Do you think that problem solving, critical thinking, and creative thinking are synonymous?
In order to solve problems effectively and efficiently, you need to use creative thinking and critical thinking. Jonassen (2000) created a typology of problem solving. He identified 11 types of problems: logical problems, algorithms, story problems, rule using problems, decision-making, trouble-shooting, diagnoses solution, strategic performance, case analysis, designs, and dilemmas. He described each type of problem’s resolution process. For example, if a problem presents limited variables that can be controlled through manipulation, then an analyst would know that they have a logical problem by referring to Jonassen’s typology chart. Logical problems are “discovered” in Jonassen’s description of its structuredness, where discovered refers to solutions drawn from logic. Determining the logic model is a type of critical thinking process. Problem solving depends on the type of problem and its structuredness, context, inputs, abstractness, and activities (Jonassen, 2004). Therefore, one should critically analyze the type of problem and its structuredness.
The overarching strategy for problem analysis involves the steadfast engagement of critical thinking processes. Using a systematic process assists you with adequately thinking though the complexity and multifarious components of problem solving. Some instructional design approaches ask questions in a stepwise process to analyze problems. For example, Harless’ (1974) first question in the process of front-end analysis (FEA) asks: “Do we have a problem?” Learners must use critical thinking to avoid making assumptions about a situation. Is it a problem or an opportunity? Dick, Carey, and Carey (2009) suggested that novice instructional designers develop their critical thinking skills to become effective performance analysts. They urged analysts to be open-minded and view problems from multiple perspectives. Critical thinking processes include synthesis of a problem statement, FEA, triangulation of data collection, root cause analysis, active listening, system-wide checks and balances, and reflective thinking. Thinking critically helps you avoid various FEA pitfalls such as Groupthink.
Addressing a problem strategically takes some creative thinking. For example, there are timesaving strategies and models for problem analysis such as Jonassen’s idea of keeping a fault database. When I read about this, I thought of how simple, yet, creative this strategy was. Have you heard of Toyoda’s Why Tree? It’s a creative and simple technique for getting to the root cause of a problem. He first used the method in the Toyota manufacturing process in 1958. It consists of five why-questions that represent deeper levels of understanding the problem. For each answer, you ask why until you uncover the true root cause. Responses are mapped out according to different leads/reasons. There are three benefits to using this process. First, the different branches/reasons that stem from a problem statement can lead to more than one root cause and various interventions. Second, it creates a mental map for synthesis of a presenting problem. Third, it aids novice analysts in digging deeper to uncover the real root causes and avoid superficial conclusions. This creative process utilizes deductive reasoning, which is a type of critical thinking. Therefore, critical thinking, creative thinking, and problem solving are interrelated processes but not interchangeable terms.