could be assessed by:
We work with a wide range of organisations, who use the Skills Builder approach in lots of different settings – from youth clubs, to STEM organisations, to careers and employability providers.
We have a lot of materials available to support you to use the Skills Builder Universal Framework with the individuals you work with, including:
We also do a lot of work with organisations who join the Skills Builder Partnership to build the Universal Framework into their work and impact measurement systems. You can find out a lot more using the links below.
At home, you can easily support your child to build their essential skills. The good news is that there
are lots of ways that you can have a big impact, including: