5 Steps to Better Problem-Solving

screwy nail and hammerProblem-solving can be tough. Have you ever struggled with finding a good solution to a difficult problem? Hammering a crooked nail is no fun. There has to be other options.

The Problem with Problems

In problem solving,  there are more potential solutions than people realize. People often inadvertently limit themselves to just one or two choices. ““I had no choice” is a perfect example of someone being unable or unwilling t see other options. Words like “can’t” and “have to” also indicate limited thinking.

The Solution to the Problem

Taking the following steps can produce a wide variety of options. Whereas there only seemed to be just one or two options before, we find there are boatloads of choices available.

1.  Be Open and willing to consider new possibilities.

This step takes some humility. It may seem that we have explored the problem from every angle, but there are likely possibilities we didn’t think of. In order to even begin looking at other options, though, we have to be open and willing to explore different ideas.

2.   Get input from other people.

Other people might actually have great ideas you’d never considered. Maybe someone else even dealt with a similar problem before.

3.   Brainstorm

This step is essential. Just write down all possible solutions , no matter how dumb or far-fetched they may seem. Going through this process often sparks new, creative solutions.

4.  Consider modifying options

Sometimes the answer lies in combining parts of two different solutions. making a simple adjustment to a solution makes it viable.

5.  Select a solution that matches your values.

The best solution will reflect what’s important to you. What do you really value? Following through on a commitment? Saving for retirement? Supporting loved ones? Meeting the needs of everyone involved? Being respectful? Being generous? Only you can determine what to use as a “values compass” in making your choices.


Check out some options that weren’t obvious at first.

“There is no cable service where we live, so I had to get satellite TV.”

The assumptions behind this statement are that there are only two options available: to get cable TV or satellite TV. In reality, there are other options. Following are some other solutions:

  • Watch TV over the internet.
  • Subscribe to Netflix’s instant streaming, DVDs through the mail or both
  • Watch favorite shows at a friend’s house
  • Set up a digital recorder at a friend’s house to record favorite shows
  • Give up TV and read books instead

“We didn’t qualify for a mortgage refinance, so we had to let the bank “take the house.”

You can see the assumptions here: Either get the mortgage refinanced or do nothing and wait for the bank to foreclose on the house. But there are other choices. In addition to working with the bank on a short sale,here are some ways to raise money to get current on the mortgage payments

  • Cut way back on spending
  • Sell a lot of stuff
  • rent out a room (or two, if necessary)
  • rent some garage space as storage
  • get another job.
  • Stop making payments on credit cards and other unsecured loans for a while

“I can’t make it to our appointment on Tuesday because I have to pick up my brother from the airport.”

Really, there have to be other options than either going to the appointment or picking up the brother in person. Here are a few ideas:

  • Offer to pay for a taxi or shuttle
  • see if he can pay for the transportation
  • have the brother wait a little extra at the airport before picking him up
  • have a friend or other family member pick him up

The Take-Away

If you get anything from this post, I hope that you remember there are many, many options to solving any problem. So when you are in the thick of problem-solving,don’t stop searching until you find a really good solution.


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