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Problem Solving / 7.1 Define and Analyze the Problem Questions: 0 of 4 complete (0%) | 0 of 2 correct (0%)

Define and Analyze the Problem

Thinking is about making decisions and solving problems. Those times when you’re facing a tough decision or solving a difficult problem demand careful thinking. And once you’ve made your decision or solved the problem, you usually don’t need to worry about it any more.

Granted, some problems are more consequential than others. You’ll likely make dozens of decisions each morning before you leave your house, from what time to get up to which color of socks to wear. Most of these considerations won’t give you much trouble, so you’re unlikely to unleash the full power of your decision-making faculties. You’ll probably devote more time and thought to larger decisions related to career, relationships, financial problems, or reaching some long-sought goal like visiting Fiji or losing thirty pounds.

Most of your day is probably spent dealing with problems at work. Nearly everyone solves problems in their jobs: plumbers, doctors, cops, engineers, social workers, and stonemasons, just to name a few.

Then there are the overwhelming problems that go far beyond the scope of an individual life, but require many people to do their parts. These can be issues like managing a government, reducing poverty, or finding clean sources of energy.

When you do come in contact with a problem that is worth taking the time to think about, it sometimes helps to break the problem solving process into steps.1

The standard approach to solving a problem has these basic steps:

· Step One: Define the Problem

· Step Two: Analyze the Problem

· Step Three: Generate Options

· Step Four: Evaluate the Options

· Step Five: Make Your Decision

· Step Six: Implement and Reflect

Anwar’s Dilemma: A Problem Solving Case Study

Anwar has lived in a small town in New Hampshire for most of his adult life, where he has a good job as a high school music teacher and spends a significant part of his time taking care of his aging father, whose health has declined in the last few years.

His girlfriend of two years, Bridget, has gotten an offer for her dream job as a pastry chef at a high-end restaurant. The job is in New York City, and Bridget wants Anwar to relocate with her. Anwar is not sure what to do, largely because he knows that without someone checking in on his father regularly and running errands for him, Anwar’s father would most likely have to move to a nursing home.

To make a decision, Anwar decides to go through the six steps of solving a problem.

Step One: Define the Problem

To learn to think critically is to acquire explicit strategies for making better decisions and finding better solutions. When faced with a problem, it’s sometimes tempting to just jump in and start brainstorming ways to solve it. However, setting aside time to consider what your problem actually is about can make completing the later steps both easier and more productive. What is the question you’re really trying to answer or the problem you’re really trying to solve?

Depending on what your problem is, strategies for defining the problem will include the following components:

· Deciding that you are committed to finding a solution.

· Articulating why the decision is necessary.

· Stating the problem as clearly as possible.

· Rephrasing the problem in a new way.

· Detecting any sub-problems. Many perplexing problems are perplexing because they’re multifaceted.

While not every strategy would apply to every problem, applying some of these tips might look like this:

Anwar’s Dilemma: Defining the Problem

Anwar commits to finding a solution , reminding himself that his girlfriend has one week to accept the job offer and he wants to be able to let both her and his father know his intentions before that time is up. He articulates why a solution is necessary and acknowledges how the decision he makes will have ramifications for both his relationship with his girlfriend and relationship with his father.

Anwar originally understood his problem to be, “Should I abandon my father and move with Bridget to New York?” But as Anwar thinks more about his dilemma, he tries rephrasing the problem . He reframes the question by thinking, “Can I find a way to ensure that my father has all his needs met while still maintaining my relationship with my girlfriend?”

He detects a number of sub-problems involved with this dilemma—whether he will be able to afford to move, whether he will be able to find a new job in New York if he quits his old job, whether his father will have transportation to his doctor’s appointments, etc.

Step Two: Analyze the Problem

Once you have defined your problem, you’ll want to dig a little deeper and start analyzing it, identifying what the goal of the decision is and figuring out what you already know about the situation. Questions you will want to ask during this phase include:

· What does the solution need to enable?

· What would success look like?

· What are the facts?

· What assumptions are you making?

· What are the things you think are true but don’t know for sure?

· What are the open questions, things that would really be helpful to know?

Anwar’s Dilemma: Analyzing the Problem

Using his revised problem statement as a springboard, Anwar decides that his ideal solution needs to ensure that his father has all his needs met while enabling him to still maintain his relationship with his girlfriend.

