5 question problem solving strategy

Updated: May 27 2021

“Having a clearly defined, repeatable strategy is the easiest way to make problem solving more tolerable”, says Nicholas C. Zakas in How I think about solving problems.

Here’s Nicholas’s five questions to ask yourself:

  • Is this really a problem?
  • Does the problem need to be solved?
  • Does the problem need to be solved now?
  • Does the problem need to be solved by me?
  • Is there a simpler problem I can solve instead?

Nicholas uses these 5 questions to help make decisions and prioritise his actions. They help make him more efficient at problem solving and in general, happier with the outcomes.

He says that; “Each one of these questions helps reveal something about the problem, so you can make progress or even avoid the problem altogether.”

I like this pragmatic approach to problemn solving. It reminds me that it’s not just about tackling a problem head on, but about considering the problem from many different perspectives. In some cases, that means figuring out whether it’s a problem worth solving in the first place.

To quote Charlie Munger; “..many hard problems are best solved when they are addressed backward.” It reminds me of the power of inversion.

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