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Problem solving personal rules

Personal problem solving rules are great aids in quick and assured real-life problem solving

Problem solving rule

Personal rules are represented in the form of,

if <condition> then <action>

A specific personal rule, if sufficiently abstract, can be used in different contexts but with no variation in action.

As such we all use a great many rules in our daily lives involuntarily. As a rule you may brush your teeth in the morning. You may personalize this generally used rule by brushing the teeth once more before going to bed. These are the publicly used general rules that most people use in their personal lives. Forming these rules requires no significant analysis - rather these rules are taught to us.

These are the habit based rules and are routinely followed without much thought (in both personal and work lives).

The special personal problem solving rules that we will discuss here are different from the usual habit based generally followed rules. The difference lies, among other things, in the amount of analysis required in creating these special rules. You would have to create a problem solving special personal rule after some amount of analysis.

Case example of a special personal rule

In this story, the DA (Decision Analyst) and DM (Decision Maker) is one and the same person that is you.

Which station to reach?

Which station to reach

After spending a thoroughly enjoyed evening at your friend’s house you have decided to call it a night, taken leave of your friend and boarded a bus. The bus would take you to one of the two Metro stations and you will next take a Metro train towards your home.

The bus was just about to reach a junction C at which it would take a right turn and after about 5 minutes later you would have to get down at Stop A and walk another 5 minutes to the Metro station Y.

Instead, you could have got down at the junction (Stop C) itself and proceeded in a straight direction to Stop B to access a second Metro station X nearby. Walking time from the Stop B to the Metro station X is negligible in this case.

In short, you estimated that it would take about the same time to reach either station X or station Y from the point at which you were located.

Under usual circumstances, in this route you would board any bus that you get; either going to Stop A or straight to Stop B without any preference. But this evening just before your bus would stop at the junction (Stop C) you looked at your watch and exclaimed, "Oh, the last train is to pass any time."

You didn’t know the exact time of the last train, but you had a rough idea about the time it would pass. If you miss the last train you would be considerably delayed in reaching home.

What would you do?

Any more information needed to take the decision regarding whether to access station X or station Y?

Give it a thought. However small, this problem needs some thought and is an example of a decision problem we face daily where thinking is needed. You need to analyze the situation, the facts given and objectives to be fulfilled.

Mark that, we will always use our analytical capability and deductive reasoning whenever we need to.

Initial analysis:

First barrier: Do you have all the information needed to arrive at the right decision?

Which station to reach final

By now perhaps you would have got the answer to this question. The answer is No: you need to know the direction of movement of the train. That is the crucial information you need for analyzing further and decide right. This is the first part of the solution.

Sometimes, we choose the crucial information as: the direction to your home. Our reasoning: unless the train moves in the direction in which your home is, how can you think of reaching home?

So, knowing (or being aware of) the crucial missing information, finally you decide,

You should go for station X and not station Y.

Let's analyze the decision using a step by step fact based approach.

  • You have estimated that it would take about the same time for you to reach station X or station Y from position C at which you are now located.
  • Last train is expected to arrive any time.
  • As the train would stop at the first station for a brief but still a little bit of time and it would also take time to move to the next station, the two of these durations summed up is the buffer or extra time that you would get, if

You move to the next station for the train.

This is the first conclusion.

  • You know that the train moves from station Y to station X.
  • With this buffer time in hand and also knowing that reaching either station X or Y from Stop C takes the same time, you would improve your chances of catching the last train considerably if,

You decide to board the train at station X (next station for the train).

This is your final decision or conclusion.

If you look at this step by step reasoning which in fact is an example of deductive reasoning, you would find it rather exhaustive and precise. Two principles: principle of exhaustivity and principle of precision have been applied here.

But in real life we do not think in such details and also who has the time to bother so much!

True, many times you won’t have much time to take a decision. Also, even if you have time, it is really unimaginable to sit down with pen and paper and go through such formalism.

We recommend:

  1. Go through the above process carefully and try to think in that manner when such a situation may arise.
  2. Also, after you have taken some decision and everything got settled, analyze your just solved problem and its solution path using the above approach. With continued practice, you would automatically start thinking in a systematic organized manner.

Creation of personal rules happen from analysis of your experiences of successful problem solving and precisely expressing it in a widely usable form.

Let us now express the rule formally.

Personal Rule 1 to be used in this type of cases:

Access the station that comes later in the desired direction of movement of the train.

During subsequent commuting by Metro rail you needed to fine-tune this rule further consciously by analyzing each such case, but you never failed to use this rule whenever you had to travel by Metro rail.

Lastly, can you say what the turning point was?

The turning point was:

The moment when you looked at your watch. Only then you became aware of the problem and then decision making became necessary.

Afterwards you analyzed the situation. You felt that you shouldn’t have started your journey home from your friend’s house so late. Consequently you formed a minor and more specific rule: Personal Rule 2:

When starting from your friend’s house, if it is evening, you would always check the time and select the route accordingly.


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