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Five Important Problem-Solving Questions

Five Important Problem-Solving Questions

Five Important Problem-Solving Questions

Success requires that we solve problems. There are five questions that may be profitably applied to any situation, the answers to which will provide valuable information and help solve any problem.

Here are the five questions:

1. What are the facts, and how do we know?

The first thing to do in any situation is to gather the facts and verify them.

When we say facts, we mean facts; not guesses, not rumours, not vague approximations, but the real facts.

We need the facts; because if we get the facts wrong, then everything that follows will also be wrong.

The best source of facts is direct sensory evidence: what you personally see, hear, touch, taste, and smell.

But usually, you do not have personal experience of the situation you're trying to deal with, so you must rely on reliable accounts from other people, and from official sources. So, now we know what the facts are, and we know that our knowledge is reliable.

2. How should we frame the problem?

To solve a problem it must be correctly defined. A problem may be defined as the difference between the current situation and the desired situation.
So, the definition of the problem is usually in the form of a question: What is our desired state?

We need to write down what the desired state is.

3. What is our plan?

The problem is how to get from what we've got to what we want.

We now sit down with a group of people, with paper and pens, and formulate detailed written plans as to how we believe we can close the gap between what we have and what we want.

4. Plans must be written, not spoken

Spoken plans are of no use because we will forget what we said, we will argue about what we said, and we will have miscommunications.
So, we must have detailed written plans!

  • Writing our plans forces us to be more accurate in our wording.
  • Written plans crystallise our thoughts so that they don't disappear.
  • Written plans allow us to communicate them to anyone else who is not in on the original meeting.
  • Written plans act as a blueprint for action.

Now we have detailed written plans, we move to the final question.

5. What are the first steps we must take?

A plan is only a theory.
We must now put the theory into action.
We must take action on the plans, keeping a careful eye on the results our current actions are taking.
Keep your eyes and ears open and return to step one.

We reiterate these five questions until the facts coincide with our desired state and the problem ceases to exist.

About the Author: Chris Farmer


Chris Farmer is the founder of the Corporate Coach Group and has many years’ experience in training leaders and managers, in both the public and private sectors, to achieve their organisational goals, especially during tough economic times. He is also well aware of the disciplines and problems associated with running a business.

Over the years, Chris has designed and delivered thousands of training programmes and has coached and motivated many management teams, groups and individuals. His training programmes are both structured and clear, designed to help delegates organise their thinking and, wherever necessary, to improve their techniques and skills.

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Further Reading in Decision Making and Problem Solving

  • Perception Bias in the Workplace
    Perception bias occurs when we form beliefs based on our experiences and then use these to irrationally judge people. What can be done to ensure that we make rational decisions when recruiting or selecting people for roles?
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  • When and How to Use the Five Whys Technique
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  • The Law of Diminishing Returns
    More is not necessarily better. There is a point which is optimum. After this point comes diminishing returns, where additional amounts of time, money and effort are ineffective and may even be dangerous.
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  • The Single Most Important Thing
    Be the best by learning how to pick out the single most important thing, in any situation or conversation.
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