5 Problem-Solving Techniques For Every Aspect Of Life

It doesn’t matter what industry you work in, or even if it’s a personal or professional dilemma–there are five paths to solving any problem.

5 Problem-Solving Techniques For Every Aspect Of Life
[Photo: Flickr user Anne Worner]

“I don’t have enough time.” “I have too many meetings.” “My experience tells me this project is doomed.”


Sound familiar? You may have heard this common refrain, or some variation, at work. And it’s the opportunity to think about problems in a different way that gets Danny Schuman, president of Twist, a Chicago-based innovation and marketing consulting firm, excited to get up in the morning.

“Ideas solve problems,” says Danny Schuman, speaking earlier this week at Chicago Ideas Week. “Getting to answers is going to be hard, but it doesn’t have to be painful,” Schuman says. You have a choice: Either fight against the problem with dread and tension, or embrace it with joyful energy.

The joy of solving is recognizing how you solve problems so you can solve them better, but also finding out how others solve so you can borrow their magic, Schuman explains.

Schuman spent a year interviewing 50 people in a number of fields (from technology and law to business and health care), gathering insight into how left and right-brained people approach problem solving. He spent 90 minutes with each person asking questions like, “What do you love about your job? What gets in the way? How do you get over those hurdles?”

Through his research, Schuman identified five paths to solving any problem, business or otherwise:


1. The Generous Path

The generous path is characterized by giving of yourself, Schuman explains. Examples
include teaching, sharing your skills with others, and problem solving for the greater good.

Really great leaders give of themselves freely, but often do so unconsciously, Schuman observes. “It removes biases and clears the way for objectivity, helps form meaningful alliances, and increases efficiency since everyone’s moving in the same direction,” he says.

2. The Pragmatic Path

Central to the pragmatic approach are planning, process, and focus, Schuman says. One ER doctor he interviewed spoke about the regimented training process required for new doctors to gain experience. There’s a set of questions that must be asked and procedures followed in an exam to ensure no steps are overlooked.

It’s about following the plan but paying attention to what you may not see, like the dog that didn’t bark in the night, Schuman notes. In other words, following procedure but remaining open to the possibility of a less likely cause.

3. The Naked Path

People on the naked path are honest–they aren’t afraid to expose themselves, ask “dumb” questions, make mistakes, or look stupid, Schuman says. They ask the questions others may be afraid to ask, and challenge the response.


If, for example, your team isn’t aligned with the company’s vision, Schuman suggests adopting the naked approach, challenging the group to determine why you’ve gone astray.

4. The Spiritual Path

Those on the spiritual path are receptive and open to possibility, Schuman explains. “It’s about pausing, taking a step back, even in the chaos,” he says. They may meditate or give some thought to the problem, but take time to reflect before diving in.

For example, a healing arts practitioner Schuman interviewed was charged with giving a speech and wasn’t sure how to begin. While listening to “Think” by Joan Osborne, he was inspired to lip sync the song to kick off the meeting, which he did.

5. The Blissfully Ignorant Path

This path is very entrepreneurial–characterized by persistence, optimism and embracing challenges, Schuman says. It’s the opposite of planning, and is more of a “make it up as you go along” method.

For example, a successful young entrepreneur entered a business meeting and, when asked about wholesale prices, had no idea what they were talking about and had to look it up later. (The proprietor knows a lot about hot chocolate, however, making Fodor’s list of “15 Best Places to Drink Hot Chocolate in America.”)


It’s important to note that there’s no “type” of solver any one of us falls into, Schuman explains. You’re never on only one of these paths, and you may even take several paths while solving the same problem.

About the author

Lindsay LaVine is a Chicago-based business and lifestyle freelance writer who's worked for NBC and CNN. Her work has appeared online in,,, NBC News, MSNBC, Yahoo, Business Insider, and Fox Business.