"The Problem-Solver's Playbook: Escaping Vicious Traps and Sharpening Your Thinking"

Aviral Vaid

Hatched by Aviral Vaid

Feb 06, 2024

5 min read


"The Problem-Solver's Playbook: Escaping Vicious Traps and Sharpening Your Thinking"


Problem-solving is an essential skill in both personal and professional realms. However, falling in love with the problem or the solution can hinder our ability to find effective resolutions. To become better problem solvers, it is crucial to focus on multiplying value rather than solely solving problems. This article will explore various questions and insights to help sharpen your thinking and avoid falling into vicious traps.

  • 1. Is this problem merely a symptom of a bigger problem?

When faced with a problem, it is essential to identify if it is merely a symptom of a larger underlying issue. By delving deeper and asking the "5 Whys," we can uncover the root cause and tackle it head-on. Solving only the visible symptoms may provide temporary relief, but addressing the underlying cause will yield more impactful and long-lasting solutions.

  • 2. How impactful is this problem for the customers?

Assessing the impact of a problem requires considering three dimensions: reach, intensity, and user segment. Understanding how many customers are affected, the depth of their pain, and the specific user segment impacted allows for a more comprehensive evaluation. By prioritizing problems that have a significant impact on customers, companies can align their efforts with their purpose of serving customer needs and creating value.

  • 3. Does it align with the company/product's long-term vision and strategy?

Having a clear vision and strategy is crucial for any company or product. By evaluating if a problem aligns with these long-term goals, we can ensure that our efforts are focused on initiatives that contribute to the overall growth and success of the organization. As strategy involves choosing what not to do, it is essential to deprioritize certain tasks or problems to maintain focus and maximize impact.

  • 4. What happens if you do nothing?

Considering the cost of delay or the cost of doing nothing can be a powerful exercise. Some problems require immediate attention, like a fire that needs to be extinguished promptly. Others may be like a leaking roof, gradually worsening until the entire structure collapses. Understanding the consequences of inaction can help prioritize and address problems effectively.

  • 5. What is the customer's job-to-be-done?

Adopting the Jobs-to-be-Done (JTBD) framework expands our thinking beyond product usability problems. Instead of solely focusing on features and functionality, we should consider the broader context and goals of the customers. By understanding the customer's job-to-be-done, we can develop solutions that truly meet their needs and provide enhanced value.

  • 6. How can I build a deeper moat for my product?

Building a moat around a product or company involves creating a sustainable competitive advantage. One effective way to achieve this is by leveraging network effects. When more people use a product, its value increases for each individual user, creating a powerful barrier to entry for potential competitors. By focusing on building a deeper moat, we can strengthen our position in the market and ensure long-term success.

  • 7. What future situation can make my product irrelevant?

Anticipating potential disruptions is vital for staying ahead in any industry. By proactively identifying future scenarios that could render our product irrelevant, we can take proactive measures to adapt and innovate. It is essential to drive the solution discovery process, collaborate with experts, and stay informed about emerging trends to ensure continued relevance and competitiveness.

  • 8. How much is our appetite to solve this problem?

Assessing the appetite to solve a problem involves considering the resources, time, and effort required. Some problems may have a higher priority due to their potential impact, while others may require more significant investments. Understanding the organization's appetite for tackling specific problems helps in resource allocation and decision-making.

  • 9. What is feasible to build?

A good solution must be desirable for users, viable for the business, and feasible to build within the available resources and constraints. Evaluating the feasibility of implementing a solution helps in managing expectations and ensuring realistic outcomes. Balancing user needs, business objectives, and technical capabilities is crucial for delivering successful solutions.

  • 10. Where is the point of diminishing return?

Recognizing the point at which additional efforts or investments yield diminishing returns is essential for optimizing resources. Continuously assessing the impact and benefits of ongoing initiatives helps in identifying when it may be more beneficial to shift focus or allocate resources elsewhere. By avoiding the point of diminishing return, we can maintain efficiency and maximize overall value.

  • 11. What would the Red Team say about this solution?

The "Red Team" exercise involves critically examining our solutions as if we were the enemy or the biggest critic. By challenging our ideas and seeking out potential flaws, we can strengthen our solutions and mitigate risks. Embracing constructive criticism and actively seeking feedback helps in refining and improving our problem-solving approaches.

  • 12. What is the riskiest assumption we have here? How can we de-risk it?

Identifying the riskiest assumptions in our problem-solving process allows us to address them proactively. By de-risking these assumptions through research, testing, and validation, we can reduce uncertainty and increase the chances of success. Emphasizing a data-driven approach and leveraging user feedback can help mitigate potential risks effectively.

  • 13. What is the smallest chunk of value we can deliver?

Instead of waiting for extensive research and development cycles, it is often beneficial to focus on delivering incremental value. By breaking down solutions into smaller, manageable chunks, we can validate and iterate quickly. This approach minimizes the time lag between research and launch, reducing the risk of changes in requirements, trends, and user preferences.

  • 14. Am I the best person to solve this?

Recognizing our strengths and limitations is crucial for effective problem-solving. Being self-aware and acknowledging when others may be better suited to tackle a specific problem allows for collaboration and better outcomes. Embracing diverse perspectives and leveraging the expertise of engineers, designers, data scientists, and stakeholders can lead to more robust and well-rounded solutions.


Problem-solving is a skill that can be honed through asking the right questions, challenging assumptions, and embracing continuous learning. By avoiding common traps and adopting a multifaceted approach, we can become more effective problem solvers. To further enhance your problem-solving capabilities, here are three actionable pieces of advice:

  • 1. Foster a culture of constructive criticism and seek out diverse perspectives to challenge your solutions.
  • 2. Prioritize problems based on their impact on customers and alignment with long-term vision and strategy.
  • 3. Embrace agile and iterative approaches, focusing on delivering incremental value and de-risking assumptions.

By incorporating these practices into your problem-solving toolkit, you can sharpen your thinking, overcome obstacles, and achieve more impactful outcomes.

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