Problem solving is not something you may have thought about as a legitimate topic in a set of lessons on electrical topics. After all, doesn't everyone solve problems?
lFact 1: Most people believe that they are
good problem solvers, but many individuals
over-estimate their ability.
lFact 2: There are different levels of skill in
problem solving, and many individuals never
get beyond the lower skill levels.
lFact 3: With practice, and an understanding
of where you want to get, you can improve
your problem solving skills.
What do you hope to accomplish in this lesson?
lThis lesson is somewhat different. You have several goals,lTo realize that your goal is to develop your problem
lTo learn to think about problem definitions when
you begin to solve a problem,
How we define our goals and how we view the problem we face will affect
greatly the way we approach our study and what we will achieve
l Any time that you have to solve a problem,Consider what this really means. If you have a problem that you must solve, you may kill your chances of solving the real problem if you define the problem in a way that prevents you from getting a solution to the real problem. When you get a problem to solve, it is probably going to be vaguely defined. Your first step is to get a problem definition for yourself that you can work with. If you don't do that carefully enough you may never get anywhere.
the problem definition that you adopt will
influence the solution you will find - and it
may well completely determine your solution.
The world is full of products put on the market to solve mis-perceived problems. Buried in the graveyard of bad problem definitions you will find the following.
l The car-bar, a system for delivering mixed drinksClearly, this is a case of solving the wrong problem.
to automobile drivers. (Clearly developed before
the days of MADD, and still a bad idea)
l In the early days of automobiles drivers signalledWe can conclude the following:
turns by putting their hands out the window and
pointing in the direction of the turn. The first automatic
signalling device emulated that action with a
mechanical arm that pointed in the direction of the
turn. However, the problem was not emulating a
human driver, the real problem was to signal
the driver's intention to turn. Using the new problem
definition, designers began to focus on what evolved
into the system of turn signals we use today.
l The solution of a problem is very much influencedTo make this point clearer consider this story.
by the way the problem is defined.
l When a problem is first posed it is never completely
clear how the problem should be defined.
Imagine that you are the manager of a multi-story building. You begin receiving complaints about the elevator service and they are severe enough that you feel that the issue must be addressed. The first thing you try to do is to define the problem as well as you can. Do not go to the next page until you have written down as many definitions of this problem as you can.
The solutions to the problem depend upon how you define the problem. Let us examine a few problem definitions and the solutions that they lead to so that we can appreciate how the problem definition affects the solutions we generate.
lProblem Definition: There are not enough elevators.
lProblem Solution: If this is your problem definition, you
may try to add more elevator shafts, and that is going to
be very, very expensive. It will probably involve adding one
or more elevators running in a cylinder attached to the
building.Alternatively, you might come up with the (not-so)
brilliant idea of running two elevators in one shaft. Whatever
kind of solution you generate with this problem definition
is going to be either expensive or absurd.
Let's try another definition.
lProblem Definition: The elevator service is lousy... and another definition.
because the elevators are too slow.
lProblem Solution: If you think this way, then you will
probably look into installing more powerful motors
to move the elevators up and down more quickly.
lProblem Definition: Schedules for people using... and another.
the elevators cause peak loads that are too large.
lProblem Solution: If you think this is the problem, and
you have an office building, you might go to some of the
tenants and try to talk them into changing their hours
so that everyone doesn't come in at 9am and leave
at 5PM. (And don't forget to have them stagger lunch hours
also!) If it is a residential building, then you want to go after
tenants that work the night shift. (Give such tenants a break
on the rent.)
lProblem Definition: The elevator service algorithm is... and yet another definition.
lProblem Solution: If this is the problem, then you might
want to go to a computer control system that monitors how
many stops the elevator makes as it descends, guesses
when it is full and then goes straight to the destination. You
might even install sensors to measure when it has a full load,
and use that information. You would need to define a new
service algorithm that was more responsive to the
conditions of the elevator system.
lProblem Definition: Too many people are complainingHere's that definition again.
about the elevator service.
lProblem Solution: This definition of the problem seems too
trite. However, this was the actual problem definition arrived
at by the building manager this story comes from. Before you
read about what he did (and it was truly ingenious!) try to dream
up a solution or two that uses this problem definition.
lProblem Definition: Too many people are complainingWould you have thought of it?
about the elevator service.
lProblem Solution: What the building manager did was to
have mirrors placed between the elevator openings. Then
when people showed up at the elevators they looked at
themselves in the mirrors, and they preened themselves.
The complaints stopped, almost totally. The manager had
solved the problem with a very ingenious problem definition
and solution, and it was probably cheaper than the solution
using any other definition.
Now, consider what happened, and the moral you should draw from this.
lWhenever you have a problem to solve make sureIf you are using this material in a course you have a problem that you need to define. Here are some possible problem definitions for you.
that you have examined the problem definition
lIf you have the opportunity to change the definition,
do so in any way advantageous to you. If you don't
have the opportunity to change the definition, then
fight for the opportunity to do so. Your goal is to
generate a problem definition that gets at the real
lGet an A.
lLearn the material.
lSurvive the course with the least damage to GPA.
You really should adopt the second goal - to learn the material - or you may have difficulty later. Often the material you try to learn will build on earlier material, and as you proceed through the later material you will come to appreciate that. Getting an A without really understanding the material, or just getting the highest grade may mean nothing in the long term if you don't build the foundation for later learning.