Defining the solution

Defining the solution

We often think of "solving a problem" in the sense of making it go away, so that the problem no longer exists. This is one kind of solution, but it is not the only kind. Some problems cannot be eliminated entirely: we are never likely to eliminate litter, or the wear on car tyres, or the occurrence of illness. We can, however, create solutions or treatments that will make each of these problems less harmful.

So it is helpful when thinking about a problem to define it in a way that some goals or parameters will be set that allow us to know when the solution is reached. Sometimes the goals might be that the problem is entirely eliminated and sometimes the goals will be to treat the effects of the problem.

There are two basic approaches to defining solutions:
  • Stop it: Cures the problem. This might be in the form of preventing it from occurring or reoccurring, eliminating it all together or reducing it to point where it is no longer defined as a problem.
  • Mop it: Focuses on the effects of the problem. One can treat the damage, tolerate it, or redirect it.

(Robert Harris, 1998)

Which of the following problems can be treated by a stop it or mop it approach:

  • Cleaning up water caused by a leaking radiator and placing towelling and spill tray. It is a mop it solution as you are not stopping the leak, just mopping up!.
  • Placing traffic signals at busy traffic junctions. This is a stop it solution as it prevents accidents from happening.