Posted by: Jacqui Murray | September 18, 2012

How to Problem Solve (Critical Skill #1 for Future USNA Applicants)

road closed

How do you get there?

If you read the freshman year critical skills post, you know this is the first. If you haven’t yet learned to solve your own problems, now’s the time. Make today the first day that you ask yourself, How do I ***, before asking friends/parents/mentors. Here’s how you do that.

Let’s say you have a problem. We’ll make it easy–should you buy an iPod or The Competitor.

  1. Determine what you want in an MP3 player. Should it play music, all types of music, show videos, pictures? Make that list so you know how to evaluate information as you collect it.
  2. Think first about what you know about the topic. Have you seen some that you liked or didn’t like. What have you heard about your choices. You are a good resource to yourself. Don’t discount that. You’ll be surprised how much you know on a variety of topics. This step is important to the Naval Academy. They want you to think, to use your intelligence and your knowledge to evaluate and solve problems.
  3. Next, check with friends. You want the input of users. Your friends will think whatever they own is the best, because they’re vested in that choice. How could they admit to a dumb choice? This, to, is important to a team-oriented environment. When you are the officer in charge, you won’t check with the enlisted personnel who work for you, but you should understand their thoughts, how they’ll react to your decisions. And, today’s Navy wants their junior officers to defend their positions to their senior officers, even though the decision is not theirs to make.
  4. Dig deeper. Ask them why they like/dislike it. If they love it, they’ll show you how it works and want to persuade you to their viewpoint. This is the gathering information stage of business decisions. Every good manager engages this to show that he takes the input of those under him seriously. By the way, do take it seriously. They may know information you don’t that will help you arrive at the right decision.
  5. Dig deeper. Check other resources. This includes:
    • people who don’t like it
    • online sources. Yep, you might as well get used to online research if you aren’t yet. Statistics show more people get their news from blogs than traditional media (newspapers, tv) and you know where blogs are.
    • ask your parents. They’ll guide you with input like cost, longevity, reliability.
  6. Evaluate your resources. How much money do you have? Eliminate the choices that don’t fit your constraints (money, time, etc.) If there are several choices that seem to work, this might help you make the decision. You might have to save money, or get a job so you can afford the one you’ve chosen. Or, you might deciflowchartde it’s not worth it and you’ll settle for a cheaper one. Just make sure you are aware of how you made the choice and are satisfied with it. When you’re in the Navy, your decisions must be doable, not some idealistic dream. Make sure everything you propose can happen within the limits of current resources and other scenarios.
  7. What are the risks involved in making the decision? Maybe by spending all of your money on an MP3 player, you can’t do something else you wanted. Are you comfortable with that choice?
  8. Make a decision. That’s right. Now it’s on you to decide and then live with it.

Understand, these eight steps will not come easily, but they must come for the problem solvers required by USNA. Make them a habit. When you reach the interview stage during your junior/senior year with the Blue and Gold Officer and the Congressman, the correct way to solve problems will flow naturally from you. You won’t have to think about it, because, officers don’t have time to think about it when they’re under attack, and they still must make the right decision.

Next, How to Manage Your time.

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Jacqui Murray wrote Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a tech columnist for Examiner.comEditorial Review Board member for ISTE’s Journal for Computing Teachers, Cisco guest blogger,IMS tech expert, and a weekly contributor to Write AnythingCurrently, she’s editing a thriller for her agent that should be out to publishers this summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office, WordDreams, or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.


  1. […] How to solve problems […]


  2. […] you read the freshman year critical skills post, you know this is the third of five (check out How to solve problems and How to manage your time). At the root of problem solving and managing your time is prioritizing. […]


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