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Overview of the Problem-Solving Mental Process

Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."

how do you solve problems that others haven't been able to solve

Rachel Goldman, PhD FTOS, is a licensed psychologist, clinical assistant professor, speaker, wellness expert specializing in eating behaviors, stress management, and health behavior change.

how do you solve problems that others haven't been able to solve

  • Identify the Problem
  • Define the Problem
  • Form a Strategy
  • Organize Information
  • Allocate Resources
  • Monitor Progress
  • Evaluate the Results

Frequently Asked Questions

Problem-solving is a mental process that involves discovering, analyzing, and solving problems. The ultimate goal of problem-solving is to overcome obstacles and find a solution that best resolves the issue.

The best strategy for solving a problem depends largely on the unique situation. In some cases, people are better off learning everything they can about the issue and then using factual knowledge to come up with a solution. In other instances, creativity and insight are the best options.

It is not necessary to follow problem-solving steps sequentially, It is common to skip steps or even go back through steps multiple times until the desired solution is reached.

In order to correctly solve a problem, it is often important to follow a series of steps. Researchers sometimes refer to this as the problem-solving cycle. While this cycle is portrayed sequentially, people rarely follow a rigid series of steps to find a solution.

The following steps include developing strategies and organizing knowledge.

1. Identifying the Problem

While it may seem like an obvious step, identifying the problem is not always as simple as it sounds. In some cases, people might mistakenly identify the wrong source of a problem, which will make attempts to solve it inefficient or even useless.

Some strategies that you might use to figure out the source of a problem include :

  • Asking questions about the problem
  • Breaking the problem down into smaller pieces
  • Looking at the problem from different perspectives
  • Conducting research to figure out what relationships exist between different variables

2. Defining the Problem

After the problem has been identified, it is important to fully define the problem so that it can be solved. You can define a problem by operationally defining each aspect of the problem and setting goals for what aspects of the problem you will address

At this point, you should focus on figuring out which aspects of the problems are facts and which are opinions. State the problem clearly and identify the scope of the solution.

3. Forming a Strategy

After the problem has been identified, it is time to start brainstorming potential solutions. This step usually involves generating as many ideas as possible without judging their quality. Once several possibilities have been generated, they can be evaluated and narrowed down.

The next step is to develop a strategy to solve the problem. The approach used will vary depending upon the situation and the individual's unique preferences. Common problem-solving strategies include heuristics and algorithms.

  • Heuristics are mental shortcuts that are often based on solutions that have worked in the past. They can work well if the problem is similar to something you have encountered before and are often the best choice if you need a fast solution.
  • Algorithms are step-by-step strategies that are guaranteed to produce a correct result. While this approach is great for accuracy, it can also consume time and resources.

Heuristics are often best used when time is of the essence, while algorithms are a better choice when a decision needs to be as accurate as possible.

4. Organizing Information

Before coming up with a solution, you need to first organize the available information. What do you know about the problem? What do you not know? The more information that is available the better prepared you will be to come up with an accurate solution.

When approaching a problem, it is important to make sure that you have all the data you need. Making a decision without adequate information can lead to biased or inaccurate results.

5. Allocating Resources

Of course, we don't always have unlimited money, time, and other resources to solve a problem. Before you begin to solve a problem, you need to determine how high priority it is.

If it is an important problem, it is probably worth allocating more resources to solving it. If, however, it is a fairly unimportant problem, then you do not want to spend too much of your available resources on coming up with a solution.

At this stage, it is important to consider all of the factors that might affect the problem at hand. This includes looking at the available resources, deadlines that need to be met, and any possible risks involved in each solution. After careful evaluation, a decision can be made about which solution to pursue.

6. Monitoring Progress

After selecting a problem-solving strategy, it is time to put the plan into action and see if it works. This step might involve trying out different solutions to see which one is the most effective.

It is also important to monitor the situation after implementing a solution to ensure that the problem has been solved and that no new problems have arisen as a result of the proposed solution.

Effective problem-solvers tend to monitor their progress as they work towards a solution. If they are not making good progress toward reaching their goal, they will reevaluate their approach or look for new strategies .

7. Evaluating the Results

After a solution has been reached, it is important to evaluate the results to determine if it is the best possible solution to the problem. This evaluation might be immediate, such as checking the results of a math problem to ensure the answer is correct, or it can be delayed, such as evaluating the success of a therapy program after several months of treatment.

Once a problem has been solved, it is important to take some time to reflect on the process that was used and evaluate the results. This will help you to improve your problem-solving skills and become more efficient at solving future problems.

A Word From Verywell​

It is important to remember that there are many different problem-solving processes with different steps, and this is just one example. Problem-solving in real-world situations requires a great deal of resourcefulness, flexibility, resilience, and continuous interaction with the environment.

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You can become a better problem solving by:

  • Practicing brainstorming and coming up with multiple potential solutions to problems
  • Being open-minded and considering all possible options before making a decision
  • Breaking down problems into smaller, more manageable pieces
  • Asking for help when needed
  • Researching different problem-solving techniques and trying out new ones
  • Learning from mistakes and using them as opportunities to grow

It's important to communicate openly and honestly with your partner about what's going on. Try to see things from their perspective as well as your own. Work together to find a resolution that works for both of you. Be willing to compromise and accept that there may not be a perfect solution.

Take breaks if things are getting too heated, and come back to the problem when you feel calm and collected. Don't try to fix every problem on your own—consider asking a therapist or counselor for help and insight.

If you've tried everything and there doesn't seem to be a way to fix the problem, you may have to learn to accept it. This can be difficult, but try to focus on the positive aspects of your life and remember that every situation is temporary. Don't dwell on what's going wrong—instead, think about what's going right. Find support by talking to friends or family. Seek professional help if you're having trouble coping.

Davidson JE, Sternberg RJ, editors.  The Psychology of Problem Solving .  Cambridge University Press; 2003. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511615771

Sarathy V. Real world problem-solving .  Front Hum Neurosci . 2018;12:261. Published 2018 Jun 26. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2018.00261

By Kendra Cherry, MSEd Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."

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></center></p><h2>17 Smart Problem-Solving Strategies: Master Complex Problems</h2><ul><li>March 3, 2024</li><li>Productivity</li><li>25 min read</li></ul><p><center><img style=

Struggling to overcome challenges in your life? We all face problems, big and small, on a regular basis.

So how do you tackle them effectively? What are some key problem-solving strategies and skills that can guide you?

Effective problem-solving requires breaking issues down logically, generating solutions creatively, weighing choices critically, and adapting plans flexibly based on outcomes. Useful strategies range from leveraging past solutions that have worked to visualizing problems through diagrams. Core skills include analytical abilities, innovative thinking, and collaboration.

Want to improve your problem-solving skills? Keep reading to find out 17 effective problem-solving strategies, key skills, common obstacles to watch for, and tips on improving your overall problem-solving skills.

Key Takeaways:

  • Effective problem-solving requires breaking down issues logically, generating multiple solutions creatively, weighing choices critically, and adapting plans based on outcomes.
  • Useful problem-solving strategies range from leveraging past solutions to brainstorming with groups to visualizing problems through diagrams and models.
  • Core skills include analytical abilities, innovative thinking, decision-making, and team collaboration to solve problems.
  • Common obstacles include fear of failure, information gaps, fixed mindsets, confirmation bias, and groupthink.
  • Boosting problem-solving skills involves learning from experts, actively practicing, soliciting feedback, and analyzing others’ success.
  • Onethread’s project management capabilities align with effective problem-solving tenets – facilitating structured solutions, tracking progress, and capturing lessons learned.

What Is Problem-Solving?

Problem-solving is the process of understanding an issue, situation, or challenge that needs to be addressed and then systematically working through possible solutions to arrive at the best outcome.

It involves critical thinking, analysis, logic, creativity, research, planning, reflection, and patience in order to overcome obstacles and find effective answers to complex questions or problems.

The ultimate goal is to implement the chosen solution successfully.

What Are Problem-Solving Strategies?

Problem-solving strategies are like frameworks or methodologies that help us solve tricky puzzles or problems we face in the workplace, at home, or with friends.

Imagine you have a big jigsaw puzzle. One strategy might be to start with the corner pieces. Another could be looking for pieces with the same colors. 

Just like in puzzles, in real life, we use different plans or steps to find solutions to problems. These strategies help us think clearly, make good choices, and find the best answers without getting too stressed or giving up.

Why Is It Important To Know Different Problem-Solving Strategies?

Why Is It Important To Know Different Problem-Solving Strategies

Knowing different problem-solving strategies is important because different types of problems often require different approaches to solve them effectively. Having a variety of strategies to choose from allows you to select the best method for the specific problem you are trying to solve.

This improves your ability to analyze issues thoroughly, develop solutions creatively, and tackle problems from multiple angles. Knowing multiple strategies also aids in overcoming roadblocks if your initial approach is not working.

Here are some reasons why you need to know different problem-solving strategies:

  • Different Problems Require Different Tools: Just like you can’t use a hammer to fix everything, some problems need specific strategies to solve them.
  • Improves Creativity: Knowing various strategies helps you think outside the box and come up with creative solutions.
  • Saves Time: With the right strategy, you can solve problems faster instead of trying things that don’t work.
  • Reduces Stress: When you know how to tackle a problem, it feels less scary and you feel more confident.
  • Better Outcomes: Using the right strategy can lead to better solutions, making things work out better in the end.
  • Learning and Growth: Each time you solve a problem, you learn something new, which makes you smarter and better at solving future problems.

Knowing different ways to solve problems helps you tackle anything that comes your way, making life a bit easier and more fun!

17 Effective Problem-Solving Strategies

Effective problem-solving strategies include breaking the problem into smaller parts, brainstorming multiple solutions, evaluating the pros and cons of each, and choosing the most viable option. 

Critical thinking and creativity are essential in developing innovative solutions. Collaboration with others can also provide diverse perspectives and ideas. 

By applying these strategies, you can tackle complex issues more effectively.

Now, consider a challenge you’re dealing with. Which strategy could help you find a solution? Here we will discuss key problem strategies in detail.

1. Use a Past Solution That Worked

Use a Past Solution That Worked

This strategy involves looking back at previous similar problems you have faced and the solutions that were effective in solving them.

It is useful when you are facing a problem that is very similar to something you have already solved. The main benefit is that you don’t have to come up with a brand new solution – you already know the method that worked before will likely work again.

However, the limitation is that the current problem may have some unique aspects or differences that mean your old solution is not fully applicable.

The ideal process is to thoroughly analyze the new challenge, identify the key similarities and differences versus the past case, adapt the old solution as needed to align with the current context, and then pilot it carefully before full implementation.

An example is using the same negotiation tactics from purchasing your previous home when putting in an offer on a new house. Key terms would be adjusted but overall it can save significant time versus developing a brand new strategy.

2. Brainstorm Solutions

Brainstorm Solutions

This involves gathering a group of people together to generate as many potential solutions to a problem as possible.

It is effective when you need creative ideas to solve a complex or challenging issue. By getting input from multiple people with diverse perspectives, you increase the likelihood of finding an innovative solution.

The main limitation is that brainstorming sessions can sometimes turn into unproductive gripe sessions or discussions rather than focusing on productive ideation —so they need to be properly facilitated.

The key to an effective brainstorming session is setting some basic ground rules upfront and having an experienced facilitator guide the discussion. Rules often include encouraging wild ideas, avoiding criticism of ideas during the ideation phase, and building on others’ ideas.

For instance, a struggling startup might hold a session where ideas for turnaround plans are generated and then formalized with financials and metrics.

3. Work Backward from the Solution

Work Backward from the Solution

This technique involves envisioning that the problem has already been solved and then working step-by-step backward toward the current state.

This strategy is particularly helpful for long-term, multi-step problems. By starting from the imagined solution and identifying all the steps required to reach it, you can systematically determine the actions needed. It lets you tackle a big hairy problem through smaller, reversible steps.

A limitation is that this approach may not be possible if you cannot accurately envision the solution state to start with.

The approach helps drive logical systematic thinking for complex problem-solving, but should still be combined with creative brainstorming of alternative scenarios and solutions.

An example is planning for an event – you would imagine the successful event occurring, then determine the tasks needed the week before, two weeks before, etc. all the way back to the present.

4. Use the Kipling Method

Use the Kipling Method

This method, named after author Rudyard Kipling, provides a framework for thoroughly analyzing a problem before jumping into solutions.

It consists of answering six fundamental questions: What, Where, When, How, Who, and Why about the challenge. Clearly defining these core elements of the problem sets the stage for generating targeted solutions.

The Kipling method enables a deep understanding of problem parameters and root causes before solution identification. By jumping to brainstorm solutions too early, critical information can be missed or the problem is loosely defined, reducing solution quality.

Answering the six fundamental questions illuminates all angles of the issue. This takes time but pays dividends in generating optimal solutions later tuned precisely to the true underlying problem.

The limitation is that meticulously working through numerous questions before addressing solutions can slow progress.

The best approach blends structured problem decomposition techniques like the Kipling method with spurring innovative solution ideation from a diverse team. 

An example is using this technique after a technical process failure – the team would systematically detail What failed, Where/When did it fail, How it failed (sequence of events), Who was involved, and Why it likely failed before exploring preventative solutions.

5. Try Different Solutions Until One Works (Trial and Error)

Try Different Solutions Until One Works (Trial and Error)

This technique involves attempting various potential solutions sequentially until finding one that successfully solves the problem.

