What is Complex Problem Solving Real-world economical, political and technological problems are very complex,  highly interconnected, non-transparent and dynamically changing over time.  In this regard, our world is similar to a spring mattress in which any change modifies the whole mattress.  Nevertheless, people need to solve complex problems by finding optimal decisions in such conditions. Complex problem solving is a system of methods aimed at finding the best decision in a complex multifunctional environment with continuously varying unknown but predetermined properties.  This approach requires us to test different scenarios involving interaction of these properties, to build and assess a model based on this testing, and to choose an optimal solution from available options. This solution is often a newly generated rather than existing one.  For example, you are the General Director of a company.  You try to expand the geography of sales in order to increase sales.  In this case, you should estimate not only supply and demand of the company’s products in different regions, but also the consumer’s ability to buy products, regional taxes and many other factors. These characteristics are constantly changing,  interacting and influencing each other.  You should build different development models of an economic situation for these regions and test them, perhaps, mentally.  Interestingly, you may eventually    reject the original goal to expand your geography of sales, realizing that a much better goal is to increase efficiency of sales in existing regions.

Another example is future career choice.  This is a very complex problem that has many uncertain parameters.  This process requires estimating many factors in order to make a good decision.

For complex problems, there can be no exact algorithms that may be used to estimate existing options to solve problems and to choose the best of them quickly, because any algorithm is a reduction of reality to a limited set of principles, axioms  and formulas.  For example, the physical cause of lightning is an electrical discharge in the atmosphere, but the ancient man with his limited knowledge could not perceive this phenomenon as result of electrical conductivity of the air.  The reality is always more complex than any perceived model of it.  The model is reduced and abstracted from a variety of real properties, but these neglected properties may play a significant role in helping to make a correct decision.  These factors which may seem minor individually, taken together,  may be  significant in making the right decisions.

Therefore, to solve a complex problem and to make a good decision, we should analyze many characteristics of an infinite number of different but interrelated developing events by complex cognition  that,  on one hand, consists of certain simple cognitions but,on the other hand, is more than the sum of them.  An example of a complex cognitive activity may be language learning.  This complex cognition process is more than just memorizing words and studying grammatical rules and structures. In the process of language acquisition and practicing, a person’s perception of the reality gets modulated. In a complex situation, the result may be more than the result of those processes which are obvious, such as   perception, learning and memorizing.  There are many other factors that are more likely to have a significant impact one ffective learning, such as the quality of textbook, a teacher’s qualification, the composition of class or the emotional perception of learning.  These different factors, direct and indirect, collectively  may substantially increase the effectiveness of language learning.  Moreover, many of these factors are difficult to perceive as being related to language learning if analyzed separately.

We should coordinate these seemingly minor but nevertheless important factors in order for the whole system to be harmonized and balanced.  It is important to estimate the state of the whole system and its separate parts over time and to assess not only the level of changing influence on each element and on the state of the whole system but also analyze both internal and external dynamic causal relationships.

Hence, complex problem solving is one effective way to cope with the complexities of our reality by accepting its many interrelated aspects. At the same time, as per any cognitive model, complex problem solving reduces objective reality in our mind.  Therefore, in order to be effective in using complex problem solving, we must be open to information and develop cognitive flexibility in order to find new combinations of existing possibilities. Source:


Svetlana Stroganova, Nikolai Shmelev

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