Strong learning ability is essential for problem solving
Why do we learn?
The answer is simple - to acquire and use new knowledge for decision making and problem solving in our lives.
Learning is by far one of the most important abilities for humans and it goes hand-in-hand with problem solving ability.
During childhood the baby learns fast. The baby is in a great hurry to acquire new useful knowledge, rather to soak up knowledge from the environment around it. Faster it would learn, quicker it would be able to cope up with the environment.
In this process of hectic learning, the baby solves enormously difficult problems one after the other - naturally - on its own, without going through any artificially designed method or system. An example is - the child starting to speak. Nobody teaches it how to express its needs and emotions verbally using a language. For a human baby, learning its mother tongue is one of the hardest problems it solves. Even today, in learning its mother tongue, a baby should easily defeat the most powerful artificially intelligent language learning software.
This enormously powerful natural learning and problem solving ability of the baby is apparently lost as we grow up. But we believe,
The powerful learning and problem solving ability of the baby goes dormant in the adult - it doesn't die out.
The learning process
Understanding and enhancing human learning process is one of the most intensely researched areas over the ages.
Well, how do we learn? Let's consider the problem in very simple terms.
When I was in high school, I remember doing endless series of Trigonometry or Algebra sums. The teacher showed how to solve a few sums and the books had more worked out examples. I went through all such worked out examples as a routine. Next step was to work out the sums in the given exercise. That also I did. Could I memorize each of those sums exactly? I had a gut feeling, memorizing will not work for maths, and sure enough when the exam time came, some of the sums in the question paper were familiar looking but somewhat different from what I had done.
I had gone through the three stages of
- Understanding the basic principles of the particular topic the sum belonged to (this is theory, explained by teacher or learned from book),
- Understanding the worked out sums, and
- Actually doing the sums in the exercise.
Through these stages, I automatically extracted and absorbed the patterns, techniques and methods of doing a sum on a topic in abstracted form. That was my inherent problem solving mechanism at work. By the last two activities supplemented by teacher's guidance, I had become in reality a problem solver in the sub-domain of the particular math topic (say algebra, geometry or trigonometry).
For math and for any other problem areas (such as swimming),
You can't learn to solve any problem in a subject or activity area unless you actually solve a large number of problems in the particular subject or activity area.
Through actual solving of the problems, the various patterns of problems that can occur in the particular area as well as the basic principles that work for processing and solving the patterns are absorbed in abstracted form. The more my power of abstraction, the better would have been my chances in solving any type of math problem in the particular topic. My learning ability actually means a sum up of the inherent abilities of concept abstraction, concept linking, concept structure formation and so on. These are awkward terms to handle. So better we stick to the known expression - learning ability.
Difficulties in learning real life problem solving
Exercise book of real life problems
In real life problem solving, we face a number of difficulties,
- In maths, the syllabus is well defined and finite. In real life, problems are sometimes quite novel!
- In maths, you have a teacher, you have books and you have exams to consolidate your knowledge (no debate: the exams are as important to learning as the studies — same as life — no different).
What about real life problems? Who can teach or guide you? The answer to this question is unexpected:
Your teacher of real life problem solving can only be yourself and everything around you.
Basically you have to learn how to learn and solve problems by yourself. Fundamentally it is true that,
Learning is lifelong, and only over a very small part of your life a human teacher teaches you. Otherwise, environment and nature teaches you continuously and ceaselessly. Just like the human teacher situation, responsibility of how much you would learn depends on you.
You may have helping friends, guides, experts, and troubleshooters in some cases, but rest assured, the help is usually not offered automatically - you need to get it and that too from the right person. We will elaborate this very important technique of problem solving later.
How can you get exercise books for real life problem solving?
What about real life problem books and exercises? Answer is disappointing: the book of real life problems is the book of life itself. Can you do anything about it?
Yes you can. By now you have become a part problem solver and so you would look into all possibilities, you won't be stopped at the first hurdle.
First is easy. Start remembering past problems. Learn from the past. Try to write down the description and analysis of each such problem that you solved. Go through each in your spare time, to understand how you solved the important past problems. This is just like going through worked out sums in learning maths.
Any other possibilities? Look around. You have friends, you have family and you have acquaintances. If you involve yourself in solving others' problems, you get what you want: an exercise book of real life problems.
How would you actually use the exercise book?
With this exercise book, either you can observe and analyze, which is a passive approach, or you can try to participate in the problem solving process of others' problems yourself. The latter is a proactive approach and obviously is quite a powerful method to enhance your ability to solve real life problems.
The last but not the least is the exams, the tests. If you act as a decision analyst (or DA) in solving your or another person's problems, then the test will be in successful implementation of your analysis and recommendation, no less.
Here, we must emphasize the favorable facts that,
- Variety of real life problems are not limitless, most problems occur in a set of limited number of types.
- Powerful problem solving armory resources exist to help you in solving your problems. You are not helpless. These resources have been accumulated from many diverse disciplines and teachings of leading thinkers. Together this is an extremely powerful resource to help solving (someone has to do the actual solving work) some of the most complex real life problems of the world. At least in your personal world of problems it can contribute significantly to alleviate the situation.
- Once you absorb some ideas on assured way of solving real life problems, a surprising change comes — you become confident and your inherent systematic problem solver comes into play. The more you go along this path, the more you become focused and thought aligned.
There is no magic or high intelligence involved here — it is an attitude and approach towards a different way to face problems. And of course there must be a consuming curiosity to learn and help. Unless you are ready to help, how can you get the book of real life problem exercise to work on?
What would you decide?
Would you remain passive or choose the proactive path?
That again is your choice. Remember, life is making a series of choices. The path you choose will shape your future.
Principle of sharing comes into play in its full bloom if you take the proactive path. How so?
It happens this way:
In proactive involvement in other person's problem solving you share your most valuable assets — your intellect, your empathy and your time.
Gains will be: inevitable increase in power of problem solving for you and overall positive gains (which again reflects back to you) for others.
Choice is yours.