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Creative Problem-Solving and Gamification for Soft Skills Training

By: Peter Young, CCDP, BBPH

Published March 12, 2024


Problems have a bad reputation. They can delay us from our goals, create financial discourse, and even cause emotional and psychological distress which can derail us in a variety of contexts. But problems also present opportunities to develop important skills that promote adaptability and personal success. From interpersonal squabbles and personal barriers to financial struggles and workplace challenges, problems push us to learn, adapt, and discover creative solutions. Maximizing our ability to problem-solve is therefore an important skill to master, and finding new ways to facilitate problem-solving training is essential for engaging people in continuing to develop the skills so important for adaptability and success.



Problems: The Catalysts of Growth

Problems may often seem like unwelcome guests on our journey, but in reality, our ability to face them improves our analytical thinking which is a crucial skill for developing adaptive and successful intelligence. Problem-solving is a skill that is taught from an early age, and being a good problem solver is considered a desired characteristic. Virtually all humans can solve problems, but the process of solving problems often varies from individual to individual, relying on a balance between critical and creative thinking.


Critical Thinking: Considering the Facts

the term critical thinking has evolved over the years. Generally, it is the ability to think clearly and rationally about what to do or what to believe. It involves the ability to analyze information, identify biases, evaluate evidence, and form sound judgments. It is a concept originally developed by John Dewey and further refined by Robert Ennis. In today's world, critical thinking is considered an essential process but can be time-consuming, which is why artificial intelligence programs like ChatGPT have been vastly utilized for educational learning and problem solving. Studies have suggested that AI systems however useful, still experience challenges with solving problems, much like us humans.


Thinking Beyond Limits: Herbert Simon’s Contributions

Did you know that AI's problem solving programming is modelled after the way humans solve problems? Herbert Simon’s groundbreaking work in artificial intelligence and cognitive psychology contributed to the development of artificial intelligence, laying the foundation for future technological advancements. His logic theory machine laid the groundwork for AI systems like ChatGPT, and Simon earned a Nobel prize and the A.M Turner Award in the late 1970s for his contributions to artificial intelligence and cognitive psychology. Simon recognized human's limits to problem-solving, a phenomenon he called, bounded rationality.


Satisficing: Our Tendency to Reach for the Easiest Solution

bounded rationality explains how cognitive limitations influence decision-making, leading to “satisficing”, a term used to explain decisions that meet the minimum criteria for acceptability. When decision-makers are constrained by time limits, budgets, and limited information, satisficing becomes a normative practice as maximizing problem-solving can end up being detrimental. Due to these constraints, solutions contain a certain amount of uncertainty. As a result, solutions are not always optimal but "good enough".


Going one Step Further: Robust Satisficing

Satisficing is generally a good decision-making practice unless an optimal solution is essential. So, to improve the decision-making process and reduce uncertainty, robust satisficing emerges as an approach that emphasizes identifying criteria that are important to making an optimal decision, and setting minimum thresholds for the criteria for which solutions must meet or exceed to be considered as an optimal choice. The challenge can be, however, that criteria may not always be easily identifiable or measurable and the reality is that decision-makers don't always have sufficient information.


The Limits of Logical Problem-Solving

Robust satisficing is a valuable approach to critical thinking but isn't always helpful. Often, problems require a creative solution or have such a variety of possible solutions that an innovative approach is called for. When none of the logical solutions seem to meet the minimum criteria for acceptability, a fresh perspective must be taken. For example, when a product isn't selling despite every marketing strategy or an educational approach is failing to teach despite every evidence-based approach, an original 'outside the box" idea is required. But how do decision-makers come up with the next best idea?



Lateral Thinking: Mixing Creativity with Logic

Lateral thinking, a concept introduced by Edward De Bono, is a way to inject new perspectives into the problem-solving framework, thus allowing decision-makers to innovate their ideas and generate more potential solutions. Lateral thinking complements Simon's design phase by incorporating principles like provocation, random entry, and concept challenge to disrupt traditional thought patterns. This creative approach broadens opportunities and helps decision-makers think differently.


Hesitancy and the Need for Engagement

Identifying innovative approaches or implementing new solutions naturally presents an opportunity to trek into new territory. But no matter how great the ideas are, implementation can be met with hesitancy. The uncertainty that accompanies new approaches and creative solutions is real. This can be especially true if the problem is related to one's interpersonal or intrapersonal conflicts. People understand the risk that accompanies the uncertainty of trying something original. This underscores the importance of providing training opportunities that reduce the uncertainty that people experience.


Games Are Learning Experiences

Often, problem-solving related to intrapersonal and interpersonal challenges is considered daunting. Addressing these problems in classrooms, workplaces, or therapeutic sessions can be confrontational, perhaps due to its satisficing approach. Gamification, the application of game design elements to non-game contexts, offers a unique avenue for problem-solving and personal development. The use of gamification in these instances allows people to learn relevant problem-solving skills in a way that is engaging and less intimidating. Current studies suggest that gamification has benefits, but highlights that gamification evidence is still unclear when it comes to social outcomes. Therefore, gamification although a useful tool must be implemented with care and in conjunction with evidence-based practices for teaching soft skills such as problem-solving.



A Leader in Gamification

Jane McGonigal, a pioneer in alternate reality games, exemplifies the power of gamification in addressing real-world problems and helping individuals develop resilience, social connectedness, and personal wellness. McGonigal's alternate reality games are educational and fun experiences that provide a way to develop adaptability and success through creativity, diverse problem-solving, collaboration, and immediate feedback.


The Impact of Jane McGonigal’s Approach to Skills Training

Jane McGonigal’s immersive games like SuperBetter, are designed with positive psychology in mind, and engage players in both real-time events and virtual experiences, fostering opportunities to discover solutions related to depression, anxiety, and chronic pain. The approach that gamification takes undoubtedly offers a foundation upon which traditional training environments can build, especially in the arena of innovative training solutions for creative and critical thinking. Integrating gamification with evidence-based training experiences provides individuals the opportunity to first enhance creative and critical thinking in a controlled virtual environment before generalizing these skills to real life opportunities.


Key Takeaways: Embracing Soft Skill Development

In conclusion, problem-solving challenges are not insurmountable, even if they are extremely personal and test the limits of one's abilities. By embracing lateral thinking and gamification techniques, individuals can discover new perspectives and enhance problem-solving skills engagingly and safely. These innovative approaches to training ultimately offers a unique path to progress; allowing players to experience a sense of winning while progressing to the next level of personal and professional growth.


References

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About the Author

Peter Young, CCDP, BBPH

Meet Peter, a lifelong learner driven by passion for innovation and personal growth. Positioned in the middle of seven siblings growing up, Peter comprehends the pivotal role soft skills play in maintaining relationships and finding success. From providing behavioural counselling and career counselling to hosting team-building events and activities, Peter's diverse work experiences fueled his curiosity to learn and share knowledge. Armed with a degree in behavioral psychology, real-world roles in social services, and certification in career development practice, Peter brings a unique perspective. Specializing in soft skills like communication, problem-solving, teamwork, and stress management, he employs immersive virtual reality experiences to craft dynamic, positive learning environments. As a certified Career Practitioner, Peter is dedicated to guiding individuals and organizations toward success in today’s fast-paced workplace. Join him on this exciting journey of unlocking potential through innovative and immersive learning experiences.

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