Anwar then takes some time to expose and challenge assumptions. He thinks that assumptions for this dilemma might include, “I’m the only one who can give my father the care he needs to maintain his independent lifestyle” or “Bridget will break up with me if I don’t move to New York with her.”

Anwar also decides to gather facts about the situation before he decides what to do. Are any of Anwar’s siblings or cousins able to step in if Anwar is no longer available to be the primary caregiver for his father? How much would it cost to hire a live-in caregiver? What are the job opportunities in Anwar’s career field in New York City? How often could Anwar and Bridget realistically visit each other if they tried to maintain a long-distance relationship?

There are a number of online resources that provide more detailed suggestions on how to approach problem when you’re defining and analyzing it. One great resource for ideas about how to define and analyze a problem is “Einstein’s Secret to Amazing Problem Solving,” an article from Litemind.com. This article emphasizes how important these often overlooked first steps of problem solving are and provides a list of ten strategies for problem definition and analysis.

Which of the following is the first step to problem solving?

· Generate Options

· Define and Analyze the Problem

· Evaluate the Options

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Which strategy from the “Einstein’s Secrets” article encourages wording your problem statement in a way that suggests that there are multiple possible ways to solve the problem?

· Find Multiple Perspectives

· Chunk Down

· Use Effective Language Constructs

· Make it Engaging

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Explain how Anwar redefined his problem during the first phase of the problem solving process.

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Consider the following problem:

After getting laid off from her job in human resources management, Olivia is now in the process of applying for new jobs in the HR field. She is also considering using this transition time to go back to school to earn a degree in nursing. After a long time of sending out cover letters and interviewing, she finally gets a job offer. Just before she accepts the job, another company makes an offer to her as well.

One company, RMX, Inc., offers a higher salary, more paid vacation, and is located in a nearby city that Olivia has always wanted to move to. The other company, QBA, LLC, has a more appealing company culture, is located in her current town, and offers health benefits that provide better coverage of a preexisting condition she has. Olivia is also still thinking about going back to school, but hesitates now that she has two full-time job offers available to her.

Olivia has a very short window of time before she has to make her decision, and she’s feeling overwhelmed and conflicted.

Pick one of the strategies from the “Einstein’s Secrets” article and explain how Olivia might apply it to this dilemma.

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Problem Solving / 7.2 Practice: Define and Analyze the Problem Questions: 0 of 8 complete (0%) | 0 of 5 correct (0%)

Practice: Define and Analyze the Problem

The Checklist Solution

Atul Gawande is a surgeon faced with the complex problem of reducing the number of avoidable deaths in the emergency room. In the following interview from NPR, Gawande talks about the steps leading up to his proposed solution, which he also describes in his book The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right.

As discussed in the previous page, defining the problem is a critical first step in both solving problems and making decisions. As you read the article, think about how the same steps can be applied to the problem Gawande describes.

Either listen to or read the Gawande interview, then review the Einstein article. After that, answer the following questions.

Atul Gawande’s ‘Checklist’ for Surgery Success

Einstein’s Secret to Amazing Problem Solving

The article introduces the problem at hand by opening with a story—a man with a stab wound died in the emergency room due to an avoidable mistake. Which of the following BEST describes the point of the opening anecdote?

· Some tragedies cannot be prevented, no matter how skilled the doctors are.

· Inattention to a simple detail can have tragic results in the medical field.

· Never include dangerous weapons with your Halloween costume.

· The doctors were inept and didn’t know what they were doing.

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Gawande begins by talking about the specific problem of avoiding preventable deaths in surgery; the next phase in his approach is to broaden the issue to the more general dilemma of how the medical profession struggles with complexity. In this way, Gawande has moved on to which of the following strategies?

· Reverse the Problem

· Chunk Up

· Expose and Challenge Assumptions

· Chunk Down

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·

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Suppose your original problem statement for this dilemma was “How can we make sure doctors don’t screw up and accidentally kill people?” Apply the strategy “Make It Engaging” and suggest a revised problem statement.

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Gawande applies the fifth strategy, “Find Multiple Perspectives,” when he looks at the problem from the perspective of which other class of professionals?

· auto mechanics

· soldiers

· pilots

· lawyers

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What assumptions about the surgery profession was Gawande able to expose and challenge after getting perspectives from other fields?

