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Problem finding is the key to innovation.

Problem Solving or Problem Finding? How To Prepare Teens For The Future

Problem solving gets a lot of attention, and for good reason. As an employee, those who can identify a problem and quickly find a solution can spare their team a lot of stress. And in today’s relatively egalitarian workspace, everyone is responsible for contributing ideas and solutions. It’s no wonder, therefore, that the best universities and employers keep problem solving high on the list of admirable attributes.

Less discussed is problem-solving’s more creative cousin, problem finding.

What do I mean by more creative? Recent research into creativity shows that problem finding – the ability to discover, create, or preempt problems in order to better understand a mechanism – serves a prime role in “intrinsically motivated creative performance.” Of course that’s great if your child plans to enter a creative career.

It’s also important in nearly any career.

The days of getting good at your job and staying there for thirty years are long gone. Your child is entering a world that changes at the speed of ideas. It will always be important to be able to solve problems. However, in this new, fluid economy, problem solving is just too slow.


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What is problem solving? In ages past, when change took decades or even lifetimes, problem solving was one of the most valuable skills an individual could carry with them into a career. Reserved primarily for leaders, problem solving skills were an elite quality generally only acknowledged in upper management even in more creative organizations.

Over time, however, the hierarchical model of paid ideation disintegrated beneath the weight of consumer demand. It became everyone’s job to drop a comment in the box, if you will, though the cultural shift toward breaking down that hierarchy didn’t take so easily. Many of those comments were ignored.

Up to that point, problem solvers were those who could take the numbers weeks, months, even years after the problem began, and quickly piece together a “solution.” With a band-aid on the issue, it would be weeks, months, even years before anyone discovered that the solution didn’t work or worse, it caused a new problem.

It turns out, problem solving doesn’t affect long-term success. Problem solving cuts the discovery process short, focuses on the symptom, and most inefficient, is reactionary.

What is problem finding? Today, change happens rapidly. The modern world – employment economy included – can comfortably be described as fluid. By the time a solution rolls out in a large organization, a new problem has arisen. The time an organization spends trying to stop leaks is time a competing organization spends attracting the first company’s business.

Individuals working under this type of stress cannot thrive. They get swept up in the current and moved along too fast until everything falls to pieces – at work and at home.

A defining attribute of problem finders is their ability to be comfortable with discomfort in order to take the time they need to examine and identify the root of a problem.

Problem finding, then, allows individuals to delve more deeply into issues affecting their work, and that’s great. What makes problem finders more successful, however, is their ability to dig deeply and find the cause of problems affecting their life, feelings, and relationships.

Because the eagerness of problem solving tempts solvers to accept the easiest answer, they tend to attribute difficult interpersonal situations to the ill will of others. Conversely, problem finders are more willing to spend time in their discomfort to discover the true reason behind their negative interactions, even if it implicates themselves.

So, which is it?

Helping youth develop their problem finding skills certainly prepares them for success in their future career, relationships, and personal wellness. Promoting problem solving skills prepares youth to think on their feet, overcome problems quickly, and lead effectively from anywhere in an organization.

Which is it, then? Well, both.

Ideally, as parents and educators we teach our children how to find problems, how to solve problems, and when to do each. Better yet, we prepare youth for independence by teaching them how to discover the answers for themselves.

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