Trial and error works best when facing a concrete, bounded challenge with clear solution criteria and a small number of discrete options to try. By methodically testing solutions, you can determine the faulty component.

A limitation is that it can be time-intensive if the working solution set is large.

The key is limiting the variable set first. For technical problems, this boundary is inherent and each element can be iteratively tested. But for business issues, artificial constraints may be required – setting decision rules upfront to reduce options before testing.

Furthermore, hypothesis-driven experimentation is far superior to blind trial and error – have logic for why Option A may outperform Option B.

Examples include fixing printer jams by testing different paper tray and cable configurations or resolving website errors by tweaking CSS/HTML line-by-line until the code functions properly.

6. Use Proven Formulas or Frameworks (Heuristics)

Use Proven Formulas or Frameworks (Heuristics)

Heuristics refers to applying existing problem-solving formulas or frameworks rather than addressing issues completely from scratch.

This allows leveraging established best practices rather than reinventing the wheel each time.

It is effective when facing recurrent, common challenges where proven structured approaches exist.

However, heuristics may force-fit solutions to non-standard problems.

For example, a cost-benefit analysis can be used instead of custom weighting schemes to analyze potential process improvements.

Onethread allows teams to define, save, and replicate configurable project templates so proven workflows can be reliably applied across problems with some consistency rather than fully custom one-off approaches each time.

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7. Trust Your Instincts (Insight Problem-Solving)

Trust Your Instincts (Insight Problem-Solving)

Insight is a problem-solving technique that involves waiting patiently for an unexpected “aha moment” when the solution pops into your mind.

It works well for personal challenges that require intuitive realizations over calculated logic. The unconscious mind makes connections leading to flashes of insight when relaxing or doing mundane tasks unrelated to the actual problem.

Benefits include out-of-the-box creative solutions. However, the limitations are that insights can’t be forced and may never come at all if too complex. Critical analysis is still required after initial insights.

A real-life example would be a writer struggling with how to end a novel. Despite extensive brainstorming, they feel stuck. Eventually while gardening one day, a perfect unexpected plot twist sparks an ideal conclusion. However, once written they still carefully review if the ending flows logically from the rest of the story.

8. Reverse Engineer the Problem

Reverse Engineer the Problem

This approach involves deconstructing a problem in reverse sequential order from the current undesirable outcome back to the initial root causes.

By mapping the chain of events backward, you can identify the origin of where things went wrong and establish the critical junctures for solving it moving ahead. Reverse engineering provides diagnostic clarity on multi-step problems.

However, the limitation is that it focuses heavily on autopsying the past versus innovating improved future solutions.

An example is tracing back from a server outage, through the cascade of infrastructure failures that led to it finally terminating at the initial script error that triggered the crisis. This root cause would then inform the preventative measure.

9. Break Down Obstacles Between Current and Goal State (Means-End Analysis)

Break Down Obstacles Between Current and Goal State (Means-End Analysis)

This technique defines the current problem state and the desired end goal state, then systematically identifies obstacles in the way of getting from one to the other.

By mapping the barriers or gaps, you can then develop solutions to address each one. This methodically connects the problem to solutions.

A limitation is that some obstacles may be unknown upfront and only emerge later.

For example, you can list down all the steps required for a new product launch – current state through production, marketing, sales, distribution, etc. to full launch (goal state) – to highlight where resource constraints or other blocks exist so they can be addressed.

Onethread allows dividing big-picture projects into discrete, manageable phases, milestones, and tasks to simplify execution just as problems can be decomposed into more achievable components. Features like dependency mapping further reinforce interconnections.

Using Onethread’s issues and subtasks feature, messy problems can be decomposed into manageable chunks.

10. Ask “Why” Five Times to Identify the Root Cause (The 5 Whys)

Ask "Why" Five Times to Identify the Root Cause (The 5 Whys)

This technique involves asking “Why did this problem occur?” and then responding with an answer that is again met with asking “Why?” This process repeats five times until the root cause is revealed.

Continually asking why digs deeper from surface symptoms to underlying systemic issues.

It is effective for getting to the source of problems originating from human error or process breakdowns.

However, some complex issues may have multiple tangled root causes not solvable through this approach alone.

An example is a retail store experiencing a sudden decline in customers. Successively asking why five times may trace an initial drop to parking challenges, stemming from a city construction project – the true starting point to address.

11. Evaluate Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT Analysis)

Evaluate Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT Analysis)

This involves analyzing a problem or proposed solution by categorizing internal and external factors into a 2×2 matrix: Strengths, Weaknesses as the internal rows; Opportunities and Threats as the external columns.

Systematically identifying these elements provides balanced insight to evaluate options and risks. It is impactful when evaluating alternative solutions or developing strategy amid complexity or uncertainty.

The key benefit of SWOT analysis is enabling multi-dimensional thinking when rationally evaluating options. Rather than getting anchored on just the upsides or the existing way of operating, it urges a systematic assessment through four different lenses:

  • Internal Strengths: Our core competencies/advantages able to deliver success
  • Internal Weaknesses: Gaps/vulnerabilities we need to manage
  • External Opportunities: Ways we can differentiate/drive additional value
  • External Threats: Risks we must navigate or mitigate

Multiperspective analysis provides the needed holistic view of the balanced risk vs. reward equation for strategic decision making amid uncertainty.

However, SWOT can feel restrictive if not tailored and evolved for different issue types.

Teams should view SWOT analysis as a starting point, augmenting it further for distinct scenarios.

An example is performing a SWOT analysis on whether a small business should expand into a new market – evaluating internal capabilities to execute vs. risks in the external competitive and demand environment to inform the growth decision with eyes wide open.

12. Compare Current vs Expected Performance (Gap Analysis)

Compare Current vs Expected Performance (Gap Analysis)

This technique involves comparing the current state of performance, output, or results to the desired or expected levels to highlight shortfalls.

By quantifying the gaps, you can identify problem areas and prioritize address solutions.

Gap analysis is based on the simple principle – “you can’t improve what you don’t measure.” It enables facts-driven problem diagnosis by highlighting delta to goals, not just vague dissatisfaction that something seems wrong. And measurement immediately suggests improvement opportunities – address the biggest gaps first.

This data orientation also supports ROI analysis on fixing issues – the return from closing larger gaps outweighs narrowly targeting smaller performance deficiencies.

However, the approach is only effective if robust standards and metrics exist as the benchmark to evaluate against. Organizations should invest upfront in establishing performance frameworks.

Furthermore, while numbers are invaluable, the human context behind problems should not be ignored – quantitative versus qualitative gap assessment is optimally blended.

For example, if usage declines are noted during software gap analysis, this could be used as a signal to improve user experience through design.

13. Observe Processes from the Frontline (Gemba Walk)

Observe Processes from the Frontline (Gemba Walk)

A Gemba walk involves going to the actual place where work is done, directly observing the process, engaging with employees, and finding areas for improvement.

By experiencing firsthand rather than solely reviewing abstract reports, practical problems and ideas emerge.

The limitation is Gemba walks provide anecdotes not statistically significant data. It complements but does not replace comprehensive performance measurement.

An example is a factory manager inspecting the production line to spot jam areas based on direct reality rather than relying on throughput dashboards alone back in her office. Frontline insights prove invaluable.

14. Analyze Competitive Forces (Porter’s Five Forces)

Analyze Competitive Forces (Porter’s Five Forces)

This involves assessing the marketplace around a problem or business situation via five key factors: competitors, new entrants, substitute offerings, suppliers, and customer power.

Evaluating these forces illuminates risks and opportunities for strategy development and issue resolution. It is effective for understanding dynamic external threats and opportunities when operating in a contested space.

However, over-indexing on only external factors can overlook the internal capabilities needed to execute solutions.

A startup CEO, for example, may analyze market entry barriers, whitespace opportunities, and disruption risks across these five forces to shape new product rollout strategies and marketing approaches.

15. Think from Different Perspectives (Six Thinking Hats)

Think from Different Perspectives (Six Thinking Hats)

The Six Thinking Hats is a technique developed by Edward de Bono that encourages people to think about a problem from six different perspectives, each represented by a colored “thinking hat.”

The key benefit of this strategy is that it pushes team members to move outside their usual thinking style and consider new angles. This brings more diverse ideas and solutions to the table.

It works best for complex problems that require innovative solutions and when a team is stuck in an unproductive debate. The structured framework keeps the conversation flowing in a positive direction.

Limitations are that it requires training on the method itself and may feel unnatural at first. Team dynamics can also influence success – some members may dominate certain “hats” while others remain quiet.

A real-life example is a software company debating whether to build a new feature. The white hat focuses on facts, red on gut feelings, black on potential risks, yellow on benefits, green on new ideas, and blue on process. This exposes more balanced perspectives before deciding.

Onethread centralizes diverse stakeholder communication onto one platform, ensuring all voices are incorporated when evaluating project tradeoffs, just as problem-solving should consider multifaceted solutions.

16. Visualize the Problem (Draw it Out)

Visualize the Problem (Draw it Out)

Drawing out a problem involves creating visual representations like diagrams, flowcharts, and maps to work through challenging issues.

This strategy is helpful when dealing with complex situations with lots of interconnected components. The visuals simplify the complexity so you can thoroughly understand the problem and all its nuances.

Key benefits are that it allows more stakeholders to get on the same page regarding root causes and it sparks new creative solutions as connections are made visually.

However, simple problems with few variables don’t require extensive diagrams. Additionally, some challenges are so multidimensional that fully capturing every aspect is difficult.

A real-life example would be mapping out all the possible causes leading to decreased client satisfaction at a law firm. An intricate fishbone diagram with branches for issues like service delivery, technology, facilities, culture, and vendor partnerships allows the team to trace problems back to their origins and brainstorm targeted fixes.

17. Follow a Step-by-Step Procedure (Algorithms)

Follow a Step-by-Step Procedure (Algorithms)

An algorithm is a predefined step-by-step process that is guaranteed to produce the correct solution if implemented properly.

Using algorithms is effective when facing problems that have clear, binary right and wrong answers. Algorithms work for mathematical calculations, computer code, manufacturing assembly lines, and scientific experiments.

Key benefits are consistency, accuracy, and efficiency. However, they require extensive upfront development and only apply to scenarios with strict parameters. Additionally, human error can lead to mistakes.

For example, crew members of fast food chains like McDonald’s follow specific algorithms for food prep – from grill times to ingredient amounts in sandwiches, to order fulfillment procedures. This ensures uniform quality and service across all locations. However, if a step is missed, errors occur.

The Problem-Solving Process

The Problem-Solving Process

The problem-solving process typically includes defining the issue, analyzing details, creating solutions, weighing choices, acting, and reviewing results.

In the above, we have discussed several problem-solving strategies. For every problem-solving strategy, you have to follow these processes. Here’s a detailed step-by-step process of effective problem-solving:

Step 1: Identify the Problem

The problem-solving process starts with identifying the problem. This step involves understanding the issue’s nature, its scope, and its impact. Once the problem is clearly defined, it sets the foundation for finding effective solutions.

Identifying the problem is crucial. It means figuring out exactly what needs fixing. This involves looking at the situation closely, understanding what’s wrong, and knowing how it affects things. It’s about asking the right questions to get a clear picture of the issue. 

This step is important because it guides the rest of the problem-solving process. Without a clear understanding of the problem, finding a solution is much harder. It’s like diagnosing an illness before treating it. Once the problem is identified accurately, you can move on to exploring possible solutions and deciding on the best course of action.

Step 2: Break Down the Problem

Breaking down the problem is a key step in the problem-solving process. It involves dividing the main issue into smaller, more manageable parts. This makes it easier to understand and tackle each component one by one.

After identifying the problem, the next step is to break it down. This means splitting the big issue into smaller pieces. It’s like solving a puzzle by handling one piece at a time. 

By doing this, you can focus on each part without feeling overwhelmed. It also helps in identifying the root causes of the problem. Breaking down the problem allows for a clearer analysis and makes finding solutions more straightforward. 

Each smaller problem can be addressed individually, leading to an effective resolution of the overall issue. This approach not only simplifies complex problems but also aids in developing a systematic plan to solve them.

Step 3: Come up with potential solutions

Coming up with potential solutions is the third step in the problem-solving process. It involves brainstorming various options to address the problem, considering creativity and feasibility to find the best approach.

After breaking down the problem, it’s time to think of ways to solve it. This stage is about brainstorming different solutions. You look at the smaller issues you’ve identified and start thinking of ways to fix them. This is where creativity comes in. 

You want to come up with as many ideas as possible, no matter how out-of-the-box they seem. It’s important to consider all options and evaluate their pros and cons. This process allows you to gather a range of possible solutions. 

Later, you can narrow these down to the most practical and effective ones. This step is crucial because it sets the stage for deciding on the best solution to implement. It’s about being open-minded and innovative to tackle the problem effectively.

Step 4: Analyze the possible solutions

Analyzing the possible solutions is the fourth step in the problem-solving process. It involves evaluating each proposed solution’s advantages and disadvantages to determine the most effective and feasible option.

After coming up with potential solutions, the next step is to analyze them. This means looking closely at each idea to see how well it solves the problem. You weigh the pros and cons of every solution.

Consider factors like cost, time, resources, and potential outcomes. This analysis helps in understanding the implications of each option. It’s about being critical and objective, ensuring that the chosen solution is not only effective but also practical.