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When Gawande tested his checklist idea by bringing a two-minute checklist into eight hospitals, how did these results compare to the prior ones?

· significantly better

· significantly worse

· slightly better

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What action did Gawande take to gather facts?

· He considered the notion that doctors are human, and that their profession is like any other.

· He created a two-minute checklist.

· He told an anecdote about a man with a stab wound.

· He studied what happened when doctors used his checklist and evaluated the results.

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How did Gawande apply a version of the first strategy, “Rephrase the Problem,” when his checklist met resistance from other doctors and surgeons?

07 Problem Solving / 7.3 Generate Options Questions: 0 of 3 complete (0%) | 0 of 1 correct (0%)

Generate Options

Putting in the effort to adequately define the problem might sometimes seem like a waste of time when you’re eager to reach a solution. However, the added clarity it brings will come in handy when you hit the next step: generating options.

Step Three: Generate Options

This is a creative process, and it helps to approach it in terms of quantity: How many alternatives can you come up with? At this point, you’re not evaluating which one is best or finding reasons why proposed solutions won’t work. You’re simply brainstorming. Although this can be hard for someone accustomed to critical thinking, you should turn off that assessment engine and let the ideas flow.

· Look at the problem from different perspectives.

· Explore potential causes of the problem.

· Think about the boundaries you have to work within.

· Imagine that some key constraints are removed.

· Ask yourself how certain strong personalities would solve this.

As you consider possible solutions, you might develop a better understanding of the problem, so feel free to revise the initial problem statement.

Problem: How can we keep the dog from barking when we’re not home?

Solution: Shoot the dog.

Revision: Without getting rid of the dog, how can we keep him from barking when we’re not home?

Ideas typically come slowly at first, then in a rush, and then they start to taper off. Whether you need to go further depends on how much time you have, how important the issue is, and how promising the ideas are so far.

Often you won’t get the solution you really need in the first round of brainstorming, so you’ll need to do more. Here are some good ways to get the ideas flowing again:

· Step away, get some rest, and then come back to the problem with a fresh perspective.

· Talk to other people for their ideas.

· Try working backwards—envision your ultimate goal, then figure out the last step before that, then the last step before that, and so on.

· Look for any sub-goals and try to accomplish them first. Sometimes it might be easier to solve smaller problems before tackling the main issue.

A solution-generating exercise might look like this:

Anwar’s Dilemma: Generating Options

Initially, Anwar thinks he only has two possible solutions to the problem—either he moves to New York with Bridget and abandons his aging father, or he stays near his father but breaks up with Bridget.

But after spending time defining and analyzing the problem, Anwar realizes that there might be more than two options. When he gathered facts about the problem, he also learned his sister, who lives an hour away, might be willing to drive over and visit their father more often.

Anwar now moves onto the next step in the problem solving process and begins to generate options. He discusses his situation with his best friend Felix for ideas, and also communicates frequently with his girlfriend and family members.

Anwar imagines what the problem would be like if some key constraints were removed . Would he hesitate moving with his girlfriend if he didn’t have familial obligations in New Hampshire? If his girlfriend hadn’t gotten the job, would New York City still be a place Anwar could see himself relocating to?

Now Anwar begins to jot down possible ways he could handle this problem, including both likely and unlikely options in his list.

1. Break up with my girlfriend and remain in New Hampshire, caring for my father.

2. Ask my sister to move closer to our father or at least check in on him more often, and then I could move to New York with my girlfriend.

3. Move to New York with my girlfriend and bring my father to move in with me as well.

4. Try and convince my girlfriend to turn down the job and stay in New Hampshire with me.

5. Hire a caregiver to watch over my father and move to New York with my girlfriend.

6. Stay in New Hampshire, caring for my father, and try to maintain a long-distance relationship with my girlfriend.

7. Encourage my father to move into a nursing home, while I move to New York with my girlfriend.

Which of the following is a strategy that Anwar uses when he is generating possible solutions to his problem?

· work backwards

· talk to other people for ideas

· explore potential causes

· accomplish sub-goals

·

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Return to the dilemma from 7.1 about Olivia who is deciding between two jobs. What are the possible solutions to this problem? Besides picking one job or the other, list at least two solutions that Olivia might pursue.

