The 4 Ways To Deal With Any Problem

Problems are everywhere. They are in the middle east and they are on your SAT. You can have problems with your parents and you can have problems with your latte. Like a table is a system of atoms, life is a system of problems. How to deal with all these problems? Let’s get some vocabulary practice as we examine the different ways to deal with problems.

Absolve – You can absolve yourself of your problems. This means that you basically ignore the problem thinking/hoping that it will just go away. Parents do this with their kids all the time.

Resolve – You can resolve your problems. This means to apply past experience from a similar situation to your current situation. This is the primary way of dealing with problems that you’re taught in school. You resolve a new math problem by applying your experience from previous similar math problems. This is also how you’re tested in school. This is also probably as far as our cat friend is going to get.

Solve – You can apply analysis and the scientific method to help solve your problems. You essentially engineer a solution that is better than the situation brought about by your problem. This allows you to optimize your system whether it’s dealing with international politics or factory efficiency. The teaching of analysis and problem solving has traditionally happened more during University than during the K-12 years.

Dissolve – This is a method of dealing with problems that is not often taught in school and as such is often not applied in the business world or life in general. Dissolving your problems means that you eliminate them all together. Design is the process used to eliminate problems. Russell Ackoff has a great example of this. He tells about how the Ohio Match Company dissolved its problem of being sued by people who burned themselves when they accidentally lit the whole pack of matches when they struck a match against the abrasive strip which, at the time, was on the front of the pack. In the story, Ackoff tells of how a teenager offered a cost-less solution to their problem and upon signing a contract that would pay him if his solution worked he simply said ‘Put the abrasive strip on the back’. As simple as this story is, and it certainly seems more obvious as we’ve all grown up in a world with match packs designed like this, it illustrates how a simple design change can completely eliminate a problem.

Think about how you’re dealing with your problems and which approach will get you the best result.

If you have more examples of these four different ways of dealing with problems, please leave a comment!

*Much of this post is paraphrased from a great talk given by Russell Ackoff.

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  • Jon Peters

    Interesting ideas. Is there any comparative process between solve and dissolve? Which to choose? I guess it depends on the situation.

  • Farbood Nivi

    I agree Jon. I think it depends on the situation.


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