How to prevent solving the wrong problem

Too often, people are trying to solve the wrong problem. They are confident they know what needs to be done and end up spending all their time and resources on finding a solution that might not be satisfactory at all. In their quest for creative ideas, they often forget to analyse the problem thoroughly…

How to prevent solving the wrong problem

Share a problem with your network, and you’ll probably receive dozens of suggestions on possible solutions. Most of us love to think about other people’s challenges. Although crowdsourcing ideas is a great way to discover fresh approaches, it can also distract you from the bigger picture. Instead of asking your friends and colleagues for advice, you’ll first want to ask yourself; ‘Why do I want to solve this problem in the first place?’ Although the answer seems rather obvious, you might be surprised by how often people bark up the wrong tree…

Too often, people are trying to solve an unimportant issue. Or even worse; they are following a solution path that doesn’t solve their real issue.

To prevent you from making the same mistakes, I’ve written down ten questions you can ask yourself before exploring creative solutions. Ten ways to help you prevent solving the wrong problem.

1. What’s the problem?
Describe your challenge in detail. What’s your challenge all about? Be specific and honest. Put it into writing and make sure you put all possible assumptions on the table.

2. Why is it important?
Is it a major problem? Why does this problem matter to you? Why should you care? Why is this problem so important to you, that it justifies spending time and energy on finding a suitable solution?

3. Why does this problem need your attention right now?
Is there an urgency to solve this problem? Why? And if there is no urgency, what’s the reason to dig into it at this moment?

4. Who is affected by this problem?
Who are the stakeholders? Who are in need for a solution to this problem? Why do they care? Who should be involved in finding a solution? What’s important to them?

5. How often (and when) does this problem occur?
Does your problem occur regularly? How often? Once a year? Every month? Twice a week? When does it happen? Always? In a particular situation or setting? At an exact location, during a specific moment or procedure?

6. What are the consequences if you can’t find a solution?
How important is solving this problem? What happens if you won’t find a solution? Would people get hurt? Would your company go bankrupt? Would clients get upset? Would you lose a big assignment? Would customers leave you? What’s the worst that could happen?

7. What causes this problem to occur?
What is the root cause of this problem? Are you looking at the real challenge or are you just treating the symptoms of the problem?

8. Who is the problem owner?
Who cares if you find a solution? Who is the most frustrated, annoyed, irritated or panicked about this problem? Who needs to implement the solution? Who is making the decisions regarding this issue? Who needs to pay for the solution? Where does the money come from?

9. What do you need to solve this problem?
What kind of solutions are you looking for? In what area are you looking for ideas? What criteria do you have for possible solutions? (time, money, effort, results etc.)

10. How do you know when your solution was successful?
How do you measure the results? How do you notice improvement? How do you know that your problem has been solved? How can you tell that your solution has worked?

The checklist above is a great tool to get a better understanding of why (and if) your problem is worth solving. Answering these questions will help you to define a more specific challenge, setup better objectives, or simply find more suitable ideas.

Hungry for more?
Do you have an important issue to solve and are you looking for creative support? Then give us a call or shoot us an email at We’d love to help you with your challenge.

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