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Give an example of a key constraint that might impact Olivia’s decision-making process if it were removed. ?

Problem Solving / 7.4 Practice: Generate Options Questions: 0 of 6 complete (0%) | 0 of 3 correct (0%)

Practice: Generate Solutions

A Systematic and Innovative Approach

Systematic Inventive Thinking (SIT) is a company that helps organizations brainstorm and generate various ideas for solutions to their problems. The video below presents a case study, in which SIT coordinates with Maccabi Health Service, a leading Israeli HMO, to solve a problem.

Watch the first minute of the video below, then answer the following questions.

SIT’s Innovative Problem Solving Case Study

YouTube video. https://youtu.be/sORlZIUbQvs. Uploaded January 11, 2012, by SIT – Systematic Inventive Thinking. To activate captions, first click the play button and then click the CC button in the embedded player. For a text transcript, follow the link below.

What problem is the HMO trying to solve?

· How can we get people to trust antibiotics?

· How can we develop an antibiotic that makes people feel better when they have the flu?

· How can we keep the flu from spreading?

· How can we avoid overprescribing antibiotics while still keeping our customers happy?

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According to the video, why do doctors prescribe antibiotics for the flu virus, even when they know it’s the wrong thing to do?

· Doctors don’t truly understand the dangers of overprescribing antibiotics.

· Patients want to leave the doctor’s office with a prescription that will make them feel better.

· The HMOs encourage doctors to prescribe antibiotics as often as possible.

· The pharmaceutical companies pressure doctors to prescribe antibiotics so they will make more money.

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If you were tasked with generating solutions to this problem, what ideas would you have? List two options.

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Now watch the rest of the video, then answer the following questions.

What strategy did they HMO use to develop solutions?

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Which potential solution discussed in the video was probably generated by looking at the problem from the patient’s perspective? Choose the BEST answer.

· Spend money to educate the public around the issue of the unnecessary prescription of antibiotics for viral illnesses.

· Have doctors prescribe a delayed antibiotics prescription that can only be fulfilled after a 24-hour waiting period.

· Make it easy for doctors to receive information about the status of influenza in their immediate area.

· Have doctors prescribe medication that immediately takes care of the symptoms and overall sick feeling associated with the flu.

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Give an example of a boundary that you think the HMO had to consider when generating solutions?

Problem Solving / 7.5 Make Your Choice Questions: 0 of 4 complete (0%) | 0 of 2 correct (0%)

Once you’ve exhausted your imagination brainstorming potential solutions, it’s time to turn your assessor back on and sift through the solutions in order to unearth the most viable one.

Step Four: Evaluate the Options

A good place to start is to imagine the probable consequences of each possible solution. To more accurately predict outcomes, this is a good time to gather more information that will help you determine the consequences. You’ll have an easier time judging your options if you know how much something costs, what the deadlines are, what the job market in that field is like, how so-and-so is most likely to react, etc. Talk to the other people involved, do research, even seek out experts if applicable.

When you have the clearest picture of the probable outcomes that you can realistically develop at this time, you may want to list out the benefits and drawbacks (commonly referred to as pros and cons) of each possible solution.

As with brainstorming, how much time and effort you put in depends on the following considerations:

· How important is the decision?

· What limits do you have?

· How certain do you want to be? (Some people like risk.)

Throughout this process of considering options, refer back to your problem statement and measures of success. Remind yourself of the goals you want to accomplish, and assess how well the prospective choice fits with the goals.

Anwar’s Dilemma: Evaluating the Options

Now Anwar is ready to move on to the last two steps of the problem solving process. After Anwar generates his list, he starts to evaluate the pros and cons of the probable consequences of each option.

1. Break up with my girlfriend and remain in New Hampshire, caring for my father.

Pros: Bridget would get to have her dream job; I could continue to care for my father; I could keep my job, Cons: I would be devastated without Bridget; I might resent my father.

2. Ask my sister to move closer to our father or at least be willing to check in on him more often, and then I could move to New York with my girlfriend.

Pros: My father would still have a family member to care for him; I could be with Bridget. Cons: My sister loves her job and her hometown and probably would not be willing to move; I’d have to quit my job, find a new job, and make an expensive move.

