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Problem-solving is the ability to use the knowledge we have to find solutions to unfamiliar tasks and problems. There are three main strategies used in problem-solving: using an algorithm, trial and error, and heuristics. Let’s take a look at each.


Using an algorithm is a strategy where you follow a step by step guide to solve a problem and achieve the desired output. It is usually a strict guide where a specific set of instructions guarantees a specific result every time these instructions are performed. For example, a setup guide or instruction manual to install software on a computer.

Trial and error

Trial and error is another strategy where you try different solutions until the desired output is achieved or the problem is solved. A specific solution that worked once to solve a problem might not work again the next time for the same problem. Despite being an inefficient method in terms of time and practice, this strategy is the most commonly used one. For example, sometimes restarting the phone improves its performance, and sometimes it does not.


A heuristic is a general framework for problem-solving. For instance, solving a problem using the rule-of-thumbA phrase used for principle based on practice rather than theory and is applicable to broad scenarios. But it is not expected to be reliable or accurate in every situation is an example of a heuristic strategy. This rule might save you time and energy used in decision making, but it might not always be the best rule to follow. Different situations require different types of heuristics. Some heuristics may involve the following:

  • Dividing a large complex task into smaller less complex steps. For example, a task to draw an image can be divided into small tasks that might include first drawing a skeleton or quick line strokes, then comparing and adding shapes, followed by adding light effects and finishing it with softened edges.
  • Working backwards to solve a problem. For this approach you would start solving the problem from the end result and work backwards towards the beginning. For example, say you lost your money somewhere in the house, and you remember you were in your bedroom the last time you saw your money in your hand. After that, you went to the kitchen and then spent some time with family in the living room, and after that, you were on your house lawn feeding your dog when you realized you didn’t have your money in your hand. What would you do? Where would you start searching? The best approach would be to start searching from the lawn where you were last, then trace your way back to the bedroom while searching in every place you went during this time.

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