Classification of real life problems
Though at first glance it seems that the world is filled up with real life problems of infinite types, some sense of this apparent sea of problems can be made by classifying them.
Problem classification is in itself a problem solving technique.
We may classify a problem on the basis of aspect of life in which it occurs. We highlight here a few of the important ones.
Classification of real life problems based on aspect of life in which it occurs
This forms one of the largest problem area. You may be having a relational problem in your family, with one of your close friends or in your work area with your boss or colleagues. Whatever be the problem of this type, surely emotions and feelings play very important roles in resolution of this kind of problems. Technically these are affective problems where personal emotions are involved to a great degree.
Abundant literature and how to's are available for resolving some of these problems that are relatively more frequent. We are sure many of these advices will prove to be valuable, but possibly you will be quite confused in dealing with the many advices. You would stand better chance of getting out of such problems if instead you start applying systematically the basic principles and techniques of problem solving that you know yourself.
A great truth is,
in any problem situation, the best help is yourself.
For example, in a serious difference with your boss: first do the root cause analysis trying to understand why the problem arose. If you find it, do the alternative scenario analysis, exhaustively charting the actions that you can take and likely outcomes of each action. There are effective and systematic methods for both of these analytical tasks. It is useful to remember in any problem solving where the problem is not emergent, that time resource can be used in many cases very effectively in conjunction with favorable actions on your part.
Above all, one or more among the large set of problem solving principles will always be applicable in any type of problem, even an affective problem. For example, principle of 360 degree approach suggests you look at the points of view of all concerned, not only yours. Thinking from the point of view of the other person greatly improves chances of problem resolution in affective problems such as conflict resolution.
In short, even in a tough affective problem situation you stand much higher possibility of resolving the crisis over some time, if you analyze and take decisions systematically using all the problem solving resources at hand yourself.
Role of experts:
In many grave relational problems use of expert help improves chances of success considerably. In this domain expert help may be a Counselor, a Psychiatrist, a Psychologist or a wise and trusted friend. There should not be any hesitation to get such help if you need it. In this case, method to find a troubleshooter becomes important. Choice of expert help should itself be a problem to be dealt with analytically.
Health related problems are part of our lives. In this area we have the physicians or doctors as the experts. When you are sick, you need to consult the most suitable doctor or the hospital that is available to you. After you choose an expert, usually your responsibility of decision making ends. It is up to the experts now to cure you to full health.
But you face a serious decision making problem when
- you can't decide which expert to go to, or
- your expert is unable to cure your disease and you need to decide whether to consult a second expert, or
- your disease is advanced to such a state that cure becomes a chancy affair, or
- on your release after cure, the after-treatment care loopholes make you sick again.
These are only a few of the problem scenarios that may arise in your personal health domain. Remaining healthy and getting fully cured from a troublesome disease are complex problems. The experts working in this domain will only attend you up to an extent - rest of your time of life you yourself need to work at remaining healthy.
Some of the guidelines follow.
- At the very outset, to remain healthy, you need to know and follow healthy habits - the principle here is,
Preventive maintenance is much cheaper and better than reactive maintenance after a failure occurs.
- It is necessary for you to know the basic reasons behind common and major ailments so that you can analyze your ailment first before going to an expert. This also should help you to choose the right doctor for your disease.
- If you experience a persistent abnormal physical symptom, you shouldn't delay consulting a doctor at all. Any persistent symptom may be due to deeper lying serious causes.
- If you find it hard to decide which type of expert to consult, what you need is a good General Physician, expert in Medicine. He is the generalist to guide you to the right specialist.
These are only a few of the doables in this area. But if you acquire the basic knowledge in various areas of this important domain, you would be able to use your analytical ability and apply more generic problem solving principles to gain best possible results.
This is primarily a Diagnostic and Cure problem domain.
Work and career:
Which job to do for earning your living is an important decision problem. It is rather a dynamic problem, as it does not wholly depend on the actions that you take. The market forces and job situation change dynamically over time. You need always to balance various aspects of this important part of your life,
- You should be satisfied in doing a job.
- Your stress level should not be such as to turn you sick.
- You should earn a sufficient amount to sustain and build a buffer for your growing financial needs.
- You should be able to spend some amount of quality time with your family regularly.
- You should go on increasing your skill set and level to be in demand continuously over time.
- You should be able to save sufficient amount so that you are able to stop work after due time.
This is not at all an exhaustive list of conditions that you would need to balance. Recommendation is to list out the criteria or conditions exhaustively and choose the right mix of criteria judiciously for your decision making. Technically this is a dynamic multi-criteria decision problem area.
