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39 Problem Solving Techniques

 , November 13, 2015 updated on May 15, 2019
Problem solving is both an art and science that includes formal techniques, social collaboration and creative processes. The art of problem solving is a process of rational thought and interaction designed to spark creative solutions. The science includes techniques such as logic, research and peer review designed to systemize problem solving. The following are a few techniques that are commonly used to solve business problems.

Problem Statement

Formulating a well designed problem statement.

Challenging Assumptions

Challenging the fundamental ideas that you hold as an individual, team or business. Assumptions tend to be core business realities that aren't easily shaken. However, it is often a worthy exercise to see how new assumptions change your view of a particular problem.

Conceptual Framework

A conceptual framework is a method for organizing information in a particular domain. A common example is the playbooks used by American football teams.


A group creativity technique designed to allow ideas to flow out without fear of criticism.

SWOT Analysis

The practice of identifying your current strategic position in terms of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

Collective Intelligence

A general term for generating, evaluating and combining the ideas of a group. Collective intelligence draws on the diverse knowledge of a team to solve problems.

Feedback Loop

A feedback loop is any process that allows the results of actions to be quickly measured. The idea is to improve your solution to a problem with each iteration until it's fully optimized.

Peer Review

Peer review is a process of hardening and building credibility for a proposed solution by asking your peers to review it.

Thought Experiment

A hypothesis, story or procedure that is invented in order to examine its consequences.


Looking at a problem in general rather than specific terms by modeling it with an abstraction.

First Principles

A set of known facts, theories or assumptions in a particular domain that can be used to solve problems. Using first principles in problem solving is essentially a back-to-basics approach that questions everything beyond a few foundational assumptions.

Counterfactual Thinking

Thinking about the impossible. This usually means thinking back in time to evaluate decisions that you could have made but are now impossible because the time has passed. It may seem pointless to evaluate impossibilities. However, they potentially offer insights into decisions that are still possible now.

Critical Thinking

A disciplined, systematic analysis of evidence that arrives at an opinion, judgement or critique.

Convergent Thinking

Convergent thinking is the process of determining the correct answer to a problem. It is often contrasted with divergent thinking.

Divergent Thinking

The process of thinking creatively by challenging existing assumptions and contemplating unexplored avenues of thought.

Five Whys

A process of asking the question "why?" five times in sequence. The goal is to dig deeper beyond the surface of a problem to find general solutions.


Processes of formal reasoning.

Abductive Reasoning

Abductive reasoning is a type of bottom-up logic that allows for best guesses. It is typically used in the context of significant uncertainty.

Inductive Reasoning

Inductive reasoning is a type of bottom-up logic that proposes theories based on sets of observations.

Deductive Reasoning

The process of proving a theory using formal logic that guarantees logical certainty. Starts with the theory and seeks supporting observations in a top-down direction.

Backward Induction

A process of reasoning backwards starting with potential conclusions and evaluating the paths that lead to each conclusion. This tends to be a lot of work and usually requires computational support. Backward Induction is a common way to implement artificial intelligence such as computer chess.

Statistical Analysis

The use of probability distributions to solve problems or make predictions.

Game Theory

The study of problems that can be modeled as a game. Game theory can often provide the best strategy for a given situation assuming that all other players will make logical choices.


Inference is the process of developing true statements from lists of other true statements. It's a natural part of human thinking that's also used by artificial intelligence.


A model is a standardized way to view a structure or process in a particular domain. They are used to view business information for the purposes of problem solving and decision making. In other words, models are a way to turn raw information into usable knowledge.

Pareto Analysis

Pareto analysis is based on the idea that 20% of actions produce 80% of results. It's typically applied to prioritization of activities but has countless applications.

Test And Learn

A basic problem solving technique that involves a successive set of experiments designed to explore a solution space.

A/B Testing

A/B testing is a hypothesis testing method that compares the results of two experiment configurations. In many cases, a control is compared against an experiment.

Best Practice

A process or technique that is generally excepted to be the best known approach to a common business scenario.


A jugaad is a practical small scale innovation or workaround. The term originated as a way to describe the work of talented street mechanics in India who operate with extremely limited resources.


A pattern is a general, reusable solution to a common problem that is used to avoid reinventing-the-wheel. Patterns are widely used to solve computer programming problems. Business best practices can also be viewed as patterns.


