How To Solve Problems With A Simple Question Framework
I’ve been trying to solve a pretty difficult business problem. It’s been hard to wrap my mind around the solution.
But that’s because I was winging it. Trying to think through it without any framework.
Really, I wasn’t asking the right questions.
I was only asking myself “Why is this happening” and “How do I fix it?”
That was only good enough to make me think “I don’t know” and go deeper into frustration.
I stopped… and wrote out a better set of questions.
1. What’s not working here?
Identifying the problem(s) is always the first step to solving them. This is the easiest question I ask because it’s top of mind.
2. What should be happening?
The second easiest question to ask is how should it look. This is the definition of success.
3. What are some likely, obvious causes
“Likely” & “Obvious” are the keys to this question. Sometimes the answer is fairly simple. If I’m overweight and eat ice cream for dinner every night, there’s a good chance that cause and effect is easy to identify.
4. What could be causing the likely causes?
Often the immediate cause of the obvious problem is a symptom of a deeper problem. Usually this is the case.
There’s typically a string of events that occurs, a chain of causality. Until you find the root cause, you’re only going to be solving surface level problems
5. Are the causes internal (related to ME) or external (out of my control)
If this is a problem in my business or life I’m trying to fix, I first need to know if it’s something I’m personally lacking, like a skill or trait that makes it evident I shouldn’t be the one solving the problem.
On the other hand, maybe it’s unrelated to me and can be fixed with external resources.
6. Is the solution obvious or evident?
Often the solution to the problem is right under our nose, other times it’s not. If the solution is not obvious or evident, I then ask who else can I go to in order to help me find the solution.
Side note, as a business consultant, this is where I typically step in to help my clients, when they’re stuck on non-evident problems
7. How difficult is the solution on a scale of 1–5?
This is a judgement call. But an important one to set the stage for expectations. A high 5 level on the difficulty scale lets me realize what I might be in for.
If it ranks as a 1 or 2, I can rest easier and stop getting frustrated.
8. What resources are needed to fix it?
There are few problems that the right resources won’t solve. What or who do I need to fix this thing?
9. How expensive are these resources in both money & time?
Some solutions are free, but they all take time. How much time and money am I going to have to invest in this in order to get it solved?
10. Can I afford the money & time required to fix it?
And if I can’t afford it, I may ask how could I afford it or find the time and money to do so?
11. Can I afford Not to fix it? (How important is it really?)
Importance and urgency get revealed here. Sometimes it’s a problem that nags at us, but it’s not really a needle-mover for us.
Sometimes, problems ignored just go away. If this isn’t one of those, then it’s time to get to work fixing it.
12. If money wasn’t an issue, what would I do to fix it now?
This helps me free myself from money and budgetary constraints. It releases me from second guessing my ability to solve it based on my current resources.
13. Is there someone else that could fix it faster, easier, better than me?
Usually, the answer is a resounding “Yes” here. If so, I ask how I can hire, partner, borrow or rent their brilliance to do it for me.
If not, then I roll my sleeves up and fix it myself.
This is not an exhaustive list of problem solving questions…
But it’s a great way to zoom out, break the problem and it’s solutions apart and realize few things are hopeless if you ask the right questions.
Questions and curiosity are the keys to solving all problems.
If you don’t have the life, business, health or relationships you want, you might not be asking the right questions.
This framework has been helpful for me. If you got some use out of it or have some additional questions or frameworks, please don’t hesitate to share them with me.