Blog of Andrés Aravena

How to solve hard problems

31 March 2020

People are asking “How can I solve the homework? It is too hard”. I argue that the homework is not hardA hard problem would be if you are a decision-maker in a health organization, and you have to coordinate the response to a pandemic. We need the best people to solve really hard problems. Will you be one of them?

, but I see that many students are not used to solving problems.

Here are some steps that may help you.

  1. Read “How to solve it” and understand it.
  2. Read the question and understand it
    1. Explain to someone else what you understand
    2. If you do not understand, ask to your peerspeers: classmates, colleagues, friends.

  3. Describe what is your input and what is your output
    • In other words, explain what are your hypotheses and what is the result you want to achieve
    • Describe what is given to you and what you have to give back
  4. Draw it. Make some visual representation of the problem
  5. Try some ideas of possible solutions. It will stimulate your mind and help you to think “out of the box”
  6. Imagine how it will look when you solve it. Write what you imagine.
  7. Talk about the problem. Logic thinking is connected to language, so you need to verbalize it. If you cannot talk, write about it
  8. Be comfortable with failureWe tend to identify ourselves with our job. When our work is criticized, we feel they are being critic to us. When our work is a failure, we think we are a failure.

    It is not true. We are not our work.

    . Real problems do not have quick and easy solutions. Keep trying without feeling depressed.
  9. Real life problems do not have a solution that Google can find. You have to create your own solution. Nevertheless, it is probable that other people had a similar problem before. You can look at them to get more ideas.

An essential part of problem solving is communication. Solving is easier if you work in teams. That is why we have an online forum. Use it.