1. Decide with absolute conviction that a solution to your problem already exists; your job is to find it.
2. Break the problem down into its component parts. If you prefer, use a separate piece of paper for each segment of your problem or situation, or use your computer’s word processor as a “dynamic scratch pad” to jot down everything that comes to mind. Your goal is to define, as completely as possible, everything that you know about each aspect of your current problem.
3. Take a mental “walk” around your problem. Imagine hanging it from a hook in the center of the room and then walking slowly around it, viewing it from all sides.
To help you consider your challenge from many different perspectives, try asking yourself open-ended, thought-provoking questions, including:
4. Review your notes and brainstorm possible solutions.
A business associate once dramatized this problem-solving technique for me in a very memorable way: First, he stood face-to-face with me; this superficial view yielded little in the way of useful information, he explained. Next, he circled to my right side and declared, “My God, he’s missing an arm!” He then moved behind me, where he pretended to find a burn hole in my jacket. Finally, he analyzed me from my left side, where he discovered a large rip in my sleeve. While this example is ridiculous in its exaggeration, it illustrates the benefits of viewing your problem or situation from many possible angles.
This four-step process will reveal areas where you need more information, as well as potential solutions to all or part of the problem.
As you record your thoughts and insights, patterns will begin to emerge. Follow each of these leads as far as you can; don’t censure any ideas at this stage, no matter how ridiculous they may seem at first. The way to come up with one great idea is to generate many of them.
What this unique exercise does, at its most basic level, is get us moving. And when we do so, our perspective changes. Solutions that may have been hidden from us are now suddenly obvious. Obstacles to our progress, seen in a new light, are often much smaller than they appeared to be. And barriers that once seemed insurmountable often evaporate under this rigorous scrutiny.