A Problem Well-Defined is a Problem Half-Solved

Charles Kettering, an inventor, holder of 186 patents, head of GM’s research from 1920 to 1947, said that:

A problem well-defined is a problem half-solved.

Defining the problem is half the work for two reasons.

  1. Defining the problem requires us to understand the problem. It makes us apply some discipline to the problem; ask some tough questions. This step has to end with a written down statement in the form of : “The problem is that _________.”
  2. When you’ve got a problem statement well defined, you can keep on track when you’re working on solutions. You can’t keep on track if you don’t have a track. The problem statement or the problem definition serves as that track.

A poorly stated problem leads to misinterpretation and thus confusion. If you do not know what you are looking for, you are unlikely to find it.  And, if you find it, you are unlikely to recognise it.

By doing the work of understanding what the problem is truly comprised of, to the point it can be clearly stated, eliminates the redundancy of much of the analysis that would be required for a muddled understanding of the problem.

The clarity of thought and direction created by the problem statement goes a long way to creating effective goals. If you don’t define the problem, your goals may be fuzzy and superficial. Time spent in carefully defining the problem at the start of every process will save time and arguments later.

Summing-up: A Problem Well-Defined is a Problem Half-Solved. It is very common to develop great solutions to the wrong problem. Get your problem right from the start and you have a much better chance of getting your solution right in the end.

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