Problem solving proves key to success

Christina Oddo & Sara Blair Matthews
Arts & Life Editor, News Editor

In his lecture “How To Be Successful,” which occurred in Trout Auditorium on Oct. 22, Richard Zare claimed that problem solving is the key to a successful life. He also asked whether or not problem solving could be taught, and continued to question this throughout the lecture.

He offered TIPS, standing for Thought Process, Information, Plan and Solution. These steps involve thinking about the problem, as well as highlighting key words involved in its solution.

After considering TIPS, Zare explained that through further research he learned you need to “decompose the problem into smaller problems,” and to “think of similar problems you can solve” if the problem is too difficult.

Zare said that in order to get better at solving problems, you need to actually solve problems. It is not sufficient enough to just read a book about problem solving. In this way, intervention on a teacher’s part may not necessarily help the student. Zare emphasized that at some point, everyone will be a teacher, whether it is in a parental, office or academic setting. He noted that it is important to keep in mind that students need to learn through practice rather than mere observation.

“I learned to enjoy what I am learning and stop stressing over school,” Olivia Cohen ’14 said. “He was a really great speaker and had the audience fully engaged.”

In regards to problem solving strategy, Zare highlighted working backwards as well as the importance of immersing yourself in a problem. He related personal experiences where he obsessed and dreamed about problems and ended up solving them through these creative methods.

Problem solving is all about attitude, and the “willingness to play with reality.” He promotes the questioning of assumptions.

Zare also spoke about his love for solving seemingly challenging problems. He challenged the audience to a coin problem, a US states problem and a few optical illusions. He also talked about his problem solving correspondence with friends across the country and how they take joy in attempting to stump one another.

Zare encouraged the audience to “celebrate the joy of ‘aha!’ … a thrilling moment of discovery.” He also emphasized the importance of failure.

“Let failure be your guide to success in problem solving,” Zare said.

Zare received his undergraduate and graduate degree at Harvard University, and he has been working at Stanford since 1977.

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