Lesson 1: Identify

"Even if you're not a genius, you can use the same strategies as Aristotle and Einstein to harness the power of your creative mind and better manage your future."1


Making choices is part of life. Your ability to make good choices requires critical thinking skills and is necessary to solving open-ended problems. In this lesson, we will discuss the process of identifying a problem, and dealing with uncertainties associated with the problem solving process. The difference between critical thinking at stage 1 and stage 4 is the method chosen and approach to seeking solutions. Regardless of the approach, the stage 1 skill of accurately identifying the problem is key to reaching a satisfactory solution, and necessary to move on to stage 2 problem solving and all problem solving.

critical thinking chart step one

Stage 1 foundation skills include the ability to repeat information either from books or notes, and approaching open-ended problems with a single “correct” solution goal. Those performing at this stage cannot accept the possibility of more than one solution. They have difficulty with comprehending written material and base their conclusions on gut reactions.2

You will explore the process of acknowledging and examining a problem in this lesson.

At the end of this lesson, you will be able to list the steps for:

  • Identifying the problem
  • Identifying uncertainties

Problem Identification and Uncertainties

magnifying glass

The identifying stage takes the individual from a vague perspective on the problem and having a very limited view to expansion of the perspective and view. This is done by looking at the known information, and expanding on it. If knowledge/information gaps exist, this information is sought to increase the knowledge base required for consideration. Follow the steps below to perform the process.

Identify the problem by:

  • Jotting down everything you know about it.
  • Finding information from external sources relating to it.
  • Determine whether there are existing rules or standards for it.
  • Assess whether there are contributing considerations associated.
  • Identify multiple perspectives or solutions relating to it.
  • Justify positions for making one choice versus another.

Identify uncertainties by:

  • Stating uncertainties
  • Determining which uncertainties take precedence.
  • Listing risks affecting possible choices.
  • Stating why there is no absolute or “correct” solution.
  • Looking at what might affect or change your perspective.


Making good choices is a learned process, and using the structured problem identification method as described above will enable you to analyze a situation or problem, identify important facts, and accept the existence of inconsistencies in the information. However, care should be taken in the collection of facts to ensure that facts don’t simply support a preferred view, are obtained objectively, and conclusions are deliberated. In addition personal beliefs should not be confused with actual facts for evidence. Assisting you to see multiple perspectives, approach problems objectively, and acknowledge problem data may be incomplete or change over time, will allow you to progress to stage 2 and enhance your critical thinking skills.3

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