Problem Solving versus Problem Finding


After employers have provided the feedback that new graduates have problems solving problems in the workplace, many educational institutions have started to integrate problem solving skills into the school curriculum to help the student in this area. Usually, scenario-based lessons are used. For example, students in a class may be asked to place themselves in a particular situation where there is a specific problem. They are then asked to solve them within a certain time. In some cases, they might be given some resources to facilitate this problem solving process.

This learning process looks almost perfect but if one were to take a closer look at this learning process, there is still something missing. And this missing element is what I call the “proactive factor”. As the saying goes, “If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.” The problem solving approach is aligned very closely with this saying. However, organisations are now aware of the fact that fighting the fire is not enough. Employees need to prevent the fire. “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it” don’t work anymore. Just think of PR practitioners in the midst of a crisis management. Do you think that they should make the proactive effort to promote the goodwill of the organisation before crisis hits or should they make the effort to resolve the crisis when it happens? The former approach seems to be the more logical and rational one. And to do this, we need to be proactive rather than passive, to respond rather than react.  

Thus, it can be seen that problem solving approach adheres closer to being passive and reactive. This is not desirable, as it is indeed the fact that prevention is better than cure.  So, this is where problem finding comes in, and it is more aligned with the behaviour of being proactive and responding.  However, how can educationists structure the lessons so that problem finding instead of problem solving is the focus of the lesson?

When it comes to problem finding, all of us have done this most of our lives during our leisure hours. It’s just that some of us do not realise this though. For example, when we are decorating our house during the festive seasons such as Christmas, don’t we all brainstorm with ourselves and/or our family members on how to best decorate our house?  In the midst of our work in the workplace, don’t we try our best to streamline our work processes to improve our efficiency? When we are travelling abroad, don’t we try to anticipate impediments to our travelling plans (such as flight delays) and make steps to avoid them?

We can encourage students to do the same thing in the classroom. It need not be implemented during the lessons. Students can be encouraged to identify ways to improve the way that the class operates. In this way, students will be encouraged to self-reflect as well, which is an important life skill.

Over time, every class is able to operate as an individual “organisation”, self-managing their operations in terms of efficiency and work processes in the classroom. It is important to note that this approach may be suited only for secondary school students and students of higher learning. For primary school students, problem finding skills should best be integrated into lesson plans.

It is important to note that students should be taught to be proactive and responsive, not passive and reactive. And the practice of problem finding fulfills this objective.


4 thoughts on “Problem Solving versus Problem Finding

  1. If you sit with executives of a lot of companies and ask the question, what’s the difference between problem solving, planning and decision making, they can’t give you a very good answer. It’s all fairly informal and jumbled up.

    In other companies, usually more mature businesses, they’ve put in place a lot of systems and processes. This will include a uniform methodology for problem solving, decision making and planning.

    There are a lot of tools and processes from problem finding. Learning how to lead or facilitate a team through one of these processes is a valued skill. Learning about quality and leading a six sigma team is also highly valued.

    So how do you get this into the schools? I think you’re right that the first step is to get schools to recognize the real value of these processes and that’s the world of future work and not working on an assembly line.


  2. Hi Steve,

    Thanks for your insightful comments.

    It will be great if a system for both problem finding and problem solving be devised and made available for all companies. This will create a common platform among different organisations and will probably facilitate “trouble-shooting” in organisations. However, life is often not that simple. And I figure the alternative will be to prepare students in schools well in this area of problem finding so that they are able to adapt and assimilate into any organisations with ease and contribute to the best of their abilities.

    Warmest Regards,


  3. I think the Kempner-Tregoe Model is still one of the best and most widely used in business. They four disciplines are situation analysis, problem diagnosis, decision making and problem prevention.

    You also see Six Sigma and the DMAIC process used a lot.

    I think there are good tools out there. It’s just getting them into practice that’s tough. Moving these models into K-12 makes a lot of sense. However, most of the time business consultants feel that working in the education system is like pulling teeth. Even in the most innovative setting they tend to be closed to these kinds of ideas.


  4. Hi Steve,

    Thanks for your insightful comments.

    Let’s hope that in the years to come, more educational institutions will be aware of the need to guide and mentor students in areas of problem finding such that the gap between academic and corporate excellence can be bridged.

    Warmest Regards,


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