3. Move to New York with my girlfriend and bring my father to move in with me as well.

Pros: I could still take care of my father; I could be with Bridget. Cons: My father would hate moving; he hates big cities; I would probably not want to share a tiny NYC apartment with my father; I’d have to quit my job, find a new job, and make an expensive move.

4. Try and convince my girlfriend to turn down the job and stay in New Hampshire with me.

Pros: I could still take care of my father; I could be with Bridget; I wouldn’t have to quit my job. Cons: This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance for Bridget, and I want the best for her; she would resent me if I made her turn down her dream job.

5. Hire a caregiver to watch over my father and move to New York with my girlfriend.

Pros: There would be someone in New Hampshire to take care of my father; my sister wouldn’t have to move; I could be with Bridget. Cons: It would be extremely expensive to hire a full-time caregiver for my father; I’d have to quit my job, find a new job, and make an expensive move.

6. Stay in New Hampshire, caring for my father, and try to maintain a long-distance relationship with my girlfriend.

Pros: I could keep my job; I could still care for my father. Cons: Maintaining a long-distance relationship would be hard, transportation back and forth between New Hampshire and New York would get expensive; I really want to keep my girlfriend in my life.

7. Encourage my father to move into a nursing home, while I move to New York with my girlfriend.

Pros: My father would be taken care of; I could move to New York and be with my girlfriend. Cons: My father would hate living in a nursing home; nursing homes are expensive; I’d have to quit my job, find a new job, and make an expensive move.

Step Five: Make a Decision

Once you think you have one or more solid candidates for your final decision, it’s time to make a choice.

Sometimes the best choice will be obvious immediately by this stage, while at other times there may be multiple options that seem viable. When this happens, a good place to begin is to use the information you gathered when you were evaluating your options and start systematically eliminating options until you narrow it down to a manageable number. Hopefully by that point you’ll be able to select your final choice.

· What are the probable outcomes of this choice?

· Would this option effectively solve the problem?

· Is it a reliable choice?

· Does it fit with your personal ethics?

· How will it affect other people involved?

· What’s the worst that can happen?

· Will it be possible to reverse this decision if it goes badly?

Make sure you commit to actually making the decision or solving the problem. Sometimes the decision seems so important and the consequences so profound that the entire process dies right here, as you’re paralyzed with fear.

When do you make your decision? It’s up to you to decide when to decide. If you’re not forced to make a decision right away, it’s usually a good idea to take a moment to deliberate. Things might become clearer over time.

Five Ways to Make Bad Decisions

1. Act impulsively. Just wing it, or pick the absurd option, even when the impact will be far-reaching.

2. Go with the first choice that springs to mind without taking a moment to consider alternatives.

3. Ask someone else for advice—someone who knows very little about your situation or the ramifications of this decision—and do whatever they say without thinking it through.

4. Give no thought at all to the likely consequences of the decision.

5. Do nothing at all. Just wait for external factors to determine the outcome for you.

You already know these are bad strategies, but hopefully seeing them articulated helps clarify what to avoid when making decisions. But let’s assume that you’re not making any of those mistakes and you’re really trying to reach the best possible decision. What else might get in your way?

Some Things That Get in the Way of Making Good Decisions

· Fear of deciding

· Waiting around for a perfect solution

· Self-doubt, or believing that you’re not smart enough to solve the problem

· Conflicting motives

Anwar’s Dilemma: Making a Decision

Anwar embarks on his decision-making process by eliminating options that he doesn’t like.

1. Break up with my girlfriend and remain in New Hampshire, caring for my father.

2. Ask my sister to move closer to our father or at least be willing to check in on him more often, and then I could move to New York with my girlfriend.

3. Move to New York with my girlfriend and bring my father to move in with me as well.

4. Try and convince my girlfriend to turn down the job and stay in New Hampshire with me.

5. Hire a caregiver to watch over my father and move to New York with my girlfriend.

6. Stay in New Hampshire, caring for my father, and try to maintain a long-distance relationship with my girlfriend.

7. Encourage my father to move into a nursing home, while I move to New York with my girlfriend.

First, Anwar eliminates solutions that don’t effectively solve the problem. Since his goal is to both maintain his relationship with his girlfriend and take care of his father, breaking up with his girlfriend would not truly solve the problem.