This step is vital because it guides you towards making an informed decision. It involves comparing the solutions against each other and selecting the one that best addresses the problem.

By thoroughly analyzing the options, you can move forward with confidence, knowing you’ve chosen the best path to solve the issue.

Step 5: Implement and Monitor the Solutions

Implementing and monitoring the solutions is the final step in the problem-solving process. It involves putting the chosen solution into action and observing its effectiveness, making adjustments as necessary.

Once you’ve selected the best solution, it’s time to put it into practice. This step is about action. You implement the chosen solution and then keep an eye on how it works. Monitoring is crucial because it tells you if the solution is solving the problem as expected. 

If things don’t go as planned, you may need to make some changes. This could mean tweaking the current solution or trying a different one. The goal is to ensure the problem is fully resolved. 

This step is critical because it involves real-world application. It’s not just about planning; it’s about doing and adjusting based on results. By effectively implementing and monitoring the solutions, you can achieve the desired outcome and solve the problem successfully.

Why This Process is Important

Following a defined process to solve problems is important because it provides a systematic, structured approach instead of a haphazard one. Having clear steps guides logical thinking, analysis, and decision-making to increase effectiveness. Key reasons it helps are:

  • Clear Direction: This process gives you a clear path to follow, which can make solving problems less overwhelming.
  • Better Solutions: Thoughtful analysis of root causes, iterative testing of solutions, and learning orientation lead to addressing the heart of issues rather than just symptoms.
  • Saves Time and Energy: Instead of guessing or trying random things, this process helps you find a solution more efficiently.
  • Improves Skills: The more you use this process, the better you get at solving problems. It’s like practicing a sport. The more you practice, the better you play.
  • Maximizes collaboration: Involving various stakeholders in the process enables broader inputs. Their communication and coordination are streamlined through organized brainstorming and evaluation.
  • Provides consistency: Standard methodology across problems enables building institutional problem-solving capabilities over time. Patterns emerge on effective techniques to apply to different situations.

The problem-solving process is a powerful tool that can help us tackle any challenge we face. By following these steps, we can find solutions that work and learn important skills along the way.

Key Skills for Efficient Problem Solving

Key Skills for Efficient Problem Solving

Efficient problem-solving requires breaking down issues logically, evaluating options, and implementing practical solutions.

Key skills include critical thinking to understand root causes, creativity to brainstorm innovative ideas, communication abilities to collaborate with others, and decision-making to select the best way forward. Staying adaptable, reflecting on outcomes, and applying lessons learned are also essential.

With practice, these capacities will lead to increased personal and team effectiveness in systematically addressing any problem.

 Let’s explore the powers you need to become a problem-solving hero!

Critical Thinking and Analytical Skills

Critical thinking and analytical skills are vital for efficient problem-solving as they enable individuals to objectively evaluate information, identify key issues, and generate effective solutions. 

These skills facilitate a deeper understanding of problems, leading to logical, well-reasoned decisions. By systematically breaking down complex issues and considering various perspectives, individuals can develop more innovative and practical solutions, enhancing their problem-solving effectiveness.

Communication Skills

Effective communication skills are essential for efficient problem-solving as they facilitate clear sharing of information, ensuring all team members understand the problem and proposed solutions. 

These skills enable individuals to articulate issues, listen actively, and collaborate effectively, fostering a productive environment where diverse ideas can be exchanged and refined. By enhancing mutual understanding, communication skills contribute significantly to identifying and implementing the most viable solutions.


Strong decision-making skills are crucial for efficient problem-solving, as they enable individuals to choose the best course of action from multiple alternatives. 

These skills involve evaluating the potential outcomes of different solutions, considering the risks and benefits, and making informed choices. Effective decision-making leads to the implementation of solutions that are likely to resolve problems effectively, ensuring resources are used efficiently and goals are achieved.

Planning and Prioritization

Planning and prioritization are key for efficient problem-solving, ensuring resources are allocated effectively to address the most critical issues first. This approach helps in organizing tasks according to their urgency and impact, streamlining efforts towards achieving the desired outcome efficiently.

Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence enhances problem-solving by allowing individuals to manage emotions, understand others, and navigate social complexities. It fosters a positive, collaborative environment, essential for generating creative solutions and making informed, empathetic decisions.

Leadership skills drive efficient problem-solving by inspiring and guiding teams toward common goals. Effective leaders motivate their teams, foster innovation, and navigate challenges, ensuring collective efforts are focused and productive in addressing problems.

Time Management

Time management is crucial in problem-solving, enabling individuals to allocate appropriate time to each task. By efficiently managing time, one can ensure that critical problems are addressed promptly without neglecting other responsibilities.

Data Analysis

Data analysis skills are essential for problem-solving, as they enable individuals to sift through data, identify trends, and extract actionable insights. This analytical approach supports evidence-based decision-making, leading to more accurate and effective solutions.

Research Skills

Research skills are vital for efficient problem-solving, allowing individuals to gather relevant information, explore various solutions, and understand the problem’s context. This thorough exploration aids in developing well-informed, innovative solutions.

Becoming a great problem solver takes practice, but with these skills, you’re on your way to becoming a problem-solving hero. 

How to Improve Your Problem-Solving Skills?

How to Improve Your Problem-Solving Skills

Improving your problem-solving skills can make you a master at overcoming challenges. Learn from experts, practice regularly, welcome feedback, try new methods, experiment, and study others’ success to become better.

Learning from Experts

Improving problem-solving skills by learning from experts involves seeking mentorship, attending workshops, and studying case studies. Experts provide insights and techniques that refine your approach, enhancing your ability to tackle complex problems effectively.

To enhance your problem-solving skills, learning from experts can be incredibly beneficial. Engaging with mentors, participating in specialized workshops, and analyzing case studies from seasoned professionals can offer valuable perspectives and strategies. 

Experts share their experiences, mistakes, and successes, providing practical knowledge that can be applied to your own problem-solving process. This exposure not only broadens your understanding but also introduces you to diverse methods and approaches, enabling you to tackle challenges more efficiently and creatively.

Improving problem-solving skills through practice involves tackling a variety of challenges regularly. This hands-on approach helps in refining techniques and strategies, making you more adept at identifying and solving problems efficiently.

One of the most effective ways to enhance your problem-solving skills is through consistent practice. By engaging with different types of problems on a regular basis, you develop a deeper understanding of various strategies and how they can be applied. 

This hands-on experience allows you to experiment with different approaches, learn from mistakes, and build confidence in your ability to tackle challenges.

Regular practice not only sharpens your analytical and critical thinking skills but also encourages adaptability and innovation, key components of effective problem-solving.

Openness to Feedback

Being open to feedback is like unlocking a secret level in a game. It helps you boost your problem-solving skills. Improving problem-solving skills through openness to feedback involves actively seeking and constructively responding to critiques. 

This receptivity enables you to refine your strategies and approaches based on insights from others, leading to more effective solutions. 

Learning New Approaches and Methodologies

Learning new approaches and methodologies is like adding new tools to your toolbox. It makes you a smarter problem-solver. Enhancing problem-solving skills by learning new approaches and methodologies involves staying updated with the latest trends and techniques in your field. 

This continuous learning expands your toolkit, enabling innovative solutions and a fresh perspective on challenges.


Experimentation is like being a scientist of your own problems. It’s a powerful way to improve your problem-solving skills. Boosting problem-solving skills through experimentation means trying out different solutions to see what works best. This trial-and-error approach fosters creativity and can lead to unique solutions that wouldn’t have been considered otherwise.

Analyzing Competitors’ Success

Analyzing competitors’ success is like being a detective. It’s a smart way to boost your problem-solving skills. Improving problem-solving skills by analyzing competitors’ success involves studying their strategies and outcomes. Understanding what worked for them can provide valuable insights and inspire effective solutions for your own challenges. 

Challenges in Problem-Solving

Facing obstacles when solving problems is common. Recognizing these barriers, like fear of failure or lack of information, helps us find ways around them for better solutions.

Fear of Failure

Fear of failure is like a big, scary monster that stops us from solving problems. It’s a challenge many face. Because being afraid of making mistakes can make us too scared to try new solutions. 

How can we overcome this? First, understand that it’s okay to fail. Failure is not the opposite of success; it’s part of learning. Every time we fail, we discover one more way not to solve a problem, getting us closer to the right solution. Treat each attempt like an experiment. It’s not about failing; it’s about testing and learning.

Lack of Information

Lack of information is like trying to solve a puzzle with missing pieces. It’s a big challenge in problem-solving. Because without all the necessary details, finding a solution is much harder. 

How can we fix this? Start by gathering as much information as you can. Ask questions, do research, or talk to experts. Think of yourself as a detective looking for clues. The more information you collect, the clearer the picture becomes. Then, use what you’ve learned to think of solutions. 

Fixed Mindset

A fixed mindset is like being stuck in quicksand; it makes solving problems harder. It means thinking you can’t improve or learn new ways to solve issues. 

How can we change this? First, believe that you can grow and learn from challenges. Think of your brain as a muscle that gets stronger every time you use it. When you face a problem, instead of saying “I can’t do this,” try thinking, “I can’t do this yet.” Look for lessons in every challenge and celebrate small wins. 

Everyone starts somewhere, and mistakes are just steps on the path to getting better. By shifting to a growth mindset, you’ll see problems as opportunities to grow. Keep trying, keep learning, and your problem-solving skills will soar!

Jumping to Conclusions

Jumping to conclusions is like trying to finish a race before it starts. It’s a challenge in problem-solving. That means making a decision too quickly without looking at all the facts. 

How can we avoid this? First, take a deep breath and slow down. Think about the problem like a puzzle. You need to see all the pieces before you know where they go. Ask questions, gather information, and consider different possibilities. Don’t choose the first solution that comes to mind. Instead, compare a few options. 

Feeling Overwhelmed

Feeling overwhelmed is like being buried under a mountain of puzzles. It’s a big challenge in problem-solving. When we’re overwhelmed, everything seems too hard to handle. 

How can we deal with this? Start by taking a step back. Breathe deeply and focus on one thing at a time. Break the big problem into smaller pieces, like sorting puzzle pieces by color. Tackle each small piece one by one. It’s also okay to ask for help. Sometimes, talking to someone else can give you a new perspective. 

Confirmation Bias

Confirmation bias is like wearing glasses that only let you see what you want to see. It’s a challenge in problem-solving. Because it makes us focus only on information that agrees with what we already believe, ignoring anything that doesn’t. 

How can we overcome this? First, be aware that you might be doing it. It’s like checking if your glasses are on right. Then, purposely look for information that challenges your views. It’s like trying on a different pair of glasses to see a new perspective. Ask questions and listen to answers, even if they don’t fit what you thought before.

Groupthink is like everyone in a group deciding to wear the same outfit without asking why. It’s a challenge in problem-solving. It means making decisions just because everyone else agrees, without really thinking it through. 

How can we avoid this? First, encourage everyone in the group to share their ideas, even if they’re different. It’s like inviting everyone to show their unique style of clothes. 

Listen to all opinions and discuss them. It’s okay to disagree; it helps us think of better solutions. Also, sometimes, ask someone outside the group for their thoughts. They might see something everyone in the group missed.

Overcoming obstacles in problem-solving requires patience, openness, and a willingness to learn from mistakes. By recognizing these barriers, we can develop strategies to navigate around them, leading to more effective and creative solutions.

What are the most common problem-solving techniques?

The most common techniques include brainstorming, the 5 Whys, mind mapping, SWOT analysis, and using algorithms or heuristics. Each approach has its strengths, suitable for different types of problems.

What’s the best problem-solving strategy for every situation?

There’s no one-size-fits-all strategy. The best approach depends on the problem’s complexity, available resources, and time constraints. Combining multiple techniques often yields the best results.

How can I improve my problem-solving skills?

Improve your problem-solving skills by practicing regularly, learning from experts, staying open to feedback, and continuously updating your knowledge on new approaches and methodologies.

Are there any tools or resources to help with problem-solving?

Yes, tools like mind mapping software, online courses on critical thinking, and books on problem-solving techniques can be very helpful. Joining forums or groups focused on problem-solving can also provide support and insights.

What are some common mistakes people make when solving problems?

Common mistakes include jumping to conclusions without fully understanding the problem, ignoring valuable feedback, sticking to familiar solutions without considering alternatives, and not breaking down complex problems into manageable parts.

Final Words

Mastering problem-solving strategies equips us with the tools to tackle challenges across all areas of life. By understanding and applying these techniques, embracing a growth mindset, and learning from both successes and obstacles, we can transform problems into opportunities for growth. Continuously improving these skills ensures we’re prepared to face and solve future challenges more effectively.

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How to handle a problem you can’t solve

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Life is hard. No one floats through the whole thing care-free,  drowning in love and friendship, having found passion and purpose, and in perfect health all the time! No, our boss can be unfair, our elderly parent may be sick, and the global pandemic is an ongoing challenge. Despite what is portrayed on Instagram, Facebook and TikTok, we all have problems, big and small. Sometimes careful consideration can solve a problem, but what can we do when we come across an obstacle that we can’t solve?  

First, tell somebody.  Verbalizing the challenge out loud can help you conceive the situation in different ways, and you may receive validation and empathy from the other person. It feels good to know that others see your problem, and perhaps have even gone through it themselves.  

Communicate your needs.  Too many people think they need to “push through” or that they are the only one who can solve the problem. However, by letting others know that you are struggling at the moment you may receive help. Your co-worker may have the ability to assist you with that big project, but she has to know you need support first!  

