Problems. Problems. Problems. Life is full of little and big problems, and often it turns out that the big ones are in fact series of little ones. We all come across problems in our lives. It’s how we deal with them that’s interesting. Experts say there are different kinds of problem-solving styles.

Problem-solving is human

Problems seem like something to avoid. But in reality, they are unavoidable. Look a little closer and life is just one of those big problems full of little, unavoidable problems.

Most of us even go out of our way to find problems. Some add drama to their romantic lives to keep it spicy. Others buy crossword books or start a small business in the evenings outside of their regular work. Not for love, prizes, or riches – but the challenge.

Problem-solving is a survival tool. Perhaps we evolved it instead of claws or telepathy. Our ancestors figured how to survive the cold and eat practically – and later, healthily. Individuals learn how to use tools, achieving with our minds and environments. All of which we couldn’t achieve with just a dumb body. Communities, governments, the businesses that put food on our table. They all come together to solve problems.

Some even say that problem-solving is the primary design attribute of the human brain. As all this problem-solving got more sophisticated, that’s when we evolved to start creating problems to keep our brains fit. Just think of that crossword puzzle.

Solving problems regularly may even boost our chances of ‘survival’ by helping stave off dementia. Although science is still mixed on this. Certainly, problem-solving as part of a concerted effort towards more mental and physical exercise can extend brain function in old age. Even if can’t be shown to prevent Alzheimer’s.

But how about in our daily lives as professionals, parents, and carers? How can you boost your ability to navigate the obstacles that arise each day? Figuring out what type of problem-solver you are in the first place is a pretty good place to start.

Four Styles of Problem-Solving

Different researchers divide people into different categories of problem-solver depending on their approach. For example, one system divides us into four specific groups:

  • Clarifiers
  • Ideators
  • Developers
  • Implementors

The Clarifier-type is cautious, methodical, and research-oriented. They ask a lot of questions. It can be a pain to have one in the room with you – but it’s probably safer if you do!

The Ideator is more instinctive. They throw potential solutions around, often without waiting to see where they land. This can be frustrating for colleagues who prefer a methodical approach. Lots of ideas may lack value or may disappear before they can be interrogated. But the ideator often has the spark of genius it requires to break a deadlock situation. To see something that no-one else saw.

The Developer is somewhere between the first two types. They value ideas but they also value the interrogation of those ideas. When they come up with a potential solution, they will quickly move to check it from every angle. Only then will they reject or accept it as the best way ahead.

The Implementor, as the name suggests, finds value a little further along in the process. They may egg the team on during ideation and development because they just want to try things out. They will – to use the common sporting analogy – take the ball and run with it.

Three Styles of Problem-Solving

Another method of looking at types like these reduces them to just three different problem-solvers:

  • Intuitive
  • Inconsistent
  • Systematic

Clearly, from the names alone, there is some overlap with the first type system. But this second way of looking at things is perhaps a bit more critical. It offers methods of improvement to each type.

For example, the Clarifier-Ideator-Developer-Implementor styles suggest the ideal configuration for a problem-solving team. However, none are considered a ‘better’ one to be than the others.

Therefore, the Intuitive-Inconsistent-Systematic system is more of a value judgement. A purely intuitive problem-solver, the system suggests, can eventually become a systematic type if they work hard enough at it.

What does that work involve? Well, first you have to figure out which type you are. (Hint: check the infographic at the foot of this article).

Intuitive Type of Problem-Solver

If you depend on your instincts, throw yourself straight into actioning a solution before doing your research or testing. Also, if you have a tendency to try to do it all yourself without consulting others – you’re the intuitive type.

Inconsistent Type of Problem-Solver

Do you take your time over a problem – sometimes too long – and tend to switch-up your approach very quickly when a solution is not forthcoming? If this is the case, you could be the inconsistent type.

This type borrows techniques from both the intuitive and systematic types, but not always effectively. You have some idea of the most effective way to solve a problem. However, you are easily discouraged from pursuing an approach to its conclusion.

