What is the Question?

Fan Editorial

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in the September 1976 issue of the R.E. News Observer.

The best problem solvers we all have known always asked a lot of questions, didn’t they? Quick solutions were seldom forthcoming, and multiple-choice selections of answers almost never readily available.

Why? Probably because it seems that the hardest part of solving a problem is really not so much coming up with a satisfactory answer as it is phrasing the correct question.

Acclaimed problem solvers agree that their problem as problem solvers is most often ”What is the question?” Deducing, formulating, and phrasing the question that correctly and most completely pinpoints an area of dissatisfaction (the ‘problem’), should probably rate an award of six points on a scale of ten for the total problem solving process.

Only after the correct question has been set forth can the diagnosis be attempted with any measure of validity. Once the real question is established, this second step of the three steps necessary to effectively solve a problem becomes credibly possible. And, in most instances, the cause for concern (‘problem’) will conform to classic symptoms, or a combination of classic symptoms, permitting a prompt and thorough diagnosis of the situation. Now, we can be two-thirds of the way home!

With the problem expressed and exposed, reasonably accurate diagnosis may be expected, and any of a number of methods of solutions may present themselves or be suggested and successfully employed.

So, presto! We then have the answer! Brainstorming, idea-tracking, piggybacking, deductive, inductive and many other methods of arriving at answers become validly effective only if the full three-stage problem solving technique is employed.

  • Stage One: “What is the question?”
  • Stage Two: “What is the diagnosis?”
  • Stage Three: “What is the answer?”

If all this seems elementary, and you are asking yourselves: what is the question? Then the diagnosis is simple — you probably don’t understand.

Perhaps you believe that all there is to problem solving is suggesting enough answers to what appears to have been presented as the problem, and one of them should fit. That’s like treating what appears to be a heart attack with whatever medication that is on the shelf in the bathroom cabinet. You know what the odds are in that case, don’t you? The victim would probably die.

See the value of the three stages of successful problem solving?

Question = Symptoms

Diagnosis = Problem

Answer = Solution.

Take nothing for granted. Assume nothing. First find out: ”What is the question?” Then diagnose what the real problem is. Then, and only then, can you professionally prescribe the answer or answers – the solution!

Don’t be a wham, bam, alacazam problem solver. Take the time to counsel. Take the time to study. Take the time to do your homework. Take the time to be practically creative. Take the time for all that, and your problems will stay solved.

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