Get more information. Sometimes it is not the problem that is unsolvable, but that we lack the knowledge to solve it. Ask yourself, “Am I missing information that could create a solution?” If you are, try and get that info from online courses, books, or others who know more.

Keep it in perspective. We all know a problem doesn’t improve just because we worry about it. Try and use the 10/10/10 rule to guide your level of concern. Will this problem matter in 10 minutes? 10 months? 10 years?  

Engage in self-care. Take moments for yourself to do things that you enjoy and that are relaxing. Keep in mind there is a difference between rejuvenating activities and mindless distractions. While there is nothing wrong with bingeing Netflix or playing on your phone, it won’t reinvigorate you like a mindful walk, gardening, or even singing a favourite song in the car. Don’t distract from the moment, engage with it, mindfully, on purpose, in the present and non-judgmentally. The problem will not go away, but you will set it down for a few minutes and be refreshed when you have to pick it up again.  

Is this a system-level problem? Some problems are big, really big, like system-level big. Racism, sexism, poverty, homophobia, transphobia, access to medical care and healthy food, ageism and sizeism. This list is nowhere near exhaustive! These kinds of problems are not solved by individuals, if you are struggling with one or more of these, getting involved in advocacy will let you work towards change and provide comfort in knowing that others are working to make these issues disappear too.  

Can the problem be solved right now? As humans, we crave certainty and stability and problems are harbingers of chaos and change. Social workers say, “we must learn to sit in the mess.” This gives us a moment to separate from the issue and let some time pass in the hopes external factors (like a promotion or moving) will shift, allowing new options to present themselves. Sitting in a mess is uncomfortable; often we can only breathe, tell others, engage in self-care, and wait. And wait. And wait. In the meantime, repeat to yourself, “I’m doing the best I can.” And believe it.

If you're ready to try therapy for mental health struggles and life challenges, find the   digital mental health therapy   best suited for you and complete an assessment.

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Stronger Minds content is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice, and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to establish a standard of care with a reader, you should always seek the advice of your mental health professional, physician or other qualified health provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding a medical or mental health condition. If you think you may have a medical or mental health emergency, call your doctor, go to the nearest hospital emergency department, or call emergency services immediately. You should never disregard or delay seeking medical advice relating to treatment or standard of care because of information contained herein. Medical information changes constantly. Therefore the information herein should not be considered current, complete or exhaustive, nor should you rely on such information to recommend a course of treatment for you or any other individual. Reliance on any information provided herein is solely at your own risk.

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10 Problem-solving strategies to turn challenges on their head

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What is an example of problem-solving?

What are the 5 steps to problem-solving, 10 effective problem-solving strategies, what skills do efficient problem solvers have, how to improve your problem-solving skills.

Problems come in all shapes and sizes — from workplace conflict to budget cuts.

Creative problem-solving is one of the most in-demand skills in all roles and industries. It can boost an organization’s human capital and give it a competitive edge. 

Problem-solving strategies are ways of approaching problems that can help you look beyond the obvious answers and find the best solution to your problem . 

Let’s take a look at a five-step problem-solving process and how to combine it with proven problem-solving strategies. This will give you the tools and skills to solve even your most complex problems.

Good problem-solving is an essential part of the decision-making process . To see what a problem-solving process might look like in real life, let’s take a common problem for SaaS brands — decreasing customer churn rates.

To solve this problem, the company must first identify it. In this case, the problem is that the churn rate is too high. 

Next, they need to identify the root causes of the problem. This could be anything from their customer service experience to their email marketing campaigns. If there are several problems, they will need a separate problem-solving process for each one. 

Let’s say the problem is with email marketing — they’re not nurturing existing customers. Now that they’ve identified the problem, they can start using problem-solving strategies to look for solutions. 

This might look like coming up with special offers, discounts, or bonuses for existing customers. They need to find ways to remind them to use their products and services while providing added value. This will encourage customers to keep paying their monthly subscriptions.

They might also want to add incentives, such as access to a premium service at no extra cost after 12 months of membership. They could publish blog posts that help their customers solve common problems and share them as an email newsletter.

The company should set targets and a time frame in which to achieve them. This will allow leaders to measure progress and identify which actions yield the best results.


Perhaps you’ve got a problem you need to tackle. Or maybe you want to be prepared the next time one arises. Either way, it’s a good idea to get familiar with the five steps of problem-solving. 

Use this step-by-step problem-solving method with the strategies in the following section to find possible solutions to your problem.

1. Identify the problem

The first step is to know which problem you need to solve. Then, you need to find the root cause of the problem. 

The best course of action is to gather as much data as possible, speak to the people involved, and separate facts from opinions. 

Once this is done, formulate a statement that describes the problem. Use rational persuasion to make sure your team agrees .

2. Break the problem down 

Identifying the problem allows you to see which steps need to be taken to solve it. 

First, break the problem down into achievable blocks. Then, use strategic planning to set a time frame in which to solve the problem and establish a timeline for the completion of each stage.

3. Generate potential solutions

At this stage, the aim isn’t to evaluate possible solutions but to generate as many ideas as possible. 

Encourage your team to use creative thinking and be patient — the best solution may not be the first or most obvious one.

Use one or more of the different strategies in the following section to help come up with solutions — the more creative, the better.

4. Evaluate the possible solutions

Once you’ve generated potential solutions, narrow them down to a shortlist. Then, evaluate the options on your shortlist. 

There are usually many factors to consider. So when evaluating a solution, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Will my team be on board with the proposition?
  • Does the solution align with organizational goals ?
  • Is the solution likely to achieve the desired outcomes?
  • Is the solution realistic and possible with current resources and constraints?
  • Will the solution solve the problem without causing additional unintended problems?


5. Implement and monitor the solutions

Once you’ve identified your solution and got buy-in from your team, it’s time to implement it. 

But the work doesn’t stop there. You need to monitor your solution to see whether it actually solves your problem. 

Request regular feedback from the team members involved and have a monitoring and evaluation plan in place to measure progress.

If the solution doesn’t achieve your desired results, start this step-by-step process again.

There are many different ways to approach problem-solving. Each is suitable for different types of problems. 

The most appropriate problem-solving techniques will depend on your specific problem. You may need to experiment with several strategies before you find a workable solution.

Here are 10 effective problem-solving strategies for you to try:

  • Use a solution that worked before
  • Brainstorming
  • Work backward
  • Use the Kipling method
  • Draw the problem
  • Use trial and error
  • Sleep on it
  • Get advice from your peers
  • Use the Pareto principle
  • Add successful solutions to your toolkit

Let’s break each of these down.

1. Use a solution that worked before

It might seem obvious, but if you’ve faced similar problems in the past, look back to what worked then. See if any of the solutions could apply to your current situation and, if so, replicate them.

2. Brainstorming

The more people you enlist to help solve the problem, the more potential solutions you can come up with.

Use different brainstorming techniques to workshop potential solutions with your team. They’ll likely bring something you haven’t thought of to the table.

3. Work backward

Working backward is a way to reverse engineer your problem. Imagine your problem has been solved, and make that the starting point.

Then, retrace your steps back to where you are now. This can help you see which course of action may be most effective.

4. Use the Kipling method

This is a method that poses six questions based on Rudyard Kipling’s poem, “ I Keep Six Honest Serving Men .” 

  • What is the problem?
  • Why is the problem important?
  • When did the problem arise, and when does it need to be solved?
  • How did the problem happen?
  • Where is the problem occurring?
  • Who does the problem affect?

Answering these questions can help you identify possible solutions.

5. Draw the problem

Sometimes it can be difficult to visualize all the components and moving parts of a problem and its solution. Drawing a diagram can help.

This technique is particularly helpful for solving process-related problems. For example, a product development team might want to decrease the time they take to fix bugs and create new iterations. Drawing the processes involved can help you see where improvements can be made.


6. Use trial-and-error

A trial-and-error approach can be useful when you have several possible solutions and want to test them to see which one works best.

7. Sleep on it

Finding the best solution to a problem is a process. Remember to take breaks and get enough rest . Sometimes, a walk around the block can bring inspiration, but you should sleep on it if possible.

A good night’s sleep helps us find creative solutions to problems. This is because when you sleep, your brain sorts through the day’s events and stores them as memories. This enables you to process your ideas at a subconscious level. 

If possible, give yourself a few days to develop and analyze possible solutions. You may find you have greater clarity after sleeping on it. Your mind will also be fresh, so you’ll be able to make better decisions.

8. Get advice from your peers

Getting input from a group of people can help you find solutions you may not have thought of on your own. 

For solo entrepreneurs or freelancers, this might look like hiring a coach or mentor or joining a mastermind group. 

For leaders , it might be consulting other members of the leadership team or working with a business coach .

It’s important to recognize you might not have all the skills, experience, or knowledge necessary to find a solution alone. 

9. Use the Pareto principle

The Pareto principle — also known as the 80/20 rule — can help you identify possible root causes and potential solutions for your problems.

Although it’s not a mathematical law, it’s a principle found throughout many aspects of business and life. For example, 20% of the sales reps in a company might close 80% of the sales. 

You may be able to narrow down the causes of your problem by applying the Pareto principle. This can also help you identify the most appropriate solutions.

10. Add successful solutions to your toolkit

Every situation is different, and the same solutions might not always work. But by keeping a record of successful problem-solving strategies, you can build up a solutions toolkit. 

These solutions may be applicable to future problems. Even if not, they may save you some of the time and work needed to come up with a new solution.


Improving problem-solving skills is essential for professional development — both yours and your team’s. Here are some of the key skills of effective problem solvers:

  • Critical thinking and analytical skills
  • Communication skills , including active listening
  • Decision-making
  • Planning and prioritization
  • Emotional intelligence , including empathy and emotional regulation
  • Time management
  • Data analysis
  • Research skills
  • Project management

And they see problems as opportunities. Everyone is born with problem-solving skills. But accessing these abilities depends on how we view problems. Effective problem-solvers see problems as opportunities to learn and improve.

Ready to work on your problem-solving abilities? Get started with these seven tips.

1. Build your problem-solving skills

One of the best ways to improve your problem-solving skills is to learn from experts. Consider enrolling in organizational training , shadowing a mentor , or working with a coach .

2. Practice

Practice using your new problem-solving skills by applying them to smaller problems you might encounter in your daily life. 

Alternatively, imagine problematic scenarios that might arise at work and use problem-solving strategies to find hypothetical solutions.

3. Don’t try to find a solution right away

Often, the first solution you think of to solve a problem isn’t the most appropriate or effective.

Instead of thinking on the spot, give yourself time and use one or more of the problem-solving strategies above to activate your creative thinking. 


4. Ask for feedback

Receiving feedback is always important for learning and growth. Your perception of your problem-solving skills may be different from that of your colleagues. They can provide insights that help you improve. 

5. Learn new approaches and methodologies

There are entire books written about problem-solving methodologies if you want to take a deep dive into the subject. 

We recommend starting with “ Fixed — How to Perfect the Fine Art of Problem Solving ” by Amy E. Herman. 

6. Experiment

Tried-and-tested problem-solving techniques can be useful. However, they don’t teach you how to innovate and develop your own problem-solving approaches. 

Sometimes, an unconventional approach can lead to the development of a brilliant new idea or strategy. So don’t be afraid to suggest your most “out there” ideas.

7. Analyze the success of your competitors

Do you have competitors who have already solved the problem you’re facing? Look at what they did, and work backward to solve your own problem. 

For example, Netflix started in the 1990s as a DVD mail-rental company. Its main competitor at the time was Blockbuster. 

But when streaming became the norm in the early 2000s, both companies faced a crisis. Netflix innovated, unveiling its streaming service in 2007. 

If Blockbuster had followed Netflix’s example, it might have survived. Instead, it declared bankruptcy in 2010.

Use problem-solving strategies to uplevel your business

When facing a problem, it’s worth taking the time to find the right solution. 

Otherwise, we risk either running away from our problems or headlong into solutions. When we do this, we might miss out on other, better options.

Use the problem-solving strategies outlined above to find innovative solutions to your business’ most perplexing problems.

If you’re ready to take problem-solving to the next level, request a demo with BetterUp . Our expert coaches specialize in helping teams develop and implement strategies that work.

Boost your productivity

Maximize your time and productivity with strategies from our expert coaches.

Elizabeth Perry, ACC

Elizabeth Perry is a Coach Community Manager at BetterUp. She uses strategic engagement strategies to cultivate a learning community across a global network of Coaches through in-person and virtual experiences, technology-enabled platforms, and strategic coaching industry partnerships. With over 3 years of coaching experience and a certification in transformative leadership and life coaching from Sofia University, Elizabeth leverages transpersonal psychology expertise to help coaches and clients gain awareness of their behavioral and thought patterns, discover their purpose and passions, and elevate their potential. She is a lifelong student of psychology, personal growth, and human potential as well as an ICF-certified ACC transpersonal life and leadership Coach.

8 creative solutions to your most challenging problems

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Tiny Buddha

“No problem is insurmountable. With a little courage, teamwork, and determination, a person can do anything.” ~Unknown

Some problems seem far too overwhelming to solve. When you’re buried in debt or trying to bounce back from a huge error in judgment, it can feel like there’s no way out.

I remember when I first learned about my fibroids last year. Since I didn’t have health insurance at the time, I feared I wouldn’t be able to afford treatment, and I was tempted to beat myself up for allowing myself to be uninsured.

