Problem solving and decision making require similar skills because the ultimate goal of both processes is to arrive at a final solution that may or may not be equivalent to the sum of all of the procedural steps that are taken to get to it. Therefore, malleability and flexibility of thinking are the primary foundations upon which any problem solving and decision-making process can progress.
Driscoll (1982) in the textbook Problem Solving Connections offers a profile of the effective problem solver which is summarized by stating that good problem solvers:
- Can distinguish relevant from irrelevant information within the problem at hand- In other words, they are factual and objective.
- Are goal-oriented- Which means that they are willing to use different strategies and set up a plan of action.
- Can identify patterns and trends within the problem.
- Are able to review, re-do, and re-visit the same problem over and over until finding out the trend.
- View problems as challenges, and not as punishment- In a mathematical/academic version of the same principle, a good problem solver is more focused on fixing the problem than to complaint about it.
Therefore choice-making and problem solving require, first and foremost, the want to take on the challenge, and the willingness of setting aside emotional blockage and boundaries that merely set us up for failure more than anything else.