Home Student & Career Tips Differences between Problem Solving and Decision Making

Differences between Problem Solving and Decision Making

This article contains information on the differences between Problem Solving and Decision Making as well as how to improve them.

Problem Solving and Decision Making

Life always presents us with challenges that require solutions. In such situations, a conscious action which involves critical thinking must be taken to solve these problems. From career choice, choice of a life partner to the brand of gadgets to purchase, etc, whether good or bad, life is always about making decisions.

Oftentimes, the words, problem solving and decision making are often used interchangeably but in the real sense, they are nowhere synonymous to each other.


Although these words are connected, they are still very different. Problem solving and decision making skills are very important attributes of any one in leadership positions.

Considering the differences, problem solving is an analytical process or technique used to identify the possible solutions to a situation. In other words, problem solving involves step by step processes to identifying a possible solution to a challenge. In order to solve a problem, the following processes are involved.

1. Identification of the Problem

For every problem there must be a root cause. Therefore, the first process to problem solving is to identify the problem to be solved. This stage involves having a sincere discussion that can bring possible problems to the surface.

2. Problem Analysis

Sometimes, what is perceived or identified to be a problem may turn out not being the real problem. The process of problem analysis ensures that the problem you are seeking to solve is actually the right problem.

This is a crucial stage in problem solving because it helps you to go for an appropriate solution to the problem.

3. Solution Generation

Once the problem has been properly analyzed and seen to be the actual problem, the next process is to generate different ideas to solve the problem.

The key to ensuring the success of this stage is to encourage quick, creative thinking and create an open space where all ideas are considered. It is from the various ideas that a possible solution can be developed.

4. Decision Making

This is a very important process in problem solving. It is not enough to develop a solution. A problem is not yet solved if the possible solutions are not implemented.

For instance, the marketing team of an organization identified the use of cold messaging to be the only solution to retaining the loyalty of their customers. Before this can be done, the team will also make decisions on how to go about sending the message by answering a series of questions.

Will it be through email or bulk SMS?

Will it be a weekly or monthly exercise? Etc. All these are likely things to be decided upon before implementation.

The outcome of this stage determines whether or not the problem will be solved.

5. Solution Implementation

The next stage after decision making is the solution implementation. Here new challenges may be encountered, requiring adjustment of the generated solution. Hence, solution evaluation may or may not be part of the problem solving process.

Considering the problem solving processes, decision making was one of the most crucial stages. This implies that decision making is a subset of problem solving. Decisions are made when multiple opportunities requiring a course of action present themselves.


In other words, some of the differences between problem solving and decision making are as follows?

  1. Problem-solving can be considered as a method while decision making can be considered a process.
  2. The method of problem-solving is complex and includes deep analysis while the decision-making process leads to taking a final course of action or judgment.
  3. The aim of problem solving is to create the right solutions while decision making is to avoid potential problems.
  4. Problem-solving is generally associated with a clear objective. On the other hand, different types of options are considered while taking decisions.


Despite the difference, they are both important skills which a lot of people lack. Therefore, below are ways of improving on these important skills.

1. Interact With People

Giving room for interaction with people of different age groups, both online and offline can be a good way to improve problem solving and decision making skills.

Interacting with older people can help you become more mindful and better at planning for the future, while interacting with younger people helps you familiarize with recent trends that may be useful when faced with decision making.

2. Exercise

The fact still remains that many people underrate the importance of exercise. Exercise has a very good effect on the body, both psychological and mentally. It helps the mind and body to relax afterwards.

There are various forms of exercises that can help a person to improve on problem solving and decision making.

Here are a few to consider;


As funny as it may sound, if it’s not push-ups, weight lifting and the likes, anything outside these is not considered an exercise. But do you know that dancing is a very healthy form of exercise? Various researches have shown that working out with some tunes has a positive impact on neural processing. This means that if you engage in any form of structured dance, doing so may facilitate convergent thinking. In other words, it may help you find a single, appropriate answer to a problem. A particular author wrote “The combination of music and exercise may stimulate and increase cognitive arousal while helping to organize the cognitive output.” Dancing relaxes the nerves. Those who engage in this exercise are usually high-spirited and this goes in line with a n adage that says “in a healthy body is a healthy spirit. ”This implies that as your body becomes more finely honed, your decision-making skills will drastically improve gradually.

Participate in Yoga

Yoga is an exercise I wished I could do more often. There is more to Yoga than just sitting with legs folded in a criss cross manner and hands clamped together in a prayer-like position. While growing up, I always thought people in such positions were praying.

