Once a problem has been recognized it should be

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Once a problem has been recognized, it should be carefully defined. Failure to attain a clear definition of a problem will always result in obtaining unsuccessful solutions. In fact, you may end up solving “some” problem but not the one that you were trying to solve. Suppose, for example, that you are the sort of person who is constantly running out of money and unable to meet expenses. You may react in characteristically human fashion – by resenting your employer or those responsible for your financial support for being stingy. And you may, without realizing it, define your problem as how to get even with these people. You may succeed in solving this problem only to realize too late that the real problem was how to reduce your expenditure. In many situations, defining the problem will be the most difficult phase in decision-making. But once you have correctly defined the problem, the rest will be relatively easy. In most cases, we start with the wrong definition. The thinking you do in the last four phases can help you realise that your original definition was wrong. In this event, be advised that it is ideal that you start all over again at the beginning of the circle. At times, you may find it helpful to use the entire five-phase circle to define the problem. There are three rules that must be followed in defining the problem. The first is that the definition should not be too general. This is true because if the definition is too broad, the guidelines for a solution will be too broad, and the investigation may flounder. Large problems can be very real, but their solution usually requires breaking them down into smaller, clearly defined ones to be solved one at a time. The second rule addresses exactly the opposite of the above: the definition should not be too specific. A definition of a problem is said to be too specific when it unnecessarily restricts alternative solutions. When the definition of the problem is too specific, it will always lead to temporary solutions because it will have ignored other significant aspects contributive to the same. Finally, the definition should not in itself constitute a “solution” to the problem. Suppose that in each year, there is a problem of mass drop-out of doctoral students in the School of Arts and Social Sciences at Kenyatta University in Kenya, and the Dean of Faculty defines the problem as one due to lack of scholarships and/or financial limitations on the part of the studying students. His definition would in itself have contained the “solution” that more scholarships and financial assistance be extended to doctoral students, the result of which rule out other solutions for consideration. In fact, for this kind of definition to be acceptable, one would first have to solve another problem: that of whether to extend financial assistance viz scholarships. Very often definitions of problems that are themselves solutions also have the fault of being too specific, alternative answers tend to increasingly to be ruled out, until at last only one remains. Let it be noted, however, that not all definitions that are too
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