Systematic Type of Problem-Solver

The systematic type is calm, methodical, but driven. Every stage of the decision-making process is given equal weight: research, analysis, ideation, deliberation, and execution. Including assessing how it all went and how to prevent similar problems arising in future.

Weaknesses of the Problem-Solving Styles

Once you’ve figured out your type, it is time to work on your weaknesses.

For the intuitive type, that means getting time-aware.

Also applying yourself more purposefully. The simplest way to get time-aware is to set yourself deadlines for coming up with solutions. How long depends on the problem, of course. Picking a deadline stops you from procrastinating too long. Or failing to get engaged with the issue.

But picking a lower-end deadline – a minimum period to spend on a problem – is also useful for the intuitive type. Refuse to decide until at least (for example) two minutes have passed. Then, hopefully, you will prevent yourself from plunging into a bad idea without giving it the required thought.

How should someone with the intuitive problem-solving style use this time? Methodically! Divide the solution-finding process into stages. Then, try to complete each stage by the given ‘sub-deadline.’ Don’t forget to pencil in time to talk with others about the problem, and your potential solution.

Ask yourself: what is the problem? What are the different factors and elements involved? What are the consequences? How do you feel about the problem? Finally, how does it affect other people?

And of course, once your solution is actioned, don’t just move on. Stop, analyze how effective your solution was and why. Then figure out what to do to prevent the problem arising again – and what to do differently if it does.

The inconsistent problem-solver has a different set of strengths and weaknesses.

They are easily distracted or filled with doubt. Doubt is an important feeling, but without a framework to assess the validity of that doubt, it will only undermine you. How can the inconsistent problem-solver type stay on the straight-and-narrow to an effective solution?

One method is to exclude others from part of the process. Too many conflicting voices can paralyze someone with the inconsistent style of problem-solving. It has been shown that the brainstorming process can be more effective if done alone than in a group. So try to do just that.

Use words or visual cues to prompt inspiration. Write or draw as you work in order. This will concretize your thought process, which is all too vulnerable to evaporating when doubt hits. You can run your ideas past the group once you’ve had a chance to think them through unencumbered.

Another method is to quantify the value of your ideas. For example, say you’ve cooked up three potential solutions to a problem. But, you have no idea which one is best. It is classic inconsistent-type behavior to lose time dithering between all three ideas, lost in indecision.

Instead, write them down in a chart. Then, give each one a score out of 5 according to its strength in whatever categories are relevant to the problem. For example, expense, time, elegance, effort. Add up the scores and see what the numbers tell you to do.

If you’re a systematic problem-solver type, congratulations: you’re the black belt of problem-solvers!

But do black belts stop learning new moves? Like heck they do! There are infinite problem-solving systems for systematic solvers to try. Each works best in different circumstances, and the true problem-solving guru knows how and when to combine elements of different styles.

The CATWOE Approach to Problem-Solving

The CATWOE approach, for example, is quite straightforward (apparently) series of questions with which to interrogate a problem. It is particularly useful in business scenarios.

  • C stands for Clients – who does the problem affect?
  • A stands for Actors – who will action the solution?
  • T for Transformation indicates the change that is needed for the problem to dissolve.
  • O is the owner – the person(s) responsible for the solution.
  • W is the Worldview – the problem in its wider context
  • E stands for Environmental constraints – the physical and social limits to which your solution must adhere).

Final Thoughts

As soon as you have graduated from being an intuitive or inconsistent problem-solver to becoming officially ‘systematic,’ you’ll find a ton of methods like this online and on the advice of your colleagues and mentors. But don’t run before you can walk.

Start by using the infographic below to analyze your problem-solver type. Then power-up your problem-solving style to not just survive but flourish along this long old problem-filled trek we call life.

problem-solving style


  4. The infographic was brought to us by
Valerie Soleil, B.A., LL.B.

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This Post Has One Comment

  1. Avatar

    A very good insight into the problem-solving techniques and the types. Quite helpful.

    Thank you.

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