How do you find problems?


Photo of a young person at a whiteboard working on a mathematics problem

I began my career as a mathematics education. I was always drawn to the beauty of math. Most problems in math are solvable. As a mathematician you even had the opportunity to say that given the information provided, there wasn't enough information to solve the specific problem.


While I wholeheartedly believe that mathematics is the language of the universe - the universe and its host of problems and challenges are not so kind as to allow us to simply declare a problem unsolvable.


As a creative problem solving facilitator, one of the most challenging things I have to do is to get people to actually identify their problems. We begin every creative problem solving session with a four phase process aimed specifically at honing in on the problem the person or group is prepared to and empowered to solve. Only then do we move to a process of identifying and evaluating possible solutions and then moving to action.


When was the last time you moved to action without first defining the specific problem you were trying to solve?


Feeling brave? Here are a few questions you can use to identify a list of problems that might benefit from some time and attention. Remember - just because you write it down doesn't mean you need to solve it.

  1. What's been on my mind a lot lately that I need to write down?

  2. What concerns me most about...?

  3. my relationships with others

  4. my relationship with myself

  5. my relationship with God or the universe

  6. my career

  7. What is holding me back from doing _______? How do I achieve _____ despite this?

  8. What is stopping me from ____?

  9. Ask your team members: What is frustrating you right now?

  10. Ask other teams: What could we do to better serve you?

  11. Ask your customers/clients: What has challenged you with our tool/service?

Don't accept the first answer (especially not from yourself). Keep asking why? Don't want to just keep asking why over and over like a three year old? Here are some ways to reframe why?

  • Tell me more about that....

  • Can you show me what you are experiencing?

  • Can you draw a diagram to explain that?

  • What would it look like if it were fixed?

  • How would you solve it?