A complete problem-solving strategy

 The first step is to identify the specifics of the problem you’re faced with. Following that, you need to evaluate the quality of the information available through research. Identify any biases you may have, and debate with yourself to recognize any holes in your logic.

Putting it All Together

Having outlined a general vocabulary for the different kinds of thinking, however, isn’t quite the same as knowing how and when to use these different cognitive “modes” or techniques. When you are out there in the real world, solving real problems as they emerge, you will use a blend of all the above. To become a better thinker, then, takes not only familiarity with the nuts and bolts of thinking, but practical awareness of how to use those skills synergistically in the moment.
This is something that author Warren Berger thought about a lot, and is behind the method he outlines in his book A More Beautiful Question. His idea is that the quality and breadth of our knowledge about the world comes down in large part to the quality and depth of the questions we pose to it. By learning to ask better questions (in a more formal and deliberate process), we give ourselves deeper access to knowledge and insight.
Good questions are the fundamental basis of the scientific method in general. By doing science, we ask, in many complex and varied ways, “If I do this, what happens?” Berge’s model suggests three steps or stages, and is useful because it combines many of the skills we’ve explored in the previous section.
To ask truly innovative questions, we should structure them as: Why, What If, and How. Each requires a different mindset, but all three work together for maximum effectiveness. The three questions give us time to switch tools, try on different thinking modes, and give ourselves a better chance at arriving at a comprehensive and intelligent solution.

Let’s begin where all interesting things begin—with Why?
This plunges us into the world of understanding. Why is the situation as it is? Why this way and not some other way? You can even ask why the question or problem has been formulated in the way it has, or why we are asking the question in the first place. Every problem-solving attempt must start from the beginning. You need to understand why things are as they are if you have a hope of changing them into something else! Asking why also gives you permission to see if things are in fact wrong or could be improved on. You open the door for something else (hello again, creative thinking!).
We don’t need to be rebels or contrarians to constantly ask why of the world. Merely adopting a curious stance in the face of the ordinary and expected shows our willingness to engage and understand at a deeper level. By asking why we peek under the hood and examine our assumptions, beliefs, shortcuts, unspoken desires, and blind spots. For example, the sales team is experiencing friction, and bad office politics is beginning to undermine productivity. You could ask:
Why exactly is everyone unhappy?
Why is this now suddenly a problem but wasn’t a month ago?
Why have previous attempts to fix the problem failed?
Why do we have the sales team all in one office anyway?

By using “why,” we shine a light on all the cause-and-effect relationships in every nook and cranny of the problem. We use identification, curiosity, inference, research, and curiosity to feel the problem out. This will come especially handy when trying to solve riddles that are carefully worded and presented. But in truth, this same process occurs in everyday life.
Next, we open up further and ask, What if?
Now we open to solutions, i.e. different ways of doing things. Here, we go down a new path of inquiry, or create a different aspect to explore. Can we combine old ideas in new ways? Can we switch perspective? Here, we flex our more creative thinking skills—lateral, divergent, or systems thinking allows us to reach out and try something different:
What if we did nothing and let the sales team sort it out on their own?
What if the sales team worked from home from now on?
What if all this friction is a good thing?
What if the friction is alerting us to a bigger problem in the business?

As with all creative thinking, this step needs to be done without self-censorship or the fear of not finding a solution quickly enough. On the other hand, dwelling too long on the What if can result in stagnant “analysis paralysis”—that’s where determining relevance will come in handy! You could follow each of the above questions with a more practical, concrete How? This will allow you to quickly disqualify ideas that won’t practically work, and focus in on those with more real-world potential.
What if we do nothing? How? That’s easy, we don’t do anything, and check in a month to see the result.
What if they worked from home? How? That will be difficult. Some of the work needs to be done in person.
What if the friction is a good thing? How? On second thought, it does appear to have few advantages for anyone.
What if the friction is alerting us to a bigger business problem? How? We could start by asking the sales team what the problem is. How? We could conduct individual interviews and see if we can find a common answer, then decide if there’s a bigger issue . . . and so on.

You’ll notice that this kind of thinking is more or less an expanded version of the scientific method’s: “If I do this, what will happen?” By combining both creative and analytical thinking skills, the problem is expanded and analyzed, allowing a methodical process that leads to a well-considered solution. We first stock our toolkit with as many useful tools as possible, and then devise a structured method for taking out each one in turn, when it’s most needed and appropriate. This approach even allows us to devise new tools as necessary!
Another way to synthesize all these different aspects of thinking is called reverse engineering. The trouble with using different cognitive tools is that one size most certainly does not fit all. Sometimes, you need a tool that is so specific, it can literally only solve the very unique problem you have in front of you. In this case, reverse engineering can help you design that tool working from the solution backward, rather than trying to trial-and-error the tools you already have and hoping one fits.

The term is, obviously, borrowed from the engineering world, and refers to starting with a finished gadget or appliance, then deconstructing it to find out how it works, pulling apart its components to better understand how they function. This is in contrast to building the appliance from the ground up.
Any time we look at a finished problem or situation, we can reverse engineer it and ask, what happened to bring about this state of affairs? What circumstances and actors came together, and in what way, to produce this finished “product” (i.e. the problem or solution in front of you). We can also use this way of thinking to design a way of thinking itself, i.e. a mental tool. We can ask ourselves, what would it look like if I knew the answer here? What form would my solution take? What would be different if I didn’t have this problem? In this way, you are starting from a finished tool (i.e. the solution) and working your way backward.
This can be tricky to do and takes time, but is enormously powerful when done properly. It’s a line of questioning that allows for the generation of new ideas and for creative thinking, but all within a clearly delineated field of relevance—because you’ve already identified the end point or goal. Try out your proposed solutions/tools and see what happens.

If they worked, what worked and why? If not, what does it tell you about your tool? About the assumptions you used to make your tool? The process is iterative and dynamic. You can keep going as long as you’re curious and want to improve on your process.
In the sales team example, we can consider the situation as it is as a complex social machine. How could we take it apart and look at how it works? If we wanted to design a machine that would result in maximum conflict and inefficiency, how would we do it, and what does it tell us about the right way to do things?
Whichever way we choose to use the many different cognitive tools at our disposal, there’s no escaping the fact that problem solving, creativity, and analytical thought are best experienced and practiced, and not merely talked about. In that spirit, we’ll turn our attention now to the more practical part of our book—the riddles themselves.
As you read through each one, try to resist the urge to leap ahead and read the answer without trying first! The real value of a riddle is in its unsolved form—see the answer too soon and you rob yourself of the chance to puzzle through it yourself. Read through the riddle, pause, and consider which of the thinking modes already discussed could come in handy. Slow down and become deliberate and obvious in your thinking. Ask yourself, what assumptions am I making? What kind of problem or question is this? What conventions am I relying on? Does this puzzle look like anything I’ve done before? And so on.
Lastly, don’t get too frustrated if you simply can’t figure a puzzle out. Some people relish a real challenge, but others will find themselves frustrated, at a dead end without any further insight. Remember, the goal of a riddle is not to find the answer, but to explore and strengthen the processes that allow you to find the answer.

These are only silly cognitive games—the real gain is to be had in the more finely developed sense of creative, analytical, and abstract thought you’ll earn as a result of going through them. So, don’t worry if a good few of these riddles completely stump you.