A Framework for Analyzing Problems - THINKERS Notebook

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A Framework for Analyzing Problems

In my last email, I discussed the challenges of solving a specific type of problem; specifically how to leave instructions for people when you are not around?

While it seemed like a simple problem to solve; it turns out it is very hard to solve, easily. 

Luckily, we did. 

But how?

In this email, I want to share the framework we used to help analyze the problem so that through that analysis, we could come up with a better solution.

The 4 Steps To Analyzing Any Problem

At first glance, most problems can appear daunting to solve with so many factors to consider. It can be scary, especially when problems have an immediate impact on your life.

But in times like these, frameworks are useful, providing a guidepost to our thinking process.

Based on many decades of experience and reading numerous research reports on problem solving, I have created a framework that makes it easier for me to analyze problems.

Hopefully, you will find it useful as well.

Step 1 - There is a Solution

The first step is psychological and relies on using positive affirmations to mentally prepare yourself to address the problem. And it’s a simple statement…

“There is a good solution to this problem.”

The rationale behind this declaration is to set your mental state into a positive mode, counteracting the negative emotions that often occur when presented with issues that have no immediate resolution. 

Basically, this statement instills a sense of confidence that you can, and will, find a way to address whatever problem or issue you are facing. 

And even though you haven’t found it yet, you are creating a positive emotional re-enforcing message that you will find it.

Step 2 - Break Down The Problem Into Small Parts

Most problems are an amalgamation of different things. So work to break them down into smaller pieces.

How? By asking the right questions!

  • When did it start?
  • Where did it start?
  • Who is affected by it?
  • How are we being impacted by it?
  • What is being done now?

The first three questions provide spatial context to the problem for both time and place. The last two questions help you analyze actions related to the problem. 

By using this framework, you can start the process of breaking down a problem into smaller pieces; especially as you progress from one to the other. 

Step 3 - Filtering the Signal from the Noise

Filtering is nothing more than a screening process to remove useless information from useful information. 

Using the responses from Step 2, you will want to analyze the data:

  • Are there any common events or issues?
  • Have we found the cause? 
  • Is the impact bigger or smaller than what we thought?

The goal of this step is to analyze what you know and interpret the results to isolate the one or two key elements that form the core of the problem you are trying to solve. 

Step 4 - Funneling Ideas 

The scientific method is one of the best frameworks to follow when trying to find a solution to a problem.

In short it relies on reviewing observations, making a hypothesis, testing the hypothesis and repeating until you have a general theory.

In Step 2 and 3 above, we used questions to quantify the data. So now you make a hypothesis; if we do X, then Y should occur. 

The key in this step is to write down a lot of solutions and then apply each one to see if it addresses the problem. 

But a word of caution, don’t throw every solution out at once! Try something, see if it works, and if not, try the next one. 

And if you run out of solutions, then you can try to combine them.

Focus On Problems Not Solutions

Using this framework, I spent a lot of time thinking of the original question I posed - how to effectively leave instructions for others when you are not around.

And it wasn’t easy - analyzing the problem, testing hypothesis, reviewing results, etc. 

But through the process of focusing on the problems, I found a very elegant solution.

One that I will share with you in the next email.