Anwar also considers how his various solutions would affect other people involved . He knows how much the pastry chef job means to his girlfriend, so he doesn’t want to ask her to give up the job for him. He also realizes how important it is for his father to live at home, so he decides that asking his father to either move with him to New York or move into a nursing home aren’t viable options. Additionally, he knows he will have to talk to his sister if he hopes to have her commit to taking over a large part of his role as a caregiver.

Now Anwar has narrowed his options down to three choices. He is tempted to put off making a decision because he doesn’t enjoy uncomfortable conversations, or asking his girlfriend or father to decide for him, but instead he commits to making a decision by the end of the week.

Finally, it’s time for Anwar to complete the final step and make his decision . In the end, Anwar decides that he really wants to move to New York with his girlfriend. He then talks it over with his sister, and they agree that they will both help pay for a caregiver to look after their father during the week, while Anwar’s sister will come look after their father on most weekends.

Step Six: Implement and Reflect

After you make your decision, come up with an action plan to implement your choice. Elements of your plan could include articulating exactly what you will do, figuring out when you’ll begin, and listing all the people who will be involved in implementing the plan.

When you’ve made your decision and implemented it, there’s still some more thinking to do. It’s important to reflect on how the problem was resolved, so you can see if there are any adjustments you should make, and so you can improve your problem solving process for future dilemmas.

· How did it go?

· In retrospect, was it the right choice?

· What would you do differently the next time around?

· What do you wish you’d known earlier?

· Is there an opportunity to try an alternative solution with this same problem?

Anwar’s Dilemma: Implementing and Reflecting

After Anwar makes his choice, he and his girlfriend make a list of the action items they need to accomplish before they make the move, and then implement them. Anwar quits his job, begins sending out his resume for job postings for music teachers, and contacts his networking connections in the education field. His girlfriend accepts the pastry chef position, starts looking for a new apartment, and searches for someone to sublet her existing apartment. Anwar connects with his sister to interview potential caregivers until they find one that both they and their father are comfortable with.

A few months later, Anwar reflects over his decision. He is happy that he chose to move to New York, because he and his girlfriend are now engaged to be married and they both have jobs they are happy with. However, Anwar realizes that his sister is getting burnt out since she has to spend almost every weekend caring for their father. Anwar reevaluates and decides that he will commit to driving back to New Hampshire more frequently to give his sister breaks.

If you’re torn between more than one option while making a decision, which of the following would most likely be the BEST strategy to help you decide?

· go with the first option that comes to mind

· ask someone else to decide for you

· wait for external factors to pick for you

· write a pro-con list

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Anwar decided to eliminate the option of asking his father to move to a nursing home when he considered which of the following questions?

· What’s the worst that can happen?

· Would this option effectively solve the problem?

· What are the probable outcomes of this choice?

· How will it affect other people involved?

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Return to the dilemma from 7.1 about Olivia who is deciding between two jobs. List three factors that Olivia might consider when evaluating her options.

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If you were Olivia, how would you solve this problem? Explain your reasoning.

Problem Solving / 7.6 Practice: Make Your Choice Questions: 0 of 5 complete (0%) | 0 of 2 correct (0%)

An Automobile Incubator

While the practice of creating and evaluating solutions is commonly used in everyday personal problems, the same strategy can be applied to complex global issues as well. In the New York Times article below, Dr. Kristian Olson describes newborn deaths in developing countries as the “low-hanging fruit” of global health interventions and argues that these deaths are easily treatable with the right tools and expertise. The Global Health Initiative at Cimit is promoting an innovative piece of technology as one possible solution to this international problem.

Looking Under the Hood and Seeing an Incubator

Why did the initial solution—in which industrialized nations donated incubators to developing countries—fail to work?

· The incubators weren’t designed for newborns.

· Doctors in the developing countries weren’t interested in using them.

· The incubators would break and not get fixed.

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When Dr. Rosen was gathering information to solve his problem, what seemingly unrelated detail did local doctors provide?

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What advantage did the solution of building incubators out of car parts have over traditional incubators?

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List at least one challenge that comes with implementing the solution of building incubators out of car parts.

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In which of the following situations would kangaroo mother care most likely be a better solution than the automobile incubator?

· a baby whose mother cannot nurse

· an exceptionally small or sick baby

· a baby born at home rather than at a hospital

· a baby whose mother needs to return to work right away

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