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Sunday, January 18, 2015


Someone once asked Albert Einstein how he would spend the time if he had but one hour to save the world.  Einstein's response was, “I would spend 55 minutes defining the problem and then five minutes solving it.”

Understanding the problem was clearly critical, in Einstein's view, to being able to solve it.  The imminent American educator, John Dewey, believed that a problem well stated was half solved.  He even crafted a now famous problem-solving sequence that has been used for decades in tackling sticky problems.  Here is the Dewey problem-solving elixir:

  1. Define the problem. 
  2. Analyze the problem. 
  3. Propose solutions. 
  4. Evaluate the proposed solutions. 
  5. Select one solution.
Worth noting is the fact that the chosen solution may or may not work.  It simply represents a good possible course of action proposed through collective and deliberate inquiry.

What resonates with me about both Einstein's and Dewey's approach to problem solving was their bent for careful, thorough, analytical attention to discerning the completeness of the problem.  I infer that they cared as much about understanding the root causes of the problem as they did the manifested symptoms.  Neither, presumably, took the approach of throwing jello at the wall to see what sticks.  Nor were they inclined to the ready-fire-aim approach to problem solving.  

If our goal is to get better, every day, on purpose, intentional problem solving must be in our arsenal of skills.

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