How to Solve Your Most Difficult Problems

I learned this trick a few years ago and I believe it was a tip that Brian Tracy suggested, however I can’t find it and over time I’ve refined it a little bit. The first step is to clearly define the “problem” and I find most people don’t take the time to do this. A well defined problem creates a focus that helps ensure that you’re fixing the right problem. I hear many people say “this doesn’t work” but they don’t take the time to really understand what “this” is and can’t really describe what “doesn’t work” means. There’s a big difference between “People just don’t buy from us online.” and “People are finding the online purchasing process convoluted and has too many steps, therefore they’re not buying from us.”

Now here’s where things get interesting. Restate the problem along with some assumptions like “we only have $5,000 to commit to this effort” or “we need to be launched in four weeks.”  I tend to keep people resources out of the equation as you can usually figure out how to get people to pitch in on a really interesting problem. I also tend to keep most process oriented assumptions out of the restatement of the problem. I’ve experienced that existing processes were sometimes the root cause of the problem anyway and assuming that you can’t change the process is like chewing tinfoil. It hurts and in the end you can’t digest it anyway. Now, with the problem restated, set aside about 2-3 hours that you will not be disturbed. Go off-site, disappear, turn the phone off and book your calendar because you’re going to need this time to focus. If you know yourself well enough then you should know at what time of the day you’re most creative and imaginative. For me it’s usually around 10-11AM and from 2-4PM. With your time blocked out and your phone off come up with 20 answers to the problem. If it’s truly a difficult problem you’ll start to stumble after about five answers, struggle at ten, and come to a complete stop at fifteen answers. Your true breakthroughs are going to occur in the last five answers so keep pushing. This should cause true brain-pain and if you’ve got any connection with the outside world you’ll be tempted to stop and just go with answers 1-15. If you do that then you’re truly going to miss an original thought – a true innovation that begins to solve your most difficult problem. Once you’ve got 20 you should know what to do by now. Pick the ones that seem most likely to succeed and run with them.

If you try this then let me know what your results were. If there’s any suggestions you can add to this then by all means leave a comment.