Almost everything in life is a problem. Even when we go on vacations to escape our problems, we quickly discover that vacations merely bring problems that differ in kind or magnitude from the ones of daily living. In addition, we often find that the solution to one problem becomes the basis of the next one. For example, closing on a house solves the problem of buying a house, but usually means the initiation of a whole new set of problems pertaining to home ownership.
Because problems are a central part of human life, it is important to understand the nature of problem solving and the sources that can make it difficult. When people have problems, how do they identify, define, and solve them? When and why do they succeed at problem solving and when and why do they fail? How can problem-solving performance be improved?
Our goal for this book is to organize in one volume what psychologists know about problem solving and the factors that contribute to its success or failure. To accomplish this goal, we gave each of our contributors the following problem: “Use your area of expertise to determine what makes problem solving difficult.” By examining why problem solving is often difficult for people, we hope to discover how to make it easier and more productive. However, the book's focus is not a discouraging one that emphasizes only failures in problem solving. Instead, it provides a balanced view of why problems are and are not solved successfully.