Stuck in a problem? Try asking a different question

We all get stuck, the real challenge of being stuck happens when the harder you try to work through the inertia the deeper you sink. As you struggle more there is a tendency to try harder, although pushing harder makes things worse, the progress happens when you change your actions and mindset. When we get stuck, and our solutions are not working, how do we make progress to find a solution? When you have an idea of the challenge, a next step is to see how you can understand where you are and identify a mindset.

The questions you are asking about the problem will reveal how you are viewing the environment at that time.

  • A mindset of exploring options or narrowing options?
  • A mindset of identifying threats or opportunities?

Each mindset is appropriate in certain circumstances. They are only problems when you choose to believe that your mindset is unchangeable instead of you deciding which mindset to use. Your mindset determines your behavior, supports your discovery of opportunities, and determines which questions you ask to make progress on your solutions.

Viewing the mindset chart above, Narrowing to Decide is useful when you must act quickly. Threat is valuable when you know that without action a harmful or adverse action may happen. The combination of Narrowing to Decide and Threat is useful when the problem is simple, and you can capture plus understand the cause and effect of your actions or when you find yourself in a chaotic environment where quick action is needed and rumination will most likely cause more considerable damage. It is not helpful for discovering innovative, or disruptive solutions to complex problems; complex problems are ones that the cause and effect are too far separated from understanding or the multiple moving pieces will affect other pieces in unknown or uncertain ways.

Asking a different question will change how you view the problem and, very often, lead to solutions that we could not envision in our current mindset. The questions you ask will change your mindset; this is what leads to breakthroughs in innovation and creativity. When your questions are about finding accountability for a perceived threat – Narrowing to Decide plus Threat – you may want to shift and ask questions to discover how you would like things to be, and when things are better how are the team and you working differently? – Opening to Explore plus Opportunities. When your current questions and mindset are from Narrowing to Decide you may want to shift and see what Opportunities are Open to Exploring and make a list of various ways to explore areas that are working well and may lead to different wins. Similarly, if you are Open to Possibilities, you may want to Narrow to Decide and make several actions and progress-focused decisions that you and others will notice immediately.

The matrix above is meant to be explored through your current mindset, and try to different approaches to break your psychological inertia or stuckness with your current problems. Often, one slight change in perspective or question is all we need for an innovation breakthrough.

Mike Cardus The Space Between Innovation, Team & Leadership Facilitator
Some consultants feel as if they are heroes called in to fix something broken, like the knight on the horse. That is quite tragic – to treat people as if they are broken when the teams, leaders, and people have done so much to get to where they are. Mike forms a partnership with all clients to accept where you are, listen to what’s working and understand what isn’t to create a process with you to improve your company’s profitability. Learn more at –