10 things to do when solving a problem

Solving problems doesn’t have to be a tedious struggle. Keep these 10 tips in mind and solving problems will no longer be problematic.

1. Find the root cause

Trying to solve a problem you don’t fully understand will usually be a waste of time. Before you start thinking of solutions, figure out what’s actually going on. Is the problem you perceive truly what needs to be addressed? Or is it merely a symptom of a deeper lying cause…

One simple technique to quickly list possible causes is the 5 Whys technique. By asking ‘why is this the case?’ 5 times in a row, you’ll often uncover the root cause of your problem. Once you know what’s causing your misery, it’s time to phrase your challenge in a way that helps you find a solution.

2. Ask the right question

Every problem can be solved. But only those who ask the right questions will find truly remarkable solutions. The way you phrase your challenge determines in what direction you will look for answers. Therefore, take your time to define your question carefully before you try to solve anything. Rephrase your question a couple of times and experiment with different questions to explore several ways to tackle your challenge.

Also, make sure your question is clear, positive, action-oriented, specific and focusing on a single issue. By all means, use our checklist for this: https://hatrabbits.com/5-steps-towards-a-clear-focus/

3. Include the different stakeholders

Once you have a clear focus question it’s time to generate ideas. But you don’t have to do this all on your own. Often a problem has multiple stakeholders. Failing to include these people when generating solutions can become a serious problem later on. Often you’ll need the help of stakeholders to make your solution a success. If you want to implement your brilliant solution it’s mighty inconvenient when the people who have to be on board are suffering from ‘Not Invented Here syndrome’. People generally don’t like ideas that they didn’t contribute to.

Don’t make the mistake of trying to solve a complex problem on your own. Ask yourself who else is affected and can play a role in solving the issue. Involve them in the problem-solving process as early as possible.

4. Change your perspective

Generating ideas to solve a problem is not very hard. However, generating ideas that will make all stakeholders happy is something else entirely. Rough, ugly solutions might work temporarily to avert disaster, but eventually, you’ll want to look for elegant solutions.

Elegant solutions are clever (and often unusual) ideas which tackle a problem with no (or very few) side effects. To find them, simple ‘logical’ thinking is not enough. You’ll need to think creatively. You’ll need to look at your challenge from a different angle. Thinking techniques can help you change your perspective.

For instance, you can ask yourself how an (in)famous celebrity would approach your situation (knowing that he or she would probably handle things very differently than you would).

5. Go for quantity

Fight the urge to stop once you’ve found a good (or even great) idea. Sure, your idea might be excellent. But remember; there is always a better idea. The more ideas you generate, the bigger the chances of you stumbling upon a brilliant solution. The first ideas are often logical (somewhat boring) ideas. Keep going. You’ll find that later ideas are much more… unusual. What they also are is original and potentially extremely effective.

quote Linus Pauling - good idea

6. Embrace the bizarre

Not only can unusual ideas be very effective, they can also spark brilliant insights. Don’t be afraid to suggest crazy approaches. At worst, you’ll get a laugh. At best, your strange idea inspires you or someone else to come up with a clever solution. Accept that every idea is valuable. If not as a realistic solution, then at the very least as a source of inspiration. Weird ideas are simply much more inspiring than boring ones.

7. Find the positive exception

Sometimes (part of) the solution already exists. All you have to do is find it. Ask yourself: Are there situations in which this problem does not occur? By identifying positive exceptions, you gather information you can use to solve your problem. By copying what sets the positive exceptions apart, you can even solve a problem you don’t fully understand.

8. Make strange combinations

Creativity is combining existing elements to create something new. You bring two (or more) things together which have not yet been brought together in this context and, as a result, a new situation arises. You can combine anything from techniques and materials to processes and ideas. Combining things that don’t seem to match is a powerful technique for producing creative ideas. Force yourself to use the properties of a random object to solve your challenge and you’ll discover that the strangest combinations are often the most effective. Using random words or images is a simple and effective technique that enables you to quickly generate delightfully original approaches.

9. Distance yourself from the problem

Research indicates that ‘psychological distance’ enables people to come up with more creative solutions. In other words: the further away a problem seems, the easier it is to solve. It’s less difficult to solve someone else’s problem than it is to tackle your own issues. This, however, does not mean that you are helpless in handling your own challenges. You simply need to trick your brain.

There are ways to make your own problem seem more distant. For instance, you could imagine yourself in ten years’ time. Imagine you are looking back on the problem you had and how you solved it. What actions did you take?

Asking your older self for help is one way to create a little distance, but there are more. You could also pretend it’s someone else’s problem. How would you solve the problem if it was bugging a villager in a country on the other side of the world?

10. Use a pre-mortem

Even after generating a brilliant idea for tackling your problem, things could go wrong. Implementation is tough and executing an idea is often harder than anticipated. To prevent inconvenient surprises, prepare for failure. Imagine you are looking back at the project, realising it completely failed. Ask yourself: ‘What went wrong? Why didn’t it work?’

Once you’ve identified all factors that can lead to disaster in the implementation phase, start generating ideas again. This time, ask yourself ‘How can we prevent these things from going wrong?‘ Sharpen your idea and fine-tune your action plan. Being prepared for the worst will make a successful implementation much more likely.


Of course, there is much more to tell about the road from problem to solution. Apart from helping organisations to solve complex problems, we also offer workshops and even a 24-week Innovation Course which takes you through all the different phases.

Are you curious, or do you have any questions? Don’t hesitate to contact us.
0031-10 3070 534

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