A technique to solve difficult problems

Four questions to resolve every problem

The most powerful problem-solving tool I know



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

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

  • Joe’s cost of living and maintaining his repayments was higher than his income.


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/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.

FOUR: What is the best possible solution?

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 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 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

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Lesson 12 Problem Solving Summary

The solution to solving problems is a simple and creative 4 step technique.

Use it openly.

Share the activity with whoever is facing the problem with you.

Arrive at the solution together.


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

Two 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

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. Provocative operation … “po”;
  4. Challenging the status quo by asking “why?”
  5. Look off the path of dominant thinking;
  6. Backwards planning for achieving goals;
  7. Setting goals of passion;
  8. Creative speaking;
  9. Creative combinations; and
  10. 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 for assistance

 – – – – –

Go to lesson 13

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

 – – – – –

Check out the concise definition: What is lateral thinking?

 – – – – –

For the complete lateral thinking menuClick here

 – – – – –

Take a puzzle break – Click here

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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