A technique to solve difficult problems

Four questions to resolve every problem

The most powerful problem-solving tool I know


In this lesson, we demonstrate how to combine your lateral thinking skills WITH an already existing management structure.

The structure exists because it works.

Lateral thinking enhances the outcomes.



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?



A real-life problem I faced recently.

Dissecting debt

My friend Joe (not his real name) came to me for help with his home repayments. Joe has helped me in the past, so I agree to consider his request.

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?

I took some time to speak with his parents and other friends and see if they could offer anything. (Considering the perspectives of others … lesson 4).

After delving into Joe’s personal circumstances, we finally agreed that the real problem was:

  • Joe’s struggle with depression was causing him to make poor short-term choices that resulted in unmanageable debt repayments.


TWO: What are the causes of this problem?

We 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/rates have risen;
  • 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?

I told Joe that I was confident that his situation could be salvaged. Feeling a little better, we put our heads together to think of some possible solutions:

  • Getting a flatmate to share utility costs and contribute rent;
  • Rent the property and stay with his parents until on top of the situation;
  • A second job;
  • Ask the boss for extra hours. Explain his circumstances if necessary;
  • Consolidate credit cards and misc loans;
  • 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;
  • That we (his friends) spend more social time with Joe to help him through this difficult time and avoid future poor decisions.

FOUR: What is the best possible solution?

Joe and I decided on a “creative combinations” 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 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 refinanced everything;
  • Joe’s friends made a special effort to keep in touch.

Joe repaid his debt to me in just four weeks. Yes, he got on top of the situation that quickly.

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Take a look at this page to see how I used this exact problem-solving technique to bring peace to our home. You’ll need to scroll down the page a little until you get to the …

“Can I borrow the car?” example

 – – – – –


Four simple questions give “structure and focus” to solving your problems. Remember them! Employ your lateral thinking skills to enhance the outcomes.

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?


 – – – – –

Go to lesson 13

 . . . and learn how to manage time through good habits

 – – – – –

Check out the concise definition: What is lateral thinking?

 – – – – –

Take a puzzle break – Click here

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