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Transferrable Skills Series: A look at Problem-Solving

Posted by Deb Muoio

Oct 29, 2015 4:35:39 PM

Just as we each have our own unique problems, we also have our own unique way of resolving them.

Granted, there are those who prefer to stick their head in the proverbial sand and hope the problem goes away.

Most people and most companies, however, prefer to take a more proactive approach.


Why are problem-solving skills so important in an organization?

Problem-solving skills play a major role in day-to-day tasks as well as larger endeavors. Customer service agents need strong problem-solving skills in order to resolve customer issues in a timely and professional manner. HR managers need to determine the most cost-effective way to hire a good job candidate, as well as to retain talent and reduce turnover. Programmers are constantly looking to improve and debug their software. Whether you’re looking to complete a routine task more efficiently or find a way to get an edge in a competitive market, you are engaging your problem-solving skills.


Why are problem-solving skills considered a transferrable skill?

Researchers Hsien-Hsien, Hsien-Yuan, Acosta, and Tze-Li (2014) examined the link between participation in extra-curricular activities in school and the development of employable job skills. While involvement in sports clubs helped students develop leadership abilities, those who were involved in music clubs saw a great deal of improvement in their creativity.

 Stiwne and Jungert (2010) looked at Engineering students’ transition from education to career. Several of the students who were interviewed throughout the process agreed that the knowledge and experience they gained through 1) extracurricular activities and 2) through their thesis project with an actual firm provided an invaluable learning experience. Aside from improvement in their sense of self-efficacy, they were also able to further develop key employable skills like critical thinking and problem-solving.


Tips to improve your problem-solving skills

The Problem Reversal Technique

This technique is based on the belief that everything has an opposite. In order to understand one side of an issue, you need to take its counterpart into consideration. You can gain a greater understanding of a problem by looking at the situation from a contrary perspective. For example, let's say that employee morale is low. What are the methods you can use to make it even worse (reversal)?

  • Refrain from offering rewards after a job well done.
  • Belittle employees in public.
  • Take away their autonomy and don't clarify what their roles are.

 The ridiculousness of the above will 

  • make it clear for anybody who is still clueless enough not to see the problem.
  • shed new light on the issue and help you generate ideas on how to resolve it.


The Random Input Technique

The Random Input technique can prove particularly useful when trying to come up with new ideas or solutions - especially when you have a tendency of using the same approach all the time. When we have a standard way of thinking, it can be difficult to view a problem from a perspective that does not extend beyond the box we've placed ourselves in. By using the Random Input method, we introduce a new manner of thinking that allows us to view a problem from a different angle by creating associations between our problem and a random word.

Grab a dictionary, book or newspaper, open it on any page, and pick the first or last word that appears. How would you describe that word? Create a list of its characteristics and traits, and think about how it relates to your problem. The point of this exercise is to inspire ideas by using the brain's uncanny ability to make connections between words.


The Subconscious Problem-solving Technique

Given that we live such hectic lives, it can be nearly impossible to concentrate on one issue, let alone solve a complex problem. What your brain needs is clarity - some quiet, uninterrupted incubation time where you can let your thoughts float through your mind without forcing them. You can either find a quiet room or, some experts suggest, leave a notepad at the side of your bed. When you wake up in the morning, right down everything you remember from your dreams, or any other thoughts that came to mind before you dozed off. Like intuition, our subconscious has the potential to lead us to a great solution – if we give ourselves the chance to listen to it.




Lau, H. H., Hsu, H. Y., Acosta, S., & Hsu, T. L. (2014). Impact of participation in extra-curricular activities during college on graduate employability: An empirical study of graduates of Taiwanese business schools. Educational Studies, 40(1), 26-47.

 Stiwne, E., & Jungert, T. (2010). Engineering students’ experiences of transition from study to work. Journal of Education and Work, 23(5), 417-437. (2010). 10 Great Companies That Lost Their Edge. Retrieved from


Want more info? 

If you’re interested in using CAPSAT - R (Creativity and Problem-Solving Aptitude Test - Revised) or other assessments, request a free trial for ARCH Profile here.

Want to learn more about using psychological tests for hiring, leadership development, career development or talent retention? Download our free eBook loaded with down-to-earth information about psychological testing for HR purposes.


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Topics: Leadership Development, Transferrable Skills, Mentoring, Problem-solving, Coaching, Training

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