The word heuristics is derived from the Greek heurisko or heuristikein, which means to find or to discover. Heuristic methods are concerned with the problem solving area of management and can be described as iterative methods or more simply, trial-and-error. Heuristic approaches have been described as ad hoc or general rules of thumb approaches. They should not be confused with algorithms which are a set of rules, used for calculation or problem-solving. However, it can be advantageous if one can change heuristics into algorithms with the help of further information.

Once the solution required has been defined and the path to it has been sought, a solution is tried and the result compared with what was needed. There will probably be a variance from the target. The solution is improved upon in some way and the revised answer is again compared with the required solution. If it does not meet this, the latest solution is again improved upon. Each time a step is taken an amendment is made to keep the investigation on course, and in a direction nearer to the goal.

Clearly if the problem can be quantified, as for example in operational research then it is ideally suited to solution by using appropriate computer software. Computer programs often use iterative methods in solving problems.

In solving some problems it may be possible to form a hypothesis to describe the situation. The hypothesis is tested in practical situations and if it does not compare favourably with the required goal it is amended accordingly and the revised hypothesis checked once again and so on. Some may compare this approach with some of the other methods of problem solving which are logical and methodical. Heuristics is not in that category.

As with any method, heuristics has a place in the problem-solving cosmology and should be used where applicable and appropriate (horses for courses). For example, sales models, backed by motivational and market research can supply heuristics for marketing. Models for forecasting provide further heuristics for marketing. In some cases the heuristics approach may be quicker to apply, but in other cases a more ordered and logical approach may be required to solve the problem more rapidly or more reliably.

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