On top of that, I worried about my health. I wondered: Why did I develop those growths in the first place? What if they grew uncomfortably large before I was able to remove them? And what if I had other undiagnosed conditions?

Overpowered as I was with fears and regrets, it felt nearly impossible to identify a solution. But there was one—and it was far simpler than I realized at first.

As soon as I focused and stopped getting caught up in “should haves” and “what ifs,” I started researching insurance plans and found one for people with pre-existing conditions.

Of course, that was only the first step. I needed to find a good doctor, pick the best treatment, and find the money to pay for my part of the surgery. But it was all doable.

It may have taken several months, but eventually, I made my way to the other side of that challenge.

Now, three months post-surgery, I’m healthier and more energized. And though I know my fibroids can grow back at any time, regardless of what I do, I’m prepared to handle that if and when it happens.

I know that if the problem comes back, I can overcome it.

When we’re knee-deep in the messiness of an obstacle, it can feel like there’s no way around it. There isn’t— if we aren’t open to discovering it. We can only create and follow a plan if we believe it’s possible.

If your current challenge seems insurmountable, it might help you to step back and try to see things differently.

These questions may help you change your thinking about this problem  and discover the action steps to solve it.

Taking Responsibility

When you acknowledge and accept a problem, and take responsibility for it, you then have the power to solve it. Start by asking yourself:

1. Did you play any part in creating this problem?

2. Are you doing anything now that might be making things worse?

3. Does a part of you want to hold onto the problem, maybe because it feels familiar or because there’s some pay off in keeping things as they are?

4. Are you waiting for someone else to step in and fix things for you?

5. Are you blaming someone else in a way that limits the action you can take?    

Putting Things in Perspective

Are you overwhelmed because this seems like the worst thing that ever happened to you? Take a time out and ask yourself:

6. On a scale of one to ten—ten being the biggest hardship you’ve ever faced in your life—where does this problem fall?

7. Will this issue be relevant to you in one year? One month? One week?

8. Think about the major areas of your life—work, family, and hobbies, for example. How many areas does this one problem impact?

9. How much of your stress comes from the problem itself, and how much of it has to do with how (and how often) you’re thinking about it?

10. If the worst that could possibly happen happened, could you get through it, and maybe even benefit in some way?

Addressing Your Emotions

Hard to focus because you’re freaking out? Step back, take a deep breath, and ask yourself:  

11. If you’re getting caught up in “what if” scenarios, can you remember other times when you imagined all the horrible things that could happen and none of them did?

12. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, can you break the problem into smaller, more manageable parts?

13. If you’re feeling defeated, can you see this is a test of your strength and impress yourself by rising to the occasion?

14. If you’re feeling guilty, can you express your remorse and begin forgiving yourself—and if not, what would it take to do that?

15. Can you make some time for deep breathing, meditation , or yoga to create some mental stillness?

Realizing It’s Not Insurmountable

It might be hard right now to see how you will get past this, but first you have to believe you can. Not sure? Ask yourself:

16. Have you successfully addressed similar problems in the past?

17. Have other people overcome similar challenges, and can you learn anything about what they did?

18. If a friend came to you with this problem, would you reassure that person that he or she could get past this, and how would you envision that happening?

19. Could you do this if you had help? Who can you ask for help ?

20. Can you visualize yourself getting through this (realistically, not through magical thinking)? If you can visualize it, you can do it!

Working Toward a Solution

If you’ve taken responsibility for your problem, put things in perspective, tamed your emotional response, and recognized you can get through this, now it’s time to make that happen. Start by asking yourself:

21. If you accepted your fear and acted in spite of it, what would that entail?

22. When you create stillness and listen to your gut instinct, what do you learn?

23. What are your three strongest coping skills (creativity, strength, and resourcefulness, for example), and how can use them in this situation?

24. If other people have given you advice, what part of it resonates with you and why?

25. If you stopped making excuses and started taking action, what’s the first thing you would do?

You’ll notice the first four sets of questions all pertain to internal obstacles. That’s because so much of problem solving has to do with getting our own way.

The solutions aren’t always simple, but they become a lot simpler when we focus, take it step by step, and make a conscious effort to stay calm.

What problem’s been stressing you, and what can you do today to change how you think about it and respond to it?

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About Lori Deschene

Lori Deschene is the founder of Tiny Buddha. She started the site after struggling with depression, bulimia, and toxic shame so she could recycle her former pain into something useful and inspire others do the same. She recently created the Breaking Barriers to Self-Care eCourse to help people honor their needs—so they can feel their best, be their best, and live their best possible life. If you’re ready to start thriving instead of merely surviving, you can learn more and get instant access here .

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how do you solve problems that others haven't been able to solve

How To Become an Effective Problem Solver

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A great skill to have is the ability to solve problems specifically interpersonal and behavioral problems,  effectively. At the same time, it is also a great skill to teach students. There are a few key requirements for resolving problems collaboratively.  Both inside and outside the classroom teachers deal with problems and knowing how to resolve problems, either conflict between students, with students or with parents, require following some steps.  Here are the steps to becoming a more effective problem solver.​ L

Here's How:

  • Understand 'why' the problem exists. What is the actual root cause of the problem? If you know something about why the problem exists, you'll have a better time of resolving the problem. Let's take the example of a child who doesn't want to come to school. Before you can help identify a solution, it is important to find out why the child doesn't want to come to school. Perhaps bullying is occurring on the bus or in the halls. One of the first steps to effectively solve problems is delving into the root cause of the problem.
  • Be able to clearly identify the problem and the obstacles that the problem presents. All too often when attempting to address a problem, those problems surrounding the principal cause are considered rather than identifying and resolving the root problem.  Clearly, state the problem and what obstacles the problem presents to you. Again, the child who doesn't want to come to school has the problem of it having a negative impact on his/her academic success.
  • Once you have clearly stated the problem, you need to understand what you have control over and what you don't. Your efforts to resolve the problem must be within the areas where you have control. You may not have control whether a child comes to school, but you do have control over dealing with the bully who is creating the barrier to the child not wanting to attend school. Solving problems must focus on the things which you can control.
  • Do you have all the information you need? Solving problems is often like becoming involved in investigations. Have you thoroughly researched why the problem exists? Do you have all the information you need? If not, be persistent and seek out all information before tackling the problem.
  • Don't jump to conclusions. Once you have all of your information, analyze it carefully and look at it from various viewpoints. Be as objective as possible and don't be quick to judge. Remain judgment-free as much as possible. This is a time for you to use your critical thinking skills.
  • Now determine your options for solutions. How many options do you have? Are you sure? Which options seem reasonable? Have you weighed the pros and cons of your options? Are there any limitations to your options? Are some options better than others and why? Are there advantages and disadvantages you need to take into consideration?
  • You should now be ready to act. A well thought out strategy/solution is now in place. However, what is your plan to monitor its outcome? How will you know that your solution is working? Once your solution is in place, it is important to monitor and evaluate the outcome regularly.
  • In Summary You can use this approach to many of the challenges that arise in your classroom. A child who won't comply, a parent who is unhappy with their child's IEP, an educational assistant with whom you are having some conflict with. The strategies used in this problem-solving plan are merely good lifelong skills to have.
  • Clearly state the problem.
  • Know what the obstacles are related to the problem.
  • Determine what you have control over and what you don't.
  • Make sure you have ALL the information you need.
  • Identify all of your options and implement the best option for a solution.
  • 2020-21 Common Application Essay Option 4—Solving a Problem
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  • Composition Type: Problem-Solution Essays
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More From Forbes

Six tips for solving complex problems.

Forbes Coaches Council

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Adam Stott is an entrepreneur, author, business coach and founder of Big Business Events.

Problems will always present themselves, and you need to be able to keep yourself on track, ask yourself the right questions and solve problems fast and efficiently. When you’re able to get things done more quickly, you will have more time to guide your business, more time for your personal relationships and more time to create more wealth.

Complex problems often put you in a place where you feel stuck. They can make you feel fearful, overwhelmed and like you just don't know what to do, which can slow your reaction in solving the issue. This happens to business owners who are at the height of their careers as well as leaders of new startups. The answer is really about making sure you ask yourself the right questions because those questions will help you see that you'll be able to overcome the challenges and the issues that you have and come up with answers quickly.

When things start to stack up on top of you and someone brings a new challenge to you, you might decide to put it off and deal with it later. What happens next? You get another challenge, and that only adds to what you have to deal with. Challenges never stop coming and, eventually, you have ten or eleven problems because you didn't deal with the things that were coming to you at that moment. Procrastinating leads to not getting things done and, eventually, you become overwhelmed and don’t know where to start.

Here are some things you can do to improve your ability to solve complex problems:

1. Always be learning.

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Prepare your mind to be a bit faster and deal with things in a better way by constantly learning. Get your brain to go places you haven’t asked it to go before. When you’re challenging your brain and expanding your knowledge, you can also expand your ability to solve problems.

Believe it or not, this is something you need to prepare for. How do you have a fast mind and why does it matter? It matters because you're running a business, becoming more successful in your career and things are developing for you. You are becoming busier and being asked more and more questions. You have more decisions to make. You are responsible for more people, and if you're slow in your decision-making and in getting stuff done, what you'll find is things can start to pile up.

2. Try to solve problems more quickly.

One of the best ways to do this is with coaching because you have someone guiding you when an issue comes up, and you're able to ask questions of someone who has already been through what you're going through. This can allow you to get results much more quickly, and at the same time, you can learn from another's experiences.

3. Ask yourself what needs to happen.

When you have a complex challenge and you don't know what to do, ask yourself, “If I was to solve this problem, what would need to happen?”

When you do that, you're actively directing your thoughts toward a solution and you are more likely to start coming up with answers. Then ask yourself, “How can I benefit from this complex problem or challenge?” If you can come up with some sort of benefit, you can attach an incentive around completing it.

4. Ask a qualified person for help.

If you can't find the answer, ask a person who you think is best qualified to deal with the situation you have. Don't get advice from people who haven't been in situations similar to yours and who haven’t dealt with problems like yours. You are probably more qualified to answer the question yourself.

5. Ask yourself the best thing that can happen.

If you're struggling, ask yourself, “What is the best thing that can happen in this situation?” This gives you a best-case scenario. Then ask yourself, “What is the very worst thing that can happen?” Now you also know the worst-case scenario. Then ask yourself, “What’s the most likely thing that can happen?” Now you've covered all your bases.

6. Consider your current mindset.

Do you feel positive or are you in a place where you are feeling negative? If you're in a state where you're feeling negative, it can be very hard to come up with the right answers. Whereas if you're feeling positive, it can be easier to come up with the right answers. If you’re not in the right place to make a decision and you need to take a short break, do that. But be careful of ignoring problems and burying your head in the sand.

Try to make small decisions instantly and move forward. More complex problems might require a little more time and energy to think them through, so don't expend unnecessary energy on the small things.

Forbes Coaches Council is an invitation-only community for leading business and career coaches. Do I qualify?

Adam Stott

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  • Problem Solving

How to Solve a Problem

Last Updated: April 3, 2023 Fact Checked

This article was co-authored by Rachel Clissold . Rachel Clissold is a Life Coach and Consultant in Sydney, Australia. With over six years of coaching experience and over 17 years of corporate training, Rachel specializes in helping business leaders move through internal roadblocks, gain more freedom and clarity, and optimize their company’s efficiency and productivity. Rachel uses a wide range of techniques including coaching, intuitive guidance, neuro-linguistic programming, and holistic biohacking to help clients overcome fear, break through limitations, and bring their epic visions to life. Rachel is an acclaimed Reiki Master Practitioner, Qualified practitioner in NLP, EFT, Hypnosis & Past Life Regression. She has created events with up to 500 people around Australia, United Kingdom, Bali, and Costa Rica. There are 12 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been fact-checked, ensuring the accuracy of any cited facts and confirming the authority of its sources. This article has been viewed 1,312,150 times.

How you deal with challenges will often determine your success and happiness. If you’re stuck on how to solve a problem, try defining it and breaking it into smaller pieces. Choose whether to approach the problem logically or whether you should think about how the outcome might make you feel. Find ways to creatively approach your problems by working with other people and approaching the problem from a different perspective.

Approaching the Problem

Step 1 Define the problem.

  • For example, if your room is constantly messy, the problem might not be that you’re a messy person. It might be that you lack containers or places to put your items in an organized way.
  • Try to be as clear and thorough as possible when defining the problem. If it is a personal issue, be honest with yourself as to the causes of the problem. If it is a logistics problem, determine exactly where and when the problem occurs.
  • Determine whether the problem is real or self-created. Do you need to solve this problem or is this about something you want? Putting things in perspective can help you navigate the problem-solving process.

Step 2 Make important decisions first.

  • For example, you might have several problems to solve and need to decide which ones to tackle first. Solving one problem may ease tension or take stress off of another problem.
  • Once you make a decision, don’t doubt yourself. Be willing to look forward from that point on without wondering what would have happened had you chosen something else.

Step 3 Simplify the problem.

  • For example, if you need to turn in many assignments to pass a class, focus on how many you have to do and approach them one by one.
  • Try to combine and solve problems together whenever possible. For example, if you're running out of time to study, try listening to a recorded lecture while walking to class or flip through note cards as you're waiting for dinner.

