I heard someone commenting recently that they had mastered the art of problem solving. Not being familiar with their particular set of problems, I’m not going to diminish their boast of victory and accomplishment by saying they hadn’t, but I did find myself inwardly questioning what it would mean – what it would look like to have ‘mastered’ something as complex and subjective as ‘problem solving’.
The phrase ‘art of problem solving’ is something I’ve heard quite a few times, but this time it kept ringing around my head, and I came to the conclusion that problem solving is really, literally a lot like art. Art is often contentious, it can be humble, bold, quiet, loud, confronting, or subtly beautiful. Art is many things, and is received and perceived in varying ways depending on the experiences and tastes of the viewer. It is also dependent upon the artist, and the context in which it is produced. Problems, and problem solving are really much the same as art in this way.
It’s really not straight forward, and the purpose and goals of everyone involved impact the ability of a problem to be accurately identified, and then potentially solved. What is a victory for one, may be a problem and a shock for another. A problem as defined by a teacher, may be defined differently by the student, and again differently by the Government regulator. Because the problem, and the resolution, can only be identified from the basis of ones agenda/goals/requirements. This is impacted by beliefs, expectations, cultural understandings, and often impacted by complex issues of gender, socioeconomic status, and race. So perhaps then it is never a matter of solving a single problem, so much as it is about learning another art, the art of negotiation. The art of empathy. The art of critical thinking. Perhaps to be a problem solver means to be all of these things, and more. As the saying goes, “What is normal to the spider, is chaos to the fly” and to problem solve that interaction would be a difficult negotiation indeed.