Often a solution to a problem is really a choice of tradeoffs. For example, cost vs quality is a typical business tradeoff. Such problems can be explored by modeling to view the range of possible combinations.


The process of making minor changes to a complex system.


The process of identifying and clearing constraints commonly known as bottlenecks that limit the output of an organization, process or procedure.


Troubleshooting is a logical, systematic search for a solution to a problem. Particularly useful to address problems that reoccur on a regular basis.

Working Hypothesis

A working hypothesis is a solution to a problem that's tentatively accepted until it can be tested or a better solution can be found. In other words, it is a problem solving technique that involves going with your best guess and then trying to confirm results.


A paradigm is a standard way of doing things such as a business model or common business practice such as meetings. In the 1980s, it was fashionable to describe innovation as a paradigm shift.


Serendipity is a term that's used to describe the role of chance in problem solving. In many cases, complex problems that have been intensively researched for decades or more are suddenly solved in a moment of inspiration.


Flow is a term to describe a state of intense concentration that is thought to be important to solving problems.
Overview: Problem Solving Techniques
DefinitionThe process of developing plans to solve a problem.
Related Concepts


This is the complete list of articles we have written about thinking.
Abductive Reasoning
Abstract Thinking
Analysis Paralysis
Analytical Thinking
Argument From Silence
Arrow Of Time
Backward Induction
Base Rate Fallacy
Benefit Of Doubt
Big Picture
Call To Action
Catch 22
Choice Architecture
Circular Reasoning
Cognitive Abilities
Cognitive Biases
Cold Logic
Collective Intelligence
Complexity Bias
Constructive Criticism
Convergent Thinking
Counterfactual Thinking
Creative Tension
Creeping Normality
Critical Thinking
Curse Of Knowledge
Decision Fatigue
Decision Framing
Decision Making
Design Thinking
Divergent Thinking
Educated Guess
Emotional Intelligence
Epic Meaning
Essential Complexity
Excluded Middle
Failure Of Imagination
Fallacy Fallacy
False Analogy
False Balance
False Dichotomy
False Equivalence
First Principles
Formal Logic
Four Causes
Fuzzy Logic
Golden Hammer
Good Judgement
Grey Area
Hindsight Bias
Independent Thinking
Informal Logic
Information Cascade
Inventive Step
Logical Argument
Logical Thinking
Ludic Fallacy
Magical Thinking
Mental Experiences
Mental State
Misuse of Statistics
Natural Language
Nirvana Fallacy
Objective Reason
Personal Values
Positive Thinking
Practical Thinking
Problem Solving
Proof By Example
Propositional Logic
Prosecutor's Fallacy
Radical Chic
Rational Thought
Red Herring
Reflective Thinking
Scarcity Mindset
Selective Attention
Situational Awareness
Sour Grapes
State Of Mind
Systems Thinking
Thought Experiment
Unknown Unknowns
Visual Thinking
Want To Believe
Win-Win Thinking
Wishful Thinking
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Working Backwards

Full examples of working backwards.

Test And Learn

A basic problem solving strategy that involves an iterative process of experimentation.

Decision Making

A list of decision making techniques.

Abilene Paradox

The observation that groups may make collective decisions that are viewed as wrong or irrational by each individual member of the group.

Decision Making Process

A complete guide to the decision making process.

Rational Thought

Rational thought is often somewhat logical but includes factors such as emotion, imagination, culture, language and social conventions.


The common types of uncertainty in decision making and strategy.

Information Costs

A definition of information costs with examples.

Reverse Brainstorming

A definition of reverse brainstorming with examples.

Decision Fatigue

The definition of decision fatigue with examples.

Devils Advocate

Taking a position that you do not necessarily agree with for the purposes of argument.

Paradox Of Choice

The definition of paradox of choice with examples.

Cognitive Biases

A list of common cognitive biases explained.

Curse Of Knowledge

Why experts have trouble communicating.

Optimism Bias

An overview of optimism bias, including its surprising benefits.

Decoy Effect

A cognitive bias that is well known in marketing circles.

Biases vs Heuristics

The difference between biases and heuristics.

Information Cascade

A definition of information cascade with examples.

Functional Fixedness

A definition of functional fixedness with examples.

Boil The Frog

A definition of boil the frog, with examples.

Anecdotal Evidence

The definition of anecdotal evidence with examples.


The definition of scientism with examples.
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