Nevertheless, the powerful combination of body awareness, breathing, and meditation that is required during yoga exercise has been proven to significantly raise cognitive test scores.

However, whichever sports or exercise that feels comfortable, safe and fun for you, do it. This is an awesome way to improve on problem solving and decision making.

3. Ask For Help and Attend Training

Remember, before a problem can be solved, you need to identify the problem. Once you have figured out you have a skills gap that needs to be improved, the next step is to take action to fill that skills gap.

You may either ask for help from more experienced superiors or you opt for training or coaching from those with such skills. Yes, don’t be surprised, just like baking and barbing, problem solving is a skill that encompasses other skills and as such can be learnt too.

You might even attend specialized training for certain skills including active listening or critical thinking.

4. Engage Your Brain with Logic Puzzles or Games

The powers of logic games are as underrated as exercise too. To build up your brain muscle and develop your problem-solving techniques, engage in some logic puzzles and other games.

The winning strategy when playing chess, Sudoku, or other brain-boosting games is actually to work the problem backward, not forward. The same strategy can apply to realistic strategic-thinking situations. I have a lot of people who engage in these games and trust me; their problem solving ability is second to none.

5. Have an “Idea Journal” With You

A journal is used to document thoughts and ideas. As a writer, I can categorically state that keeping a journal has been a life saver on numerous occasions. With a journal always handy, you will be able to quickly record important thoughts, personal experiences, explore ideas or even make sketches. Working out problems by sorting your thoughts on paper and then viewing them more objectively is easier than having all your thoughts stuck in your head. Do this and thank me later.

6. Brainstorming

This is the act of subjecting your brain to think of possible solutions to a problem. Brainstorming can be done by one person or a group of people.

Belonging to a group where we brainstorm on different issues, I will say that this is one approach that has helped me drastically in this aspect. Brainstorming with people especially, helps you to see how other people think and the different techniques they apply on different issues.

7. Read

“Readers are leaders” and to become a delectable leader, you need to improve on your problem solving and decision making skills.

However, reading is one effective ways to achieve that.

One thing you should understand is that there is no unique problem anymore. Be it in an individual’s life or as an organization, whatever challenge you encounter must have been faced by someone else.

As a result of this, lots of very smart people have developed methods and approaches, probably from experience, to help develop problem solving skills and create effective solutions.

Books like “The Art of Thinking Clearly”.

8. Practice

Practice, we say, makes perfect”. Whatever you do always tends to become very easy in the long run. Problem solving as well as decision making, can be practiced just the same way cooking can be practiced.

In this case, practice may not necessarily make perfect but it will certainly make the problem solving process easier. If you are having trouble with critical thinking and decision making, don’t shy away from doing it.

Accept opportunities that will enable you to get involved in problem solving. Try collaborating in other circumstances at work or conduct data analysis on your own projects.  The skills you wish to develop can be done by doing and practicing.

9. Rest

Rest is underrated this is why many people work round the clock without finding a little time to rest. Most people who do not find time to relax are terrible in decision making and problem solving.

A tired, distracted mind can never be in the best position to arrive at a solution to a problem. If rest is not important, why do you think some people take time off from work, or even for vacations to cool off when faced with life changing decisions to make?

Rest is very important and without letting your brain rest, you cannot be at your best.


As stated, problem solving and decision making are two different words yet closely related. Leadership roles aside, these skills are very important in the life of every human because on a daily basis we are faced with different choices and opportunities that come with decision making.

It is one thing to make decisions and another thing to make worthwhile decisions. As bad as it may sound, a lot of people are terrible at making great decisions, so also with problem solving.

Moreso, decision making might be an important phase in problem solving but it is important to note that arriving at a decision doesn’t solve a problem. In other words, a great decision doesn’t automatically mean a problem has been solved. A problem is said to be solved if the ideas concluded during decision making are effectively implemented.

If you’re struggling with decision-making and problem solving; be rest assured it can always be improved through some of the ways that have been identified and stated above.

Whatever method you choose, remember that taking action is the only way a result can be achieved. Whether it is by attending training, reading books, exercising, brainstorming, taking a time out to rest, anything it takes to improve on these skills is the way to go.

Problems are meant to be solved not ignored. Decisions are meant to be made too. Stop shying away rom them. I want to believe this article was helpful. Go out there and start making wise decisions today.

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