The CIA has had a method of problem solving for intelligence officers called The Phoenix List. Basically, the list serves as a road map for problem solving, with 19 specific questions to help guide you to your solution. Overall it’s a good model. Most of us aren’t intentional about thinking about why a problem is a problem, or if it needs solving in the first place. Of course, in the book world, there aren’t really many problems. I write, I think, I feel.
But if you own a small business, or you’re an entrepreneur or a mom-preneur, problem solving is a part of every day life. In the life coaching universe, life is a series of obstacles and challenges and sometimes simple belief windows that need modifying.
The CIA problem solving model is a tactical strategists dream. For a creator like me, who would never follow a list like this, it’s less relevant. Creative types are prone to throw caution to the wind and just live with a problem or solve it without much thought! Ready, Aim, Fire!
But for a tactical “C” type investigative personality (some of whom I know well) who examine all corners and crevices, this list is something you’ll love. Here’s an excerpt:
Defining the problem
1. Why is it necessary to solve the problem?
2. What benefits will you receive by solving the problem?
3. What is the unknown?
4. What is it you don’t yet understand?
5. What is the information you have?
6. What isn’t the problem?
7. Is the information sufficient? Or is it insufficient? Or redundant? Or contradictory?
8. Should you draw a diagram of the problem? A figure?
9. Where are the boundaries of the problem?
10. Can you separate the various parts of the problem? Can you write them down?
What are the relationships between the parts of the problem?
11. What are the constants (things that can’t be changed)?
12. Have you seen the problem before?
13. Have you seen this problem in a slightly different form?
14. Do you know a related problem?
15. Can you think of a familiar problem having the same or a similar unknown?
16. Suppose you find a problem related to yours that has already been solved. Can you use it? Can you use its method?
Coming up with a plan
1. Can you solve the whole problem? Part of the problem?
2. What would you like the resolution to be? Can you picture it?
3. How much of the unknown can you determine?
4. Can you derive something useful from the information you have?
…And the list goes on. I’m already exhausted.
A few years ago I attended the funeral of a little girl, and the pastor officiating said that “sometimes there just are no answers.” When you address a problem, is it not best to just sometimes give the problem up, relinquish control, and realize that sometimes, there just are no answers? Maybe it’s not for you to figure out. Maybe it’s just a problem that cannot be solved, and it’s time to let go.