Rachel Clissold

  • For example, if you’re trying to pass a cumulative test, figure out what you already know and what you need to study for. Review everything you already know, then start learning more information from your notes, textbook, or other resources that may help you.

Step 5 Anticipate future outcomes.

  • Pay attention to know these scenarios make you feel.

Step 6 Allocate your resources.

  • For example, if you have a deadline, you may skip cooking dinner or going to the gym so that you can give that time to your project.
  • Cut down on unnecessary tasks whenever possible. For example, you might get your groceries delivered to you to save on shopping time. You can spend that time instead on other tasks.

Taking a Creative Approach

Step 1 Brainstorm different solutions.

  • If you’re making a complex decision, write down your alternatives. This way, you won’t forget any options and will be able to cross off any that aren’t plausible.
  • For example, you might be hungry and need something to eat. Think about whether you want to cook food, get fast food, order takeout, or sit down at a restaurant.

Step 2 Try different approaches to a problem.

  • Problems like accepting the job across the country that offers good pay but takes you away from your family may require different ways of approach. Consider the logical solution, but also consider your thoughts, feelings, and the way the decision affects others.

Step 3 Get advice from others.

  • For example, if you’re buying a home and not sure how to make your final decision, talk to other homeowners about their thoughts or regrets about buying a home.

Step 4 Monitor your progress.

  • For example, if you’re having financial difficulties, notice how your efforts are affecting the money coming in and the money you’re spending. If keeping a budget helps, keep with it. If using cash exclusively is a headache, try something else.
  • Keep a journal where you record your progress, successes, and challenges. You can look at this for motivation when you are feeling discouraged.

Managing Your Emotions While Confronting Difficulties

Step 1 Calm...

  • The first step is often the scariest. Try doing something small to start. For example, if you're trying to become more active, start going for daily walks.

Step 2 Address any underlying problems.

  • For example, if you’re overwhelmed by having a long to-do list, maybe the problems isn’t the list, but not saying “no” to things you can’t do.
  • If you're feeling stressed, angry, or overwhelmed, you may be burned out. Make a list of things that cause stress or frustration. Try to cut down on these in the future. If you start feeling overwhelmed again, it may be a sign that you need to cut back.

Step 3 Work with a therapist.

  • Find a therapist by calling your local mental health clinic or your insurance provider. You can also get a recommendation from a physician or friend.

Expert Q&A

Rachel Clissold

  • If you start feeling overwhelmed or frustrated, take a breather. Realize that every problem has a solution, but sometimes you're so wrapped up in it that you can't see anything but the problem. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0
  • Don't turn away from your problems. It will come back sooner or later and it will be more difficult to solve. Common sense can help to reduce the size of the problem. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0

how do you solve problems that others haven't been able to solve

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Do Well in School

  • ↑ https://hbr.org/2017/06/how-you-define-the-problem-determines-whether-you-solve-it
  • ↑ https://www.cuesta.edu/student/resources/ssc/study_guides/critical_thinking/106_think_decisions.html
  • ↑ https://au.reachout.com/articles/a-step-by-step-guide-to-problem-solving
  • ↑ Rachel Clissold. Certified Life Coach. Expert Interview. 26 August 2020.
  • ↑ https://serc.carleton.edu/geoethics/Decision-Making
  • ↑ https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/positive-psychology-in-the-classroom/201303/visualize-the-good-and-the-bad
  • ↑ https://www.britannica.com/topic/operations-research/Resource-allocation
  • ↑ https://www.niu.edu/citl/resources/guides/instructional-guide/brainstorming.shtml
  • ↑ https://www.healthywa.wa.gov.au/Articles/N_R/Problem-solving
  • ↑ https://www.collegetransfer.net/Home/ChangeSwitchTransfer/I-want-to/Earn-My-College-Degree/Overcoming-Obstacles
  • ↑ https://psychcentral.com/lib/5-ways-to-solve-all-your-problems/
  • ↑ https://www.apa.org/topics/psychotherapy/understanding

About This Article

Rachel Clissold

To solve a problem, start by brainstorming and writing down any solutions you can think of. Then, go through your list of solutions and cross off any that aren't plausible. Once you know what realistic options you have, choose one of them that makes the most sense for your situation. If the solution is long or complex, try breaking it up into smaller, more manageable steps so you don't get overwhelmed. Then, focus on one step at a time until you've solved your problem. To learn how to manage your emotions when you're solving a particularly difficult problem, scroll down. Did this summary help you? Yes No

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How to Avoid Rushing to Solutions When Problem-Solving

  • Daniel Markovitz

how do you solve problems that others haven't been able to solve

Four steps to help you think things through.

Before you can solve a problem, you need to know what exactly you’re trying to solve. Unfortunately, too many of us want to rush to conclusions before clearly understanding the problem. The author describes a four-step process that helps you define the problem. First, don’t just rely on the data. Take facts, especially observable ones, into account. Second, consider how you’re framing the problem statement. It should present the problem in a way that allows for multiple solutions, and make sure it’s focused on observable facts, not opinions, judgments, or interpretations. Third, think backwards from the problem to analyze the potential factors that lead to it. Lastly, ask “why” repeatedly before you settle on a conclusion to make sure you investigate root causes. These four steps don’t guarantee a solution, of course. But they will provide a more clearly defined problem, and while that’s less immediately gratifying, it’s a necessary step to finding something that really works.

Albert Einstein reportedly said that if he had an hour to solve a problem, he’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions. But Einstein wasn’t trying to run a company in the midst of a pandemic, when most of us are working longer hours and making new decisions each day on issues from childcare to employee safety. Between our cognitive biases and our finite capacity for decision making, when our mental gas tank runs low on fuel, we tend to conserve energy by either avoiding decisions or rushing to solutions before we have a chance to fully understand the problem we’re grappling with.

how do you solve problems that others haven't been able to solve

  • DM Daniel Markovitz  is president of Markovitz Consulting, a firm that makes organizations more profitable by improving operations and execution. He is a faculty member at the Lean Enterprise Institute and teaches at the Stanford University Continuing Studies Program. His newest book on better problem solving is  The Conclusion Trap .  

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A colorful photo-illustration of Dr. Britt Aylor, Director of Leadership Development at Microsoft

How Do You Solve a Problem That’s Never Been Solved Before?

Microsoft’s adaptive leadership expert, Dr. Britt Aylor, breaks down how to confidently lead in the age of AI.

WorkLab Guest Dr. Britt Aylor

March 12, 2024

The best leaders have a framework for stepping confidently into the unknown and bringing their teams with them. This includes creating an AI-powered organization, a challenge that has many up at bat. In this episode of the WorkLab podcast, Dr. Britt Aylor, Director of Leadership Development at Microsoft, shares everything you need to know about the adaptive leadership framework—what it is, why it matters, how to think like an adaptive leader, and why people at all levels across an organization can benefit from becoming one. Before joining Microsoft to lead the charge in scaling adaptive leadership across the company, Dr. Aylor was the director of leadership and organizational development at the Broad Institute, a research center backed by MIT and Harvard. She has also worked closely with Professor Ronald Heifetz at Harvard, who helped develop the framework.

Three big takeaways from the conversation:

Integrating AI into your organization is an adaptive challenge in and of itself—there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. However, doing the work will pay off. Dr. Aylor believes that in the near future, AI will be able to tackle the challenges that have clear solutions, freeing people up to focus on what is uniquely human, which is figuring out the ones that don’t.

Adaptive leaders are “learn-it-alls” not “know-it-alls.” Before making big decisions, they plug into their teams for feedback and are intentional about collaborating with others. “We need the collective intelligence of everybody to come together,” Dr. Aylor says. “We have no chances of solving the adaptive challenges we’re facing nowadays if we rely on the genius brain of one.”

Part of what makes innovation possible is smart experimentation, Dr. Aylor says. And part of experimentation is failure. Leaders should anticipate, and be okay with, a certain amount of failure, and explicitly communicate that to their teams. Doing so creates psychological safety, which is fundamental to healthy and productive teams. 

WorkLab is a place for experts to share their insights and opinions. As students of the future of work, Microsoft values inputs from a diverse set of voices. That said, the opinions and findings of the experts we interview are their own and do not reflect Microsoft’s own research or opinions.

Follow the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Here’s a transcript of the conversation.

MOLLY WOOD: This is WorkLab , the podcast from Microsoft. I’m your host, Molly Wood. On WorkLab we hear from experts about the future of work, from how to use AI effectively to what it takes to thrive in our new world of work. 

BRITT AYLOR: We have no chances of solving the adaptive challenges we’re facing nowadays if we rely on even just the genius brain of one. That equation worked in the past at times, and in the future I think it is all about plugging into each other’s collective intelligence. 

MOLLY WOOD: The best leaders step confidently into the unknown and bring their teams with them. Today, I’m talking to Dr. Britt Aylor, Director of Leadership Development at Microsoft, all about a framework for tackling new challenges, like the transition to AI, that are changing the way we work. Dr. Aylor is an expert in something called adaptive leadership. She got her doctorate in education from Harvard University, where she worked closely with Professor Ronald Heifetz, who’s a founding father of the adaptive leadership framework. Dr. Aylor joined Microsoft from the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, specifically so she could lead the charge in scaling adaptive leadership across the organization.

MOLLY WOOD: Dr. Aylor, thanks so much for joining me.

BRITT AYLOR: Yes, thank you so much for having me.

MOLLY WOOD: All right, let’s jump right into the framework, because it seems like adaptive leadership, for lack of a better way to put it, is kind of a thing right now. [ Laughter ] What is it, and why is it suddenly so relevant?

BRITT AYLOR: Adaptive leadership is about leading on complex challenges with no existing solutions that, therefore, require us to navigate high levels of ambiguity, problem solve in the unknown, and mobilize stakeholders across the system to collectively engage in creating a solution. I do think it is a thing right now, and I think a lot has to do with us advancing into the AI space at a very accelerated rate. That in and of itself is an adaptive challenge.

Everything is going to be different. Everything is already changing. So, therefore, how do we operate effectively in the unknown? And adaptive leadership is a framework that lends itself really well to build that adaptive capacity in people, to problem solve in the unknown, and to operate with each other in a new collective intelligence capacity. For me, what is central to this style is a certain mindset. Of course, there are skills and capacities to build, but it really starts with shifting your thinking.

MOLLY WOOD: In your research you’ve come across two distinctions within the adaptive leadership framework. Can you tell us what those are and how to think about them?

BRITT AYLOR: One is around the what . What challenge are we grappling with at the moment? Is it technical, or is it adaptive? And technical challenges, first of all, have nothing to do with technology. What we mean are challenges that can be very complex. However, they have existing solutions and there’s a pathway we can follow. So we have a clear right and wrong, and moreover, we have deep expertise that we can leverage. In contrast, adaptive challenges are a completely different universe in that they are very complex. And what makes them especially taxing is that we have to navigate these really, really high levels of ambiguity. So it’s not so much even the complexity of the challenge; it’s actually the really high levels of ambiguity, because where do we start? Oftentimes we don’t even know what the challenge is. Asking the right questions is much more important than thinking, what are the solutions? Because chances are, we probably don’t yet have the solution. And so we really have to leverage the questions. And again, those questions may not naturally come to us because we may be in an old paradigm around how to solve a challenge that may seem similar, right? But that is actually more in the technical territory. And we know that applying what works in the technical to adaptive doesn’t work, and it actually creates boomerang challenges. I like to talk about Groundhog Day , the movie where you wake up in the same day, day after day. And that’s how I picture people feeling when they’re grappling with the same challenge, which is an adaptive challenge, and they try one technical fix after another. The challenge may go temporarily away because the temperature is lower, the symptoms are addressed, but the root causes are actually not identified and treated. 

MOLLY WOOD: Can you give us some examples of technical challenges versus adaptive challenges? 

BRITT AYLOR: A technical challenge could, for example, be building a plane or a rocket ship. Hugely complex, takes deep, deep expertise to do that. And the fact is we know how to build planes that can fly in the air. When the first plane was constructed, that actually was an adaptive challenge because we did it for the first time. Our technical challenges, chances are at some point they were adaptive, especially if they’re complex. But then as we learn our way forward, they actually move into the technical territory. In contrast, an example of an adaptive challenge would be, how do we address global warming? There’s the scientific perspective, there’s the global governance perspective, and then the question of, how do we reverse the effects we’ve created from a scientific perspective?

And then, even if we have that, how do we then engage globally, right, to get the buy-in across the critical stakeholders, to engage in a process that probably will require some cost, making some tough decisions. So that is in the territory of an adaptive challenge. We like to often operate in what I call more of the comfort zone, which works actually really well with technical challenges, because with technical challenges, we have the expertise and the solution pathway, so it’s just about executing. So we don’t need in-depth brainstorming. We don’t need involved decision making. We can leverage the solutions we have. But in the adaptive space, it’s a deep investment. And also, what I like to amplify is it’s an investment, and honestly, trying to operate an adaptive territory with technical ways of operating is actually a sunk cost. We need to first invest in growing adaptive capacity in our people. 

MOLLY WOOD: It’s my understanding that you joined Microsoft, in part, specifically to scale adaptive leadership across the organization. And you didn’t just focus on executives, right? You may have started with Jared Spataro, who leads AI work at Microsoft, but then you worked with his whole team—managers and even individual contributors. Talk to us about that experience.

