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Definition

This first stage is a crucial part of the process. Without a clear definition of the problem, problem solvers cannot know the right directions to take in researching, analyzing, resolving and synthesizing, or finally implementing a solution to the problem. Although clear definition at the outset is essential, a problem may also be redefined on the basis of what happens in the research and analysis stages. Problem solving, then, at least in the first three stages, can be a recursive process, doubling back on itself, as information is uncovered and understood.

For example, computer engineers working for a large manufacturer concerned with protecting the firm's computer system from computer viruses may discover in the research stage and then again in the analysis stage that viruses attack with different magnitudes, depending on the level of exposure to other computer systems beyond the firm's own. The engineers would do well, then, to return to the definition stage and redefine the problem as having to do with the level of outside contact rather than with the simple fact of outside contact, something that may not have occurred to them when they first set out to define the problem. Such refining of the definition would help in further research and analysis, and ultimately, of course, in the resolution and synthesis stage. When defining and redefining a problem, problem solvers must remember that a problem must be able to be defined in terms of a felt need (see Chapter 1).


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