Theories of Problem Solving

To be creative U-SIT and think!

Theories of Problem Solving for Innovation and Invention


A  B-l-o-g  on

Theories of Problem Solving for

Innovation and Invention

[If eager to get into the meat of this blog, with a minimum of ‘distraction’, I’ll tell you in two sentences what the rest of this page is about and you can move on. Here it is:

The short-answer purpose of this blog is to discuss problem solving based on logically structured heuristics and problem solving devoid (as nearly as possible) of logic. The short-answer target is students, teachers, professional problem solvers, recreational puzzlers, and other curious types.

Gender is irrelevant. Intellectual curiosity is good. The stuff below is an expansion of these two sentences with emphasis on the use of heuristics and introspection.]

My first task in assembling this blog on problem solving is a problem itself – how to introduce it and introduce it to an invisible but imaginary audience? As I’ve learned in my professional career as a problem solver (research physicist), ill-defined problems arise as typical starting points. They can be so ill as to offer barley a hint of their nature. Even worse, they may give no warning of their complexity—think can of worms – with no idea of how large is the can! I’ve been there and done that and here’s how.

Getting started can be an interesting challenge. At the outset, you know immediately that one has to start with a single problem.

One cannot solve multiple problems at the same time.

Italicized comments are used to point out heuristics* in action. (*See glossary for definitions.)

I first thought about the scope of this problem, i.e., the variety of topics involved. Then came an estimate its size, the number of targets that need to be addressed. The opening sentence of this discussion has two clues: explain this blog to an imaginary audience*.

Audience, without further differentiation, is a plural concept. Simplification suggests thinking of one imaginary person. The heuristic simplification pops up very frequently in problem solving. In this case, redundancy can be reduced to one repeat unit, person, to simplify the problem.

Without trying to out guess myself, I’ll make a list of potential topics, suspecting that each one will spark another one. This could be avoided by deciding on a filter ahead of time.

Another heuristic: No filtering is allowed when searching new ideas.

Here’s the list as ideas come to mind: First some definitions like problem situation, problem (logical and neuronal), solution concept, brainstorming, heuristics, structure, structured problem solving, crutches, … At this point I stopped and reviewed what was just written. There is no strategy evident in this list – where is it going?. Now I have another problem, think up a strategy for explaining the blog. At least a short answer comes to mind. (I think I’ll stop while I’m ahead.)

The short-answer purpose of this blog is to discuss problem solving based on structured heuristics and problem solving devoid (as nearly as possible) of logic. The short-answer target is students, teachers, professional problem solvers, recreational puzzlers, and other curious types.

There is also a short-answer purpose to this page – even though you didn’t ask. As this blog develops, I’ll be adding discussions of the origins and metamorphosis of structured problem solving methodologies in the last half-century or so.

Two aspects of this metamorphosis are to be addressed. They are the gradual minimization of logical structure and the recent arrival on the problem-solving scene of a logic-less methodology.

The latter emphasizes introspection – once debunked as a research tool by cognitive psychologists. You may have noticed that most of the above writing was voiced in my own introspection. As will be seen, introspection has become a major game changer in cognitive science research and is being entered into problem solving.


TOPICS to be addressed in due time with definitions, theories, methods, examples, and exercises.

  • OAF – object, attribute, function, methodology – one size fits all;

  • USIT – an overview of unified structured inventive thinking –reduced to a single graphic heuristic (non-graphics survive) ;

  • I3 – Introspection-Insight-Invention – progress in the story of logic vs. intuition;

  • (TBD; your suggestions?)


Level of experience expected of readers

It is intended that the essays available on this blog will fit all sizes of interests, but not necessarily all essays will be equally appropriate for a particular level of experience. It is expected that each reader will have personal interests according to their technical experiences and current needs.

For example, consider a reader who has a specialty of studying hematology. She has discovered a problem with identifying a certain type of blood cell anomaly and wants to invent a solution to this problem. Her experience is a basic knowledge of cell morphology – knowledge now in her long-term memory. She spends a period of time discussing the problem with other experts, reading in the medical literature, and investigating how current cell counters work – knowledge now in her short-term memory. She’s ready to examine the size and scope of the problem situation and to select a specific problem to address.

Her short-term and long-term memory now have enough information to investigate possible solutions. At this point, she turns to structured analysis, specific problem selection, and quick exploration of possible solution concepts using brainstorming. She could be a high school student working week ends in a hospital hematology lab and working on a science fair exhibit. Or she could be professional medical-physicist working for a major medical instrument company. These are situations where non-engineered, plausible, and interesting ideas are found. Brainstorming is an excellent place to start innovating.

Newcomers to structured problem solving are suggested to investigate USIT essays first. These are based on a nearly generic form of structured methodology and have a minimum of heuristics to learn. Those experienced in structured problem solving may find the OAF methodology fascinating, where all of USIT mental imagery is reduced to a single graphic heuristic. All of structured problem solving is based on inferred (or ignored) logic of how the brain solves problems. If you are interested in the impact of this century’s research by cognitive scientists on problem solving see the I3 essays.

To be creative U-SIT and think.