BRITT AYLOR: The most powerful way of actually having adaptive leadership come alive is when it can function as a closed circuit, when it’s not just the most senior leaders that understand adaptive leadership, but moreover, their direct reports and then the direct reports below that, so that the entire organization can have the same language and the same concepts, and therefore have the same decision-making framework of, how are we operating together? And what is needed in this situation? And so we started with the senior most leaders. And then we went to the other layers—we went to the management team, and then we did an event where all of Jared’s people were in the room, and moreover, they were in person in the room, which creates such a powerful learning environment. Adaptive really lends itself to in-person learning. A lot of this work is deeply emotional, because, again, change is difficult for people, in particular because it often leads to loss. It’s actually not change that people resist, it’s the loss element. And so that is one angle, for example, that we worked with Jared’s larger organization to really think collectively through, what does it mean to adapt? What does it mean to lead for change in this age of AI? And what will that take? And at the heart center of adaptive leadership, you know, the first level is understanding the language, understanding the concepts. And then the second level is really diagnosis. We need to diagnose. Are we in technical territory? Are we in adaptive territory? And that also leads us to the second distinction, which is authority versus leadership. Distinguishing between exercising authority that you have by virtue of the formal role you are in, versus leadership—and we actually define leadership as a verb. That activity can be executed from anywhere within the hierarchy. You do not need to be in a formal role that sanctions you with formal power.

Leadership is actually a self-chosen activity that can come from anywhere in the system. And the way that it maps to the context we’ve been talking about so far is that with technical problems in the world of the known, where we have existing solutions and deep expertise, authority is actually our go-to mechanism for leading. So there’s big, big value in authority, and organizations exist to a large extent to execute on the deep expertise on technical work that we do. Nine times out of 10 when I ask people, what does leadership mean to you? Even though there’s this excitement around leading for innovation, they actually give me the answer for authority, which is, I determine the situation and then I go to our expert solutions, and then I delegate and kind of deploy my team in the way that it makes sense. And I’m like, yes, that is an excellent way of operating in the world of technical and known. Leadership starts where authority ends. When we enter this world of the unknown, where we don’t know what the answers are, and that’s where it’s all about change and leadership and the adaptive framework. The primary activity of leading is navigating through this change territory, and doing that moreover with all of the stakeholders who are connected to the adaptive challenge. So adaptive leadership is never an activity of one. We always exercise leadership with other stakeholders who need to be part of the solution in order for it to stick.

MOLLY WOOD: And that feels like it goes to the heart of answering that question, too, about why it’s so important to do this training, to do this knowledge sharing at every level, because it sounds like what you’re saying is everyone can contribute to leadership. 

BRITT AYLOR: You know, in the day and age of complexity that we are living in, we need the collective intelligence of everybody to come together. We have no chances of solving the adaptive challenges we’re facing nowadays if we rely on even just the genius brain of one. That equation, maybe it worked in the past at times. In the future, I think it is all about plugging into each other’s collective intelligence and amplifying that. And there’s a whole skill set around that, right? Some people find adaptive leadership an emotionally challenging territory because it’s often engaging with people who have a very, let’s say, at times an opposite point of view to your own, right? And that’s where we need to channel growth mindset, because it’s actually being deeply curious about that other perspective rather than being threatened by it. So instead of going, like, right and wrong, being like, That’s so curious. Let me understand more where this stakeholder’s coming from, because they might actually see something I am not. So it’s being deeply curious and kind of taking our ego out of it too. 

MOLLY WOOD: You brought up this idea of change and the fear of loss, and that actually gets to a key component, I think, of adaptive leadership, this idea of psychological safety. I want to ask you about what that means in the context of the workplace, and how business leaders, especially as you’ve alluded to in a time of a lot of change, can ensure that they’ve built a culture that feels psychologically safe. 

BRITT AYLOR: Part of the process that makes innovation possible is smart experimentation. The understanding has to be failure in the service of learning will be part of actually delivering success . I think that is a really important element to focus on. When we talk about psychological safety, when we decide this adaptive challenge or this capability solution, whatever it is, we want to build that in the innovative space that we do not yet know how to do. We are okay with a certain amount of failure, assuming we design smart experiments, but then learning and recovering quickly from failure, I think, is the other capacity that we are going to have to build in ourselves. And then, moreover, the overlay of the leadership at the top saying, We have decided this is really important to get us to this innovation, and therefore, we are expecting and understanding that a certain amount of failure and learning along the way is an investment we need to make. If that is explicitly understood and agreed, it creates psychological safety. I think actually that is a big unlock for being able to lead adaptively. But what often holds people back, I have found, is this fear around, What does that mean if I start to lead in adaptive ways? Because one of the frontiers we have, which is actually an adaptive challenge, is what are the metrics for being successful in this adaptive space? How do you measure incremental advances towards your innovation? The horizon can be very long on adaptive challenges. Again, going back to thinking around the adaptive challenge of global warming, we are talking years here, right? We’re probably talking decades. And so how do you even start to then parse out what is the timeline, and what do we consider success? And having those be measurable milestones that are acknowledged. 

MOLLY WOOD: Well, so adaptive leadership is having a moment because of AI, but I wonder, can the unknown challenges that come with AI actually help us become better adaptive leaders? 

BRITT AYLOR: I do think that AI will help us to navigate both the world of the known and the technical problems we’re facing, as well as the world of the unknown and the adaptive challenges. First of all, probably in the nearer future, a lot of the things that are in the technical realm, AI will actually start to be driving. A lot of that work will probably be increasingly done by AI. And so, I find it exciting. By AI being able to step into, increasingly, that technical expertise known world, it really frees us up to do what is uniquely human, which, I think, is operating in that frontier of knowledge space. Using collective intelligence, I think, AI will be able to help us connect with each other and also manage the knowledge. 

MOLLY WOOD: If you had to give organizations some advice about how to proceed in times that are uncertain and how to take on this challenge of learning adaptive leadership, what would you say?

BRITT AYLOR: I think central to all of it is really starting to become very diagnostic, building that capacity, and then making a conscious choice and forming kind of a strategic picture around, what is the ratio of the work that falls into the world of the known versus the world of the unknown? I think top of mind of all our leaders should be thinking around, what is the ratio? And moreover, how am I going to shift gears between the two? And, building on that, how am I going to signal to my people that I’m shifting gears? If we uncouple what we talk about as leadership into the function of exercising authority versus leading for innovation, those are two fundamentally different ways of operating and showing up. And those expectations are very different. In order to—again, looping us back to psychological safety—in order to create psychological safety, we as leaders need to be very clear, as clear as we can be, of, are we operating in technical territory, and therefore, I’m going to show up in my authority role, because the solution path is clear and the game really is high efficiency and effectiveness. Let’s perform to the max versus signaling, Hey, I actually don’t know what the solution is in this innovative, adaptive space. And therefore I’m actually asking all of you to lean in. I’m asking for collective brainstorming. I am willing to make that investment of time and energy, because that’s the only way we’re going to navigate our way forward. And I think if leaders can provide that clarity—what is the territory I’m asking you to work in?—I think it will provide a fundamental psychological safety. But if there’s not clarity on, Hey, what territory am I working in, it can actually be very risky doing brainstorming and investing in innovation when, No, actually my leader above me wanted me to just execute on what we know how to do. So, being very clear on that distinction, I think, will go a really long way.

MOLLY WOOD: Dr. Britt Aylor, thank you again, Director of Leadership Development at Microsoft. We really appreciate the time. 

BRITT AYLOR: Yes, thank you so much.

MOLLY WOOD: And that’s it for this episode of WorkLab , the podcast from Microsoft. Please subscribe and check back for the next episode, where I’ll be speaking with Bryan Hancock, who’s the global lead of the talent management practice at McKinsey. We’ll be talking about why managers hold the key to unlocking AI. If you’ve got a question or a comment, please drop us an email at [email protected], and check out Microsoft’s Work Trend Indexes and the WorkLab digital publication, where you’ll find all of our episodes, along with thoughtful stories that explore how business leaders are thriving in today’s new world of work. You can find all of it at microsoft.com/WorkLab. As for this podcast, please rate us, review us, and follow us wherever you listen. It helps us out a ton. The WorkLab podcast is a place for experts to share their insights and opinions. As students of the future of work, Microsoft values inputs from a diverse set of voices. That said, the opinions and findings of our guests are their own, and they may not necessarily reflect Microsoft’s own research or positions. WorkLab is produced by Microsoft with Godfrey Dadich Partners and Reasonable Volume. I’m your host, Molly Wood. Sharon Kallander and Matthew Duncan produced this podcast. Jessica Voelker is the WorkLab editor.

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You Can’t Solve Other People’s Problems: How to Stop Trying to Change Others

Are you a helper, fixer, or rescuer.

It’s hard to watch a friend or family member struggling with a problem or making “bad” decisions. You naturally want to help. You want to make your friends’ and family members’ lives easier and more joyful. You want to fix their problems and relieve their suffering.

Trying to keep a loved one out of harm’s way seems like a good idea, except that it doesn’t work when they don’t want your help. Not everyone wants to change (or not in the way you think they should) and that’s their prerogative. Despite your desire to help, you can’t make people change and you can’t fix their problems (even when you have great ideas and their best interest at heart!). You simply can’t fix or solve other people’s problems and trying to do so often just makes things worse.

Whose problem is it?

Most people accept the notion that they can’t control other people or solve their problems. But we get sucked into trying to change and fix because we’re confused about whose problem it is. Sometimes our desire to help, protect, and be the hero clouds our judgment. And sometimes we think we know what’s best and foist our ideas upon others regardless of what they want.

We tend to think that problems that affect us are ours to solve. This false belief leads us down a futile path of trying to control things that aren’t in our control. For example, just because you’re affected by your spouse’s unemployment or your teenager’s smoking, doesn’t mean these are problems you can solve. You can’t get a job for your spouse nor can you make your child quit smoking. However, if your spouse’s unemployment has left you in debt and feeling anxious, stressed out, or angry, those are problems you can do something about.

And yet, some of us persist in trying to fix or change other people and their problems. This is classic codependent behavior. We abhor having things out of our control. It reminds us of bad things that have happened in the past. And we get anxious and afraid of the catastrophic things we anticipate happening if we don’t step in and try to change things.

Accepting what’s out of our control and that we can’t solve other people’s problems doesn’t mean we’re powerless. Quite the contrary; it allows us to put our energy into solving our own problems and to change the things we can.

Trying to solve other people’s problems often makes things worse, not better

Not only is it impossible for us to solve other people’s problems, we can inadvertently cause a host of other problems in the process.

To be honest, I often wish that I could solve other people’s problems. But it always ends badly when I try. I get bossy, give unwanted advice, and act like I have all the answers. It’s definitely not something I’m proud of and I imagine at least some of you can relate.

Sometimes, it’s downright presumptuous for us to assume that we know what someone else needs or wants. Our efforts to help may actually be conveying this harmful message: “I know how to solve your problems better than you do. I don’t trust your judgment or abilities. You’re incompetent or unmotivated.”

It’s not helpful to try to solve other people’s problems because:

  • Nagging and giving unwanted advice leads to more stress, conflict, and negatively impacts relationships.
  • When we try to fix, change, or rescue, we assume that we know what’s best. We take on an air of superiority and can act condescending.
  • Making decisions for others takes away their autonomy and their opportunity to learn and grow.
  • We become frustrated and resentful that our efforts to solve other people’s problems don’t work and that they aren’t appreciated.
  • We get distracted from solving our own problems. For some reason, fixing other people always seems easier than fixing ourselves!

Instead of doing things for other people, we need to allow them to live their own lives, make their own decisions and mistakes, and deal with the consequences of their choices. Not only does this free us up to focus on what we can control, it respects other people’s autonomy.

Sometimes you can help

Of course, sometimes we can and should help others. But it’s important to distinguish help from enabling or doing things for people that they can reasonably do for themselves. The most important question to ask before trying to help someone with their problems is: “Does this person want my help?” If you’re not sure, ask them.

In addition, be sure that the kind of help you’re giving is the kind that’s wanted. For example, your wife might like some help with her efforts to lose weight. However, she’s not going to appreciate your help if she’d like you to cook healthy meals several times per week, but your version of help is to remind her of the calorie count of everything she eats.

When someone doesn’t want your help or advice, it’s best to keep your mouth shut. Otherwise, the unsolicited advice is probably to quiet your own anxiety or a bad habit, not really to be helpful. If you’re available and approachable, your friends and family know they can ask for your help if they want it.

Control vs. influence

Another common pitfall is that we confuse control with influence. Often we can influence our loved ones, but we can rarely control them. Meaning we may be able to shape or guide their decisions. We can counsel them or provide them with information, if they are receptive, but we can’t force our own agenda.

How to stop trying to change, fix, or solve other people’s problems

Before launching into “fix-it” mode, try asking yourself these questions:

  • Is this my problem or is it someone else’s problem that’s affecting me?
  • Is this a problem I can fix or change?
  • Is changing this person or situation in my control?
  • How can I redefine the problem so that I’m focusing on what’s in my control?
  • Do I have any influence?
  • Did they ask for my help or ideas?
  • Am I forcing my solutions and ideas onto someone?
  • Am I helping or enabling? What’s the difference?
  • Why am I trying to solve this problem?
  • Is this actually an attempt to manage my own fears and anxiety about what may happen? And if so, how else can I deal with uncertainty and feeling out of control?

