Problem Finding/Problem finding examples

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Here are examples that analyze several stated problems to discover the real problem. The present (perceived) state, desired state, and the suggested actions to take are examined to identify deeper issues and better alternatives.

Ideation tools are useful in creating alternatives throughout this process. Various development thinking tools, such as an affinity diagram or decision matrix can help you choose among alternatives.

More Money

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Stated Problem: I need to make more money.

Present Perceived State: I make $50,000 a year

Desired State: I want $75,000 a year

Action: Ask for a raise


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Begin with the desired state as presented. How did you choose the goal of $75,000 per year? What model is this based on? Is this based on a survey of salary data within your company, within your industry, within your demographic? Is that survey accurate and applicable? Is this based on your estimate of the salary your siblings make, your in-laws make, other relatives make, your classmates make? Did your younger brother just brag that he got a raise? Did your co-worker suggest she got a raise? Do other less deserving people make more money that you do? How do you know?

What other models can be chosen? How much money do you now spend? What is the minimum amount you can live on? Is this a matter of pride, prestige, or self-worth? What do you learn by comparing your salary to people who earn much less than you do?

Who do you choose as exemplars? What is their salary? Is salary a good measure of self-worth? Does more money bring lasting satisfaction? Is it a wise choice to devote more time to making money? Do you look forward to wishing you spent more time at the office? Do you know what matters? Are you choosing to focus on what matters? What will lead to increased well-being?

Could it really be true that the best things in life are free? Have you been enjoying all that you now have available?

Can you choose to want what you have, overcome your desires to want more, obtain satisfaction and become grateful for what you have, and reconsider your desired state?

Based on this analysis, can you reconsider, revise, restate, or reframe the desired state? Can you accept the present state?

The present state seems to be a matter of fact with little opportunity to alter perceptions, however more effective tax strategies or more effective investment strategies could increase available income.

What alternative actions can we imagine closing this gap?

  • Ask for a raise.
  • Ask for a promotion.
  • Change jobs
  • Change careers
  • Work overtime
  • Get a second or third job.
  • Encourage your spouse to get a job, work more, or get a higher paying job.
  • Do freelance work, temporary work, gig work, or rent out space on Airbnb.
  • Sell stuff on eBay, Craig’s list, or a yard sale.
  • Hire an accountant or financial adviser.
  • Reduce expenses.
  • Hire an expense management agency.
  • Seek debt relief.
  • Declare bankruptcy.
  • Get a roommate to share expenses.
  • Become a roommate to reduce expenses.
  • Move in with Mom and Dad.
  • Move to a location with lower living costs or higher salary structures.
  • Join the military.
  • Choose well-being.
  • Revise or reframe the desired state, want what you have, and accept the present state as your desired state.

What path represents the wise choice? Perhaps using a decision matrix can help you evaluate alternatives.


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Perhaps you discovered that the real problem is that you envied perceptions of what others were being paid or seemed to be enjoying. Upon investigation and reflection, you are content with what you have and will seek fulfillment in goals and activities more important to you than increased salary. You discovered that salary is a poor measure of self-worth and gratification. You have decided to focus on what matters.

Perhaps you discovered something else.


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(This is similar to wanting jewelry, body piercing, breast enhancement, bikini waxing, a Man Cave, a Rolex Watch, manicure or other indulgence. Study one of these examples if that is more meaningful for you.)

Stated Problem: I need to get a tattoo

Present Perceived State: I don’t have any (or enough) tattoos.

Desired State: I want another tattoo

Action: Get tattooed.


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Begin with the desired state as presented. Why do you want another tattoo?

Scan the questions what do you really want and focus on “what is at stake?”

Research why people get tattoos. What is at stake?

What, if anything, did you discover?


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Perform a similar analysis of one of these similar stated problems: I need: jewelry, body piercing, breast enhancement, bikini waxing, manicure, new dress, cowboy boots, a Ferrari, yacht, super premium wine, or a mink coat.


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(This example is similar to drug use, gambling, and several other addictions. Study one of these if it is more relevant or interesting to you.)

Stated Problem: I need a (alcoholic) drink!

Present Perceived State: I can’t handle my present condition while sober.

Desired State: I want to buzzed (or drunk).

Action: Drink alcoholic beverages.


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(This is similar to other quackery and various forms of woo.)


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What is the purpose of a low-fat diet?

Daylight Saving Time

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Why bother?

Boring Teachers

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Whose problem is this?

Students often complain of “boring teachers”.[1] Is this a problem for teachers, students, parents, school administrators, school boards, government, or others?

Street Gangs

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Why do people join street gangs?


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Why do people take cocaine, heroin, and other “street” drugs? Consider other dangerous addictions such as smoking, drinking [a separate topic above], gambling, …

War on Drugs

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What are the goals?


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  1. Mark A. Runco & Jill Nemiro (1994) Problem finding, creativity, and giftedness, Roeper Review, 16:4, 235-241, DOI: 10.1080/02783199409553588