The same four questions apply to every problem

Welcome back, I’m glad to see that you’ve made it this far.

Today’s lesson is one that you will use every single day if you commit this simple discipline to memory, to heart, to habit. It is particularly useful in business or keeping those life-changing goals on track.

It can be used alone or when working through problems with others.


ONE:       What is the REAL problem?

TWO:      What is the cause, (or causes), of the problem?

THREE:   What are the possible solutions?

FOUR:     What is the BEST possible solution?

Let’s look at a simple practical problem (and one that I actually faced recently) . . .


Dissecting debt

My friend Joe (not his/her real name) came to me for help and advice. He told me that he was well behind on his home repayments. We are good friends, he has helped me in the past, so, I agree to do what I can within reason.

Now Joe needs money, but whether I have any funds available or not, the greatest help I can give my friend is the sort of help that fixes the problem . . . permanently, (with as little or no borrowing from me as possible).

ONE: What then, is the real problem?

After some further investigation, I determined that:

Joe’s income is less than what he spends which has put him into financial difficulty over time with numerous loans either in default or substantially in arrears. Penalties for late payments are exacerbating the problem.

TWO: What are the causes of this problem?

Once again, a little investigation is required. I determined that:

  • Joe’s girlfriend left him some time ago and he has had to manage household expenses on a single income for some time;
  • Joe faced a period of depression after his partner left during which time he became careless with his finances and spent recklessly;
  • His job has had a substantial amount of overtime available in the past, but that has dried up recently;
  • Joe’s health has been a problem of late, and proven to be quite an expensive and unexpected burden;
  • Government taxes and rates have recently been raised;
  • There has been a spike in utility prices further exacerbating the financial grief caused when his girlfriend left;
  • Joe has borrowed at short-term and high-interest rates to cover his loan arrears causing the overall situation to spiral out of control;
  • Joe is not managing the situation well. He’s depressed and has no confidence in his ability to retrieve the situation.

THREE: What are the possible solutions to this problem?

At this point, Joe and I went for a quiet drink at a local bar. I took a pad and a pen with me. A few relaxing drinks later (drinking is NOT part of the solution. My friend and I often share a drink socially though) I said to Joe that I was confident that his situation could be salvaged and that I would help him turn things around, but first, we needed to instigate the four-step problem-solving technique which he agreed to do enthusiastically. What we came up with were:

  • Getting a possible flatmate for Joe to share utility costs and contribute some rent;
  • Joe could move out and rent the property and stay with his parents until on top of the situation. The property would need some work done before it would be suitable for renting though;
  • Joe could get a second job/additional income, something that appealed to him substantially as he was accustomed to working long hours;
  • Joe could approach his employer and explain his financial situation and his attempts to turn it around. The employer may be able to help with extra hours, a pay rise, or help Joe manage his work expenses better;
  • Joe could consolidate his credit cards and loans and re-finance, taking advantage of the much lower interest rates from the bank. At least he could get one single loan over a longer repayment period to reduce his repayments;
  • I could give Joe a small amount of short-term financial assistance;
  • Joe could ask parents and other friends for a small amount of help also;
  • Joe could take a much more positive and pro-active role in his situation and keep his over-heads down more diligently; and
  • Joe could approach the bank, other finance providers, and utility providers and explain his situation so that he gets some payment relief or at least reduces future penalties for late payments.

FOUR: What is the best possible solution, or solutions, to Joe’s financial dilemma?

Joe and I decided on a multi-pronged attack on his problem. I was extremely reluctant to provide funds for a lost cause. However, Joe enthusiastically agreed with the solution devised and I was confident it would work:

  • I helped Joe pay his immediate utility bills. It was imperative to keep the power and gas on;
  • Joe put an advertisement on the internet for a flatmate while we sat at the bar discussing his situation and almost immediately he got an excellent response, the person actually moved in the next day;
  • Joe went to his employer and explained his situation. The employer offered Joe a guaranteed 2 hours per week overtime to help out;
  • Joe went to the bank, explained his situation, and also explained the strategy he had in mind to get out of financial difficulty. The bank saw merit in his plan, paid out ALL his miscellaneous debts, and merged them with his home loan. Not only did his payments NOT increase, the bank offered to extend the home loan an additional 5 years longer and his repayments were substantially reduced.

Joe was able to repay me the money that I had given to him to pay his immediate utility bills in only 4 weeks!!

Now, I have to say that I believe that if I had not used this 4 step problem-solving technique, things may not have gone so well. The likely outcome would have been:

  • Joe’s depression would not have allowed him to see that he was able to retrieve the situation;
  • I would have felt very badly because I probably would have decided that loaning Joe money was a bad investment;
  • Joe would have lost everything.

These four simple provocative questions should be considered for EVERY significant or important problem you face for the rest of your life.

Further, YOU should use this technique to resolve conflict, problems at work, relationship issues etc, etc. Let others in on what process you are undertaking, and INVOLVE them in the process.

Take control of your problems. Involve others in the solution process.


That’s it for today. Don’t forget, we are trying to establish neural pathways of habit. The way to do this successfully is to use and practice the methods you have learned. You should share what you have learned with others, especially with people you care about.

Now is a good time to share this website with ALL your friends, work colleagues, family, and social media contacts. Why? Because YOU will become interactive in the use of these skills with those around you, firmly establishing them in your repertoire of life-skills.


A quick review of what you have learned so far . . .

Three things you now understand about the creative process are:

  1. Creative thinking is merely the combining of two or more ideas that haven’t been combined/considered before;
  2. Our education and life experiences can often lead to a “blinkered” viewpoint; and
  3. Never be afraid to defy the experts. Experts are often reduced to being cogs stuck in the machinery of their own expertise.

Creative thinking/lateral thinking and management skills that you can now use are:

  1. Random starting points;
  2. Considering the viewpoints/perspectives of others;
  3. Challenging the status quo by asking “why?”
  4. Look off the path of dominant thinking;
  5. Backwards planning for achieving goals;
  6. Setting goals of passion;
  7. Creative speaking;
  8. Creative combinations; and
  9. The four-step problem-solving technique.


Please remember to discuss, share, practice and teach what you have learned here.


Please feel free to contact me should you be needing clarification or assistance with anything.

These free lateral thinking lessons are brought to you by Michael John Muxworthy

Michael Muxworthy Sci-fi Novel
Coming soon – Michael Muxworthy


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