The ability to use a rational process to effectively identify the root cause of problems.


Most people use a flawed problem solving process. They don't define the problem. They jump to conclusions, or they go to the other extreme and analyze it to death without trying out anything. They also rely too much on themselves when multiple people usually have a better chance of solving the problem.

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.Matthew 7:7

Skilled Characteristics

  • Rational

    Uses rational logic and methods to solve difficult problems with effective solutions

  • Uses Questions

    Probes all fruitful sources for answers to questions

  • Discerning

    Can see hidden or difficult aspects of problems or identifies unique perspectives

  • Analytical

    Is excellent at honest and thorough analysis

  • Digs Deep

    Looks beyond the obvious and doesn’t stop at the first easy answers

  • Inclusive

    Includes others in the problem solving process

“If I had 60 minutes to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes defining it and 5 minutes solving it.”

– Albert Einstein

Unskilled Characteristics

  • Past Driven

    Not a disciplined problem solver; may be stuck in the past, comfortable with what has worked before

  • Re-Work

    Many times has to come back and rework the problem a second time

  • Action

    Takes action quickly, without first doing a proper analysis

  • Impatient

    May get impatient and jump to conclusions too soon

  • No Questions

    May not stop to define and analyze the problem; doesn’t ask many questions

  • Simplistic

    May miss the complexity of the issue and force-fit it to what he/she is most comfortable with

  • Too Quick

    Unlikely to take the time to come up with the second and better solution, ask penetrating questions, or see hidden patterns

“Most people spend more time and energy going around problems than in trying to solve them.”

– Henry Ford

Causes of Weakness

  • Disorganized

    Does not know or follow a logical process for solving problems

  • Emotional

    Lets one’s emotions drive decisions

  • Impatient

    Does not have the patience to analyze a problem thoroughly

  • Jumpy

    Jumps to conclusions quickly without sufficient info

  • Perfectionist

    Needs too much data before being willing to make a decision or move forward

  • Past

    Relies too much on historical solutions rather than thinking creatively

“The problem is not the problem. The problem is your attitude about the problem.”

– Captain Jack Sparrow


Review the simple application steps below and choose 1 or 2 things you can do to spur yourself on to further growth.

  • Use a Process

    USE A PROCESS: Be aware of what process you are using to solve a problem. Are you jumping ahead to solutions before really truly understanding the root cause of the problem and your desired outcomes? Many problem solving processes exist. An easier one to remember uses the acronym ‘IDEAL’. It stands for:

    – ‘Identify’ the problem,
    – ‘Define’ the problem, including everything you know about it such as what, when, where, who, how often, and to what extent

    – ‘Explore’ possible causes and remedies

    – ‘Act’ on a remedy to test whether you are right

    – ‘Look’ at the results of your remedy to see if it truly solved the problem or if you need to try again.

  • Ask Questions

    ASK QUESTIONS: If you don’t spend most of your problem solving time asking questions, then you probably aren’t using a good process. Asking good questions provides critical information and data necessary to analyze a problem and determine its root cause. Ask questions such as WHAT happened? WHERE did it happen? WHEN did it happen? HOW OFTEN has it continued to happen? Is the problem getting worse, getting better, or staying the same? Also ask the negative of all those questions. For example, WHAT did NOT happen? WHERE did it NOT happen? WHEN did it NOT happen? You can also ask what CHANGED on or before the time of the problem that may have been a cause of the problem? All of these questions help you to better understand the problem and identify the proper root cause.

  • Involve Others

    INVOLVE OTHERS: It oftens takes more than one person to solve a complex problem. Each person you include in the problem solving process may bring unique questions, perspectives, knowledge, experience, creativity, and access to information that you need.

  • Be Patient

    BE PATIENT: Most people jump to conclusions about the cause of problems because they are too impatient to take the time needed to analyze the situation. Usually you will find that the amount of time you use to analyze a problem is well worth it, helping to avoid additional frustration, loss of time, money or resources in the future.

  • Perfectionist?

    PERFECTIONIST? Need or prefer or want to be 100% sure? Want to wait for all of the information to come in. Beware of analysis paralysis. Recognize your perfectionism for what it might be—collecting more information than others do to improve your confidence in making a fault-free decision and thereby avoiding risk and criticism. Try to decrease your need for ALL the data and your need to be right all the time. Try to reach a reaonable balance between thinking it through, trusting God, and taking action.

  • Avoiding Risk?

    AVOIDING RISK? Develop a positive attitude toward making mistakes and failures in problem solving. After all, most innovations fail, most change efforts fail, and the initial solutions to complex problems often do not work. The best response when a solution doesn’t work is to say, ‘What can we learn from this?’ and move on.