What type of problem are you trying to solve?

It appears to me that there are 2 main types of problems that people have to solve.  There are problems where you start off nowhere and have to determine a specific target.  Then there are problems where you start off somewhere and need to determine where and what the target is.  Another way to put it is that some problems are focused in nature and others are open in nature.  Maybe it’s best to illustrate with an example.

Types of problems

An example of a problem where you have to determine a specific target would be solving an equation.  Typically there will be one single answer (the target) and you start off with no idea (ie you are nowhere).  The first step you take places you somewhere near the target and each successive step gets you closer until you finally arrive at the target.

An example of a problem where you start off somewhere and need to determine the target would be writing a novel.  You know where you are now (ie no novel) however there are infinite possibilities in terms of your final product and just as many ways you could arrive there.  None is necessarily correct however some may be better than others.

The former tend to be quantitative in nature as opposed to the latter which tend to be qualitative in nature.  The former tend to be mostly scientific in the approach required as opposed to the latter which tend to be mostly creative in the approach required.  The former tend to have solutions that are safer and can be guaranteed as opposed to the latter which generally involve a degree of risk.

In solving a problem we need to decide which one of these two scenarios we are dealing with.  This will determine a lot about how best to approach it.  Open problems can be more suited to collaboration than focused problems.  Focused problems however have outcomes that can more easily be reproduced once a set of steps has been defined.

In better understanding the nature of your problem you place yourself in a much better position to go about creating a solution that is going to be successful.

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1 Response to “What type of problem are you trying to solve?”


  1. 1 Monica Carter Tagore February 27, 2009 at 6:17 pm

    Just figuring out which type of program helps a lot in figuring out the solution to the problem. Thanks for sharing!


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