After reading this article you will learn about the process of problem solving.
When our thinking is completely focused on the task of finding a solution to a problematic situation, it is called problem-solving. For example, if I sit in the front verandah of my house looking at the full moon and see in it various objects, ranging from the face of a pretty woman to the back of a monkey, this is imagination.
On the other hand, if I sit in the same place and start making guesses about the election results, it is thinking. If I am sitting in the same place wondering how to arrange the furniture to accommodate a dozen guests whom I have invited home, it is an example of problem-solving.
It can be seen that problem-solving involves the finding of an answer or a way out and is necessarily followed by action. Psychologists have been interested in understanding how this process works. Primarily; it involves the careful observation and assimilation of all the information that is available.
The next step involves an analysis of all the information and assessing the same in terms of their relevance and irrelevance. At the next stage, the individual thinks out the various possible solutions. In the above example of providing sitting accommodation for the large number of guests, I can think of various solutions.
First, I can think of borrowing a few chairs from my neighbour. The other possibility is that I can spread a carpet on the floor and make them sit in our traditional Indian style. The third possibility is that I can take them out into the lawn and make them sit there. Then I analyse the various possibilities.
The first possibility will not work as my neighbours have gone out. The second possibility also is not very feasible because the few carpets available are not clean. The third possibility also appears to be difficult because of the possibility of heavy rains.
The reader may see in the above example a sort of trial-and-error mechanism; the only difference is that these trials are at the thought or mental level. This is known as implicit trial and error. Here, one can see the role of imagery.
However, a scientist working in a laboratory to find a solution to a chemical problem may actually try out the different possibilities in an experimental set-up. Here, implicit trial-and-error is supplemented by explicit trial-and-error.
Now, going back to my problem of accommodating the guests, I suddenly arrive at the solution. I accommodate the adult guests in sofas and chairs and accommodate the children on one or two carpets spread on the floor in another room. This idea, though simple, strikes me suddenly.
The last stage of problem-solving, therefore, involves organisation and reorganization of different possibilities and finally converging on a solution. This process, therefore, may be called convergent thinking. The above narrative gives the reader an idea of the nature and course of the process of problem-solving. It involves imagining, thinking, trial-and-error and insight.