One of the things I personally believe in incredibly important, a skill that everyone should have and cultivate, above all others, is the skill to problem solve.
Sure, public speaking is important. So is Language Arts, Math, Science etc. But if you ask me, once you have problem solving skills, then everything else falls out of that.
Here’s an example: a number of years ago, I hired an intern to work on our IT dept at the company I was working at. The guys resume looked great, he had a certification in the type of network software we were using, and his credentials looked awesome. We interviewed him and he seemed to know his stuff. So we hired him and brought him in to work.
The very first task I gave him to do was to setup some computers, some of which had some issues. Judging by this guys educational credentials and experience, I figured that he would have all the work done in a few hours. A few hours later, I come back and find that he got completely stuck working on the first computer. So I sat with him and went over things with him. Left, then a few hours later came back. He had not moved on at all.
Eventually, as I watched him work, I realized that while he knew some things, and he followed instructions well, that the moment he ran into a snag, he got completely stuck. He had no way to get past the issue which he had come across. I realized that the thing this guy lacked was “problem solving skills” – the ability to figure out a solution to a problem that he came across. I realized that this was a skill that you can learn, and this guy, for all his credentials, didn’t have that.
A year later, I hired another guy. No credentials whatsoever, but he had kick-ass problem solving skills. Even if he knew nothing about anything you set anything in front of him, he was able to figure it out, learn in the process, then solve more problems. That’s when I realized, the core of everything, the core of all learning actually, is having problem solving skills. When you have good problem solving skills, nothing can faze you, since everything that comes at you is something you can figure out, whether it’s driving, building a business, learning a new language, or making the country better.
In the past, kids learned problem solving skills in school or in real life: you were given problems in school, or in real life, and were expected to figure them out. Nowadays, the answers are fed to the students, and there are virtually no life lessons given.
I was a latecomer to video gaming: I had an old Nintendo Entertainment System in the garage, and only got back into it in 2002, with a Christmas purchase of a GameCube by my mom for my kids.
Video games had really moved on from the side scrolling shooting and sword play of Zelda. One of the games that came with the system was called Star Fox Adventures, an adventure style game, very visually beautiful, sort of in the vein of Legend of Zelda, Ocarina of Time, a game I had skipped over since I dropped out of video gaming for a while.
However, I noticed something very interesting while I or my kids were playing this game: there were a ton of puzzles thrown into the mix along with the bashing and shooting. We worked together to solve each problem on the screen, moving blocks around etc. In the process I noticed that my kids were actually developing problem solving skills VIA playing the video game. And not only were they developing this skill, which I feel is the uber skill above all others, that they were having a great time doing it.
Contrast that to the dull instruction both adults and kids get learning nowadays.
Dude, where are our kids going to learn to solve problems, except for here?