While on job again, you would face varieties of problems of different kinds. For facing some of these you would have received trainings, but finally how you cope up in work environment would depend upon your problem solving and management skills.
Which subject to study or which trade to learn are very important decision problems as these are closely intertwined with what job you would do finally. Many important problem solving principles and techniques such as, working backwards technique, principle of segmentation or multi-criteria decision making principle can be applied here with good results.
While undergoing a course again, a separate class of problems you have to face. How best to learn, how best to prepare for exams, how to perform well in exams are a few of the important sub-problems that you must solve for best results in an academic career.
In all the above types of problem situations, systematic application of one or more than one of the basic problem solving principles and techniques such as problem breakdown technique, principle of exhaustivity, zero based problem solving, working backwards technique etc. would always produce higher quality results in comparison to solving the problem with a random approach.
Classification of real life problems according to the time you would get for solving the problem
We may also classify real-world problems according to degree of immediacy of action or time available to solve the problem. such a classification is:
Problems where the problem solver gets reasonable time to analyze, form a suitable strategy, evaluate feasible approaches and recommend a solution for implementation belong to static class of problems. Following are some of the Static problem sub-classes:
- Choice problems – such as choosing a vendor, recruiting a new employee, choosing life partner, buying a new car, choosing an out-sourcing partner. Analytic Hierarchic Process or AHP is an effective method for solving these problems.
- Ranking problems – such as ranking participants in a music competition, ranking students in a course, performance ranking of operational units in an organization, ranking universities in a country. AHP again is useful.
- Evaluation problems – such as performance evaluation of employees, performance evaluation of telecom network. AHP is applicable here.
- Design and R&D problems – design of a marketing campaign, design of a product, R&D problems. Most R&D problems are highly complex and inherently uncertain in nature. Need of innovation is high in these problems. Application of Innovation creation concepts is needed here for better results.
- Strategic problems – such as forming a marketing strategy, forming an HR strategy, forming a material management strategy, making a national plan, budgeting and so on. Significant AHP applications exist in this area.
- Varieties of important daily life problems where you have time to analyze before taking action. Many of the basic problem solving armory resources and inventive principles can be applied effectively in this diverse problem area.
Problems where the events in the environment continue to happen independent of the decisions taken. In these situations time of decision making is short. Examples are: driving a car for going from one place to another, rectifying a poorly maintained telecom network, counseling a patient, treating a patient. One can club tactical and operational problems in this category.
Problems where decision making needs to be instantaneous and largely by intuition. Examples are: fire fighting, fighting at war-front, critical-care support in situations such as flood, earthquake and cyclone devastation.
We remind you again the important truth:
There is no single method or strategy to deal with all kinds of problems.
Two important classes of problems that may occur in any of the above types: Multi-criteria decision making problems and Diagnostics & Cure class of problems:
- Multi-Criteria Decision Making (or MCDM) problems: Life is full of choices and evaluations. While buying a car, you have to choose one among many options; while recruiting a marketing manager for your company you need to evaluate and choose one among the many aspirants for the position; while selecting a location for your new factory, you need to make a hard choice between a few promising locations. Apart from choice problems, ranking, or even strategic decision making cases also fall under this category.
Solution of this class of problems involves evaluation of a set of options on the basis of a set of suitable qualitative criteria or characteristics. This class of problems is so abundant that from mid-sixties usable and effective methods were introduced and improved to treat this class of problems as scientifically (with least amount of subjectivity) as possible. These problems were classified as MCDM problems and today we have a mature set of powerful methods to deal with this special class of problems that are abundant around us.
- Diagnostics & Cure class of problems: All doctors, physicians, paramedics and related professionals work with this kind of problems. Furthermore, any artifact, that is, man-made object, or natural object that is failure prone, concerns us with this kind of problems. Artifacts at home can be your laptop, mobile device or washing machine; at work it may be a computer network, a communication network, or the sewage system; natural failure-prone object needing maintenance may be a forest, or the natural environment itself. If you think awhile you will be surprised to find that failures may occur at so many unthought-of places. Failure treatment is a separate subject.
Lastly it is important to remember that,
- innovation or thinking new is an essential ingredient to high quality efficient problem solving,
- context awareness, or clarity about all interdependent elements in a problem domain is crucial for assured problem solving, and
- deductive reasoning binds all the problem solving resources together in a chain of decision - action - event to deliver you the final desired solution.
Further reading on Real life problem solving
Solve any problem yourself: This is our first look at Real life problem solving. A bit long but a quick read and you might find some food for thought here.
Systematic analytical approach to Efficient Real life problem solving: This is more theoretical and slow read, but it has links to more than twenty story-based articles on problem solving principles, techniques, approaches and tools that enable effective and practical problem solving quickly.