If you’ve been trying to fix or change people for years, it will take time and effort to change these patterns. In addition to being patient and compassionate with yourself along the way, try to focus on what’s in your control and the problems that you can solve. And remember that if you’re feeling particularly frustrated with your inability to change or solve a problem, you may be trying to solve someone else’s problem.

If you live locally, I’d be happy to support you with counseling and therapy in my Campbell office (easily accessible from San Jose, Santa Clara, and Los Gatos). You can find out more about counseling  here .

how do you solve problems that others haven't been able to solve

©2018 Sharon Martin, LCSW. All rights reserved.

Stop trying to help people who don't want to change. You can't solve other people's problems. Codependents can learn to focus on their own responsibilities.

Dr. Sharon Martin, LCSW

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Sharon Martin, a licensed counselor and psychotherapist in Northern California, specializes in helping adult children of alcoholics and others who struggle with anxiety, perfectionism, and self-criticism. She has a private psychotherapy practice in CA where she is available for online counseling. Sharon is also the author of The CBT Workbook for Perfectionism and write the blog Conquering Codependency for Psychology Today.


How do I stop and get out of my depression I have lots of trouble with my back and can’t do stuff like I use to do and can’t work so I home Evey day taking care of my wife who is on oxagen24/7 I do have problem lots stress and high blood pressure they say I’m depressed

To be honest, I often wish that I could solve other people’s problems. But it always ends badly when I try. I get bossy, give unwanted advice, and act like I have all the answers. It’s definitely not something I’m proud of

How do I fix me ?

Hi Harvey, I would suggest that you seek professional help for your depression. You can locate a mental health professional by asking your doctor or health insurance for a referral or try using an online directory such as Psychology Today. You might also find a 12-step meeting, such as Codependents Anonymous, helpful. best wishes, Sharon

Harvey, Working with your doctor, a therapist and/or attending a support group in your area might be helpful in managing your depression and stress.

Thank you so much for sharing this article it was very helpful. I could use some advice if possible please. I am in the process of establishing boundaries with one of my siblings. I have an older sister, growing up she often put me down verbally, and threatened me. Overtime I coped by being overly agreeable with her to avoid being bullied. Now as adults, things have gotten better, however she is still in the habit of attempting to maintain control. She often puts me down when I confide in her, gives unsolicited advice or says things such as, “Well I am glad I don’t have that problem,” or I am happy I don’t take things personal etc.” I’ve let her know that I don’t appreciate this, yet she continues and says, “Well that is the way you see it, or take it.” I have distanced myself further from her, but I don’t want to completely because I want to spend time with my nephew. Now she has been messaging me often attempting to “gather information” I just say I am working or busy. She messaged saying “You seem distant, let’s hang out” She has never really suggested hanging out. I have been harassed by her and my mother before when I attempted to set boundaries. Any advice?

Hi Karine, your situation seems similar to mine except mine is with a younger sister. So, I understand what you are going through. I suggest continuing to speak your mind and letting her know that her behavior is unacceptable and that you feel disrespected when she puts you down. If she continues to talk down to you and gives you unsolicited advice then say thank you for your input, but I’m taking a different route that works better for me. As for the rest, take the high road and ignore it because that’s more of a projection of her insecurities than yours. I hope that this helps you out. I noticed that this was posted a couple of years ago, so I hope it has gotten better. Here’s to your success.

Thank you for this article! We have been trying to steer my inlaws in what we think is the right direction, as they age and care for a handicapped adult in their home. This article really shows me their possible perspective of us, as being nagging and condescending, and I expect it will help us all be less angry and frustrated in the end. Thank you!

This was an awesome message! I have been a “fixer” for years. 7 years ago, when I lost my wife to breast cancer (she was only 41), I had to come to the realization that I can’t fix everything or even anything. I just have to run my own race, and try to at least get to the “finish line” the best way I can. Thank you for sharing!

i have toxic parents and an extremely toxic sibling who have been ruining my life for years now and i am still not able to understand them properly thus i am extremely exhausted. These people have made me a zombie and i feel super unlucky to have such brother and parents i guess it’s time i sacrifice my relation with them for my greater good please help me in doing so.I literally need your help in this cz i am even having suicidal thoughts

Yash, I’m sorry you’re going through such a difficult time. Please take good care of yourself. I encourage you to reach out for some help through a free service such as the Suicide Lifeline (24/7, phone or chat) 1-800-273-8255 or https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

What do you do if you have people who are depressed and suicidal, and come to you about wanting to end their life? I have had both family and friends come to me to share their life frustrations and then their desire or attempt to take their life. I know I’m offering unsolicited advice about how they can clean their life up by reducing their stress load or not drinking, but I offer the heart felt advice with all good intention, to keep them alive. How do I be an active supportive person in this situation? Thank you

Mary, I’m not sure I fully understand the situation. And I think you live in another country, so your resources and laws may be different. But here are my thoughts. If a friend or family member expresses suicidal thoughts, I would suggest first asking if you can help in a particular way or if they are open to hearing about resources/treatment. You can express your concern and care for them and desire to help. If they refuse your offer of help, but you think they may imminently hurt themselves, call the police or mobile mental health services to come do an evaluation regardless of whether they want you to call. In the U.S. we can’t force people to get mental health treatment unless they are in imminent danger of hurting themselves or others.

I have a new friend who is constantly calling me out on my fixing problem. I know I have a problem. I am 50 years old and was raised by a parent that was also controlling and made almost all decisions for me. I am aware of my issue. I am even catching myself in the middle of my “you should’s” and my friend still is hard on me for it. It is an accomplishment at all that I have self confidence enough to offer “help” I am proud of my advice, but realize its unwanted. This is so frustrating. I refused to see and talk with my friend today because of this. Now I have to try and not offend my friend and explain why I “checked out” of the friendship today.

This article is just fantastic, it describes exactly my attitude towards the other’s problems. This behavior affects me a lot because I cannot have peace, always thinking about the problems of my family and my relatives, even the small problems make me feel obliged to try to solve them. I had never stopped to think so deeply about this situation. I need to get rid of it. In this pandemic, I found myself forced to review my attitudes or I would simply freak out. I have reflected a lot on my negative thoughts and various distressing feelings that have plagued me for years and only now do I decide to face them truly and try to help myself. For a long time I postponed the search for help and even the acceptance that these problems do exist.

Thank you so much for that. A little codependent I think. My son has mental illness and I want so much to help him but it’s out of my hands, I’ve tried for 30 years. He just got out of prison and he hasn’t been to his parole officer yet, and everyone keeps saying he’s an adult and he’ll have to deal with the consequences. my heart just goes out to him for he is in such a struggle. I think I’m going to start NAMI again or codependency group or something I can’t do this on my own,. I’ve been a mess since he got out of prison and I need to stop and love him through it. Thank you again.

I do this. I know I do. But my family calls me with their problems and I feel obligated to help. Then I get accused of acting like I know everything or like I am better then them when I do. It is so frustrating and heartbreaking. I live 3 hours away from my family, so I know it is guilt of not being around that causes a lot of this. My dad passed away a couple years ago. My mother was recently diagnosed with early Alzheimers and even though I have 5 other siblings that all live in the same town I feel as though they judge me for not being around more to help, even though I use all my vacation time to go home and do what I can. In the past, when a big problem happened they would call me and I would drop everything and go home to take care of things..ie my dad going into the hospital. My siblings would all go back to their lives because they knew I was there to do it. But I can’t do that anymore. I can’t drop everything and run in like they want now, but they still call and then get angry when I offer them solutions. For my own sanity, I can’t. Am I being selfish?

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Robert Taibbi L.C.S.W.

5 Reasons You're Not Solving Your Problems

The key to solving problems isn’t about the problem but your approach..

Posted January 14, 2023 | Reviewed by Vanessa Lancaster

  • What Is Anxiety?
  • Find counselling to overcome anxiety
  • There are problems that we are aware of but, for varying reasons, don't try to solve. Usually, the underlying drivers are emotional.
  • The most common sources are feeling overwhelmed, not agreeing there is a problem, having vague solutions, and needing more accountability.
  • The keys to success are identifying the underlying problem and taking actionable steps toward changing your approach.


We all have problems we’re aware of but ignore: The argument with your partner on Saturday night about money gets swept under the rug on Sunday morning. You’ve been unhappy with your work schedule for the past year, but you’ve taken no steps to talk to your supervisor or look for another job.

Life is filled with problems, and while the content constantly changes, our way of approaching and resolving them is often set, and our perspectives or emotions get in the way of moving forward. Following are five common reasons why we don’t solve some of our problems, and the antidotes:

1. It’s not your problem.

Your partner is worried about the balance on the credit card and wants to set up a tight budget to pay it off, but you’re okay carrying a balance even if there is interest. She sees a problem where you think there’s none.

This is common with couples. One partner is sensitive to specific issues that the other couldn’t care less about. It’s easy to argue about whose reality is right, which goes nowhere, and then sweep under the rug to avoid having another argument. The unsolved problem is like a landmine you eventually step on, starting the cycle over again.

Solution: The challenge here is to be sensitive to your partner’s concerns while not grudgingly caving in. Instead, you want to look for win-win compromises: Yes, you can work up a budget and work to pay down the balance in six months instead of one.

2. You get overwhelmed.

You’re considering applying for a new job, but you go on job websites and feel overwhelmed—so many jobs, different requirements, and complicated applications. You avoid.

Solution: To avoid being overwhelmed, start with a clear goal to help you sort priorities. If you need help defining it, talk to someone—a good friend, your partner, or a counselor—who can ask the hard questions to help you refine your objectives.

Next, you want to have ways of lowering your anxiety . Here it may help to have a friend or partner walk through websites with you, or maybe you decide to only work on applications for a limited time each day. You want to keep moving forward but at a manageable pace.

3. You’re self-critical, have low self-esteem, and are depressed.

You’re thinking of talking to your supervisor about your work schedule but feel intimidated and worried that you wouldn’t express yourself well. You give up on applying for jobs because you tell yourself you’re probably not qualified. Your critical voice puts pressure on you to solve the problem and do it right. Low self-esteem tells you you’re not good enough or will mess it up. And your depression is saying, "Why bother? It won’t change."

Solution: Rather than letting these voices run you, you need to see how they sabotage your efforts, overriding your rational brain. Time to push back, take baby steps toward your goal despite how you think and feel, and seek help to deal with the underlying problem.

4. Your solution is too vague; your expectations are unrealistic.

You and your partner agree to cut back on expenses, but even after a month, not much has changed. You go gangbusters applying for jobs for a few weeks, but you give up when you don’t hear anything back. Agreeing to "cut back on expenses" is too vague; you both likely have different ideas about what that means. You're expecting a quick response on your applications while, in reality, they are stuck in some bureaucratic morass.

Solution: Good solutions are behavioral, detailed, and realistic—an agreed-upon budget and a reasonable timeline. But even seemingly solid plans are rarely one-and-done. This is about circling back, assessing, and finetuning. Checking in after a week to see how the budget is working. Sending a follow-up email to the employer after two weeks or revising your resume.

5. There’s no accountability and not enough support.

You need help holding your feet to the fire; you need accountability. You're trying to approach problems differently and are learning new skills, so you need support.

Solution: You and your partner sit down a week later and look at expenses. You role-play with a friend talking to your supervisor about the schedule, or your friend checks in with you about the job applications you’ve completed this week.

how do you solve problems that others haven't been able to solve

Embedded in problems is always something to learn—whether it's about changing a tire or filling out your taxes. But the biggest lessons are about learning how to run your life, handle problems differently, be proactive rather than reactive, and override those old childhood feelings of inadequacy. Realizing what keeps you from solving your problems takes you halfway toward solving them.

To find a therapist near you, visit Psychology Today Therapy Directory.

Taibbi, R. (2014). Boot camp therapy: Action-oriented approaches to anxiety, anger, & depression. New York: Norton.

Robert Taibbi L.C.S.W.

Bob Taibbi, L.C.S.W., has 49 years of clinical experience. He is the author of 13 books and over 300 articles and provides training nationally and internationally.

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how do you solve problems that others haven't been able to solve

Some iPhone users say their alarms haven't been going off lately — here's what to do about it

  • If you didn't hear your iPhone alarm go off lately, it might not have just been you oversleeping.
  • Some iPhone users say their alarms haven't been sounding recently.
  • Apple is reportedly working on a fix, but for now here's what you should check in your settings.

If you slept through your iPhone alarm recently, it might not have necessarily been your fault.

Some iPhone users say their alarms haven't been working lately, taking to social media to vent — with some saying they were late to work or school after multiple alarms they'd set didn't go off.

Apple did not immediately respond to BI's request for comment but the company told The Today Show it's aware of an issue leading some iPhones to not play sounds during an alarm and that it's working on fixing the problem.

In the meantime, there are a few things you can try that might help solve the problem.

In your phone's settings, go to Face ID & Passcode and scroll to Attention Aware Features. This feature detects if the user is paying attention to their phone and may lower the volume of sounds if it thinks you're looking at your phone , so you'll want to make sure it's toggled off in case.

In settings, you can also turn your volume up under Sound & Haptics. On this page, there's also Change with Buttons, which allows you to adjust the volume of your ringer and alerts using the volume buttons; you might want to turn this off to keep yourself from accidentally lowering your alert volume.

For now, at least you can point to others saying they experienced alarm issues if your boss asks what happened.

If you enjoyed this story, be sure to follow Business Insider on Microsoft Start.

Some iPhone users say their alarms haven't been going off lately — here's what to do about it


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