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When we ask anyone what skills students need most to succeed in the future, the most common answer is that learners must be exceptional problem solvers. The Solution Fluency process is one for not only problem solving, but also living. Since it provides skills that matter for life and success, it's being taught so much in schools all over the world now.
Even so, many educators still struggle with how Solution Fluency looks in action and why it matters. To be honest, this is encouraging to us. The truth is that we solve problems all the time in life and we do it unconsciously much of that time. It's great when teachers look for an understanding of the Solution Fluency process in everyday living.
A person can work through virtually any problem imaginable with a process like Solution Fluency. It doesn't matter if you're writing a grocery list, building a house, or redesigning the universe. Just another reason why it's so important to our students—they'll be solving problems that haven't even been invented yet.
Questions of the Solution Fluency Process
The 6Ds of the Solution Fluency process are familiar to many of you by now:
- DEFINE: We must decide exactly what needs to be solved, and give proper context to the problem.
- DISCOVER: This is researching and gathering, and analyzing knowledge about the problem.
- DREAM: Here we open up the heart and mind to the possibilities of a solution the way we want it.
- DESIGN: This is the workshopping phase. Here the actual mechanics of your solution begin to take shape.
- DELIVER: This involves the action for completing the product (Produce), and presenting the proposed solution (Publish).
- DEBRIEF: The reflection stage is where you look at the ways you succeeded, and ways you could improve your approach in future situations.
Each stage gives rise to contemplative guiding questions we can apply to any problem needing a solution. Here are a few basic examples:
- DEFINE: What is the problem that we face?
- DISCOVER: What's causing the problem, and why do we need to solve it?
- DREAM: What does the ideal solution look like?
- DESIGN: How will we create our solution?
- DELIVER: How will we implement our solution?
- DEBRIEF: How will we know if we were successful, and what could we do differently?
What Solution Fluency Is (and Isn't)
Let’s challenge common assumptions about Solution Fluency to help you understand it a bit better. This comes from the Solution Fluency Teacher's Companion guide and identifies what Solution Fluency both is and is not.
Solution Fluency is NOT:
- A linear process—Solution Fluency isn’t bound by the limitations and strictness that can be part of linear processes. It has a different more intuitive flow.
- A long complicated process—Some teachers assume Solution Fluency takes days or weeks to implement. It can be used this way, but that’s not the only way.
- Exclusive to a classroom—Solution Fluency isn’t strictly a process for the modern classroom. True, it’s purpose is for learning, but its power extends beyond school.
- An advanced thinking model—To some, Solution Fluency looks too complicated to work with every student. As such, teachers often have doubts about its viability.
Solution Fluency IS:
- A cyclical process—All the phases of Solution Fluency are meant to be revisited in any learning journey. It doesn’t always need to happen, but it can.
- A versatile process—Solution Fluency can be applied to any task of any scale. It doesn’t matter if you’re making a grocery list or redesigning the universe.
- A skill for life—Solution Fluency teaches us crucial problem-solving, critical thinking, and analytical skills. It’s a formula for success in every aspect of life.
- A skill for everyone—An eye-opening moment for us was when we saw 4-year-old children explaining the 6Ds to their parents. Solution Fluency is that simple.
Living the Solution Fluency Process
As we use Solution Fluency in preparing for life beyond school, we can begin to draw many parallels to it. This chart below shows how Solution Fluency mirrors many of the learning processes we're already familiar with.
David Dares to Dream
David has owned a restaurant for almost 30 years. During that time, many things have changed. People need a stronger reason than just their paycheck to remain in any job for an extended period of time. It takes a great deal of energy, and money to effectively train an employee, so keeping them requires attention and innovative action.
DEFINE—The first step was to clearly define the problem. The problem was difficulty retaining employees for an extended period of time. How do you keep permanent, full-time employees and also have seasonal employees return each year during the peak season? This is a simple and clear definition of the problem and the challenge.
DISCOVER—David started asking himself, “Why do employees leave?” He thought perhaps it was money. He knew of a café owner who increased his employees’ salaries to almost three times the minimum wage but found money didn’t make a difference. Other business owners had put profit-sharing systems in place, but there was only a marginal increase in the length of time employees would stay. So David decided the best way to find out was to ask them. He began the process of interviewing each member of his staff. He quickly discovered the reason employees left was the lack of a sense of purpose.
DREAM—Because he had been so open-minded during the Discover process, David was able to gain insight into what the real problem was. If he wanted to retain employees, he was going to have to strike a balance between his needs and theirs. He imagined a partnership in which he would invest money and his time to help them achieve their goals.
DESIGN—David started by interviewing all of his existing employees to find out what their dreams were and to find ways in which he could help them realize those dreams. He would also explain what it was he was trying to accomplish and his reasons for wanting to start this program. With each new hire, David went through a similar process. He discovered what inspired his employees and tried to help them make their dreams a reality.
DELIVER—While interviewing one employee, he found out that her greatest desire was to write and produce her own one-woman show. David was an accomplished filmmaker and producer, so they made a plan for her to work one day each week on her script rather than at the restaurant. Over the next several months she wrote, produced, and performed her show. Another employee was studying commerce. Each summer, David’s restaurant sponsored a film festival. David made an agreement to have this student take over the management duties for the festival. The employee then split his time between the restaurant and the festival.
DEBRIEF—Throughout the process, David met with his employees to monitor the success of their individual programs and make adjustments. Three years later, all the employees still worked for David. Analyzing the process, David found that when this program did not work for an employee, it was often because he had not been thorough in discovering what the true passion of the employee was, or else he had failed to provide enough support. David adjusts his process on an ongoing basis and has improved his results dramatically.
Tips for Using the Solution Fluency Process
- Don't think too far ahead. It's easy to get overwhelmed thinking of all the reasons why there is a problem. Focus on defining the problem in the moment.
- Revisit the stages. As mentioned before, Solution Fluency is a cyclical process. It's perfectly normal to go back to previous stages, reconsidering and revising what you know as new knowledge is gained.
- Be patient. Even though it's a simple system, it can still take time to develop a solution to more challenging problems. Enjoy the journey, because it's one you're meant to learn with.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in 2019 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.
Originally published Feb 3, 2019, updated Nov 11, 2021