How to find a solution to solve a difficult problem - 10 steps inspired by Albert Einstein's method

Last update March 11, 2023 at 07:03 am

Discover How to find a solution to solve a difficult problem using methods inspired by Albert Einstein.

Einstein said if he had an hour to save the world he was going to spend 55 minutes defining the problem and then only five minutes finding the solution.

This citation illustrates an important point: Before jumping straight into solving a problem, we should take a step back and invest time and effort in improving our understanding of it. Here are 10 strategies you can use to see problems from different perspectives.

How to solve a problem in 10 steps according to Albert Einstein

How to find a solution to solve a difficult problem by drawing inspiration from Albert Einstein's method

To get started you have to start with what is the most important step in problem solving: lhas definition!

I / The problem is to know what the problem is

Defining the problem will be the focal point of all your resolution efforts. So it makes sense to devote a lot of attention and dedication to it. What usually happens is that as soon as we have a problem to deal with, we are so eager for solutions that we forget to take the time to refine it. This results in serious errors.

What most of us don't notice that Einstein would have alluded to, is that the quality of the solutions we find will be proportionally related to the quality of the description of the situation we are trying to solve . Not only will your solutions be numerous and of better quality, but they will be very easy to implement. More importantly, you'll have more confidence to tackle more interesting problems.

II/ How to define a problem

The good news is that getting different points of view and angles to clearly define a problem is a skill that can beapprendre and grow. See How to learn? The right method . There are many strategies that can be used to master this skill. You don't have to apply all of them, but using more than one will allow you to see your problem defined from different angles. Here are the 10 most effective.


1/ It's all about wording

When a Toyota executive asked employees to think ways to increase their productivity , all he received were blank stares. When he rephrased his request by saying ways to make their job easier  , he could hardly follow the suggestions , there were so many of them .

Words have a strong implicit meaning and as such play a major role in how we perceive a problem. In the example above,  be productive may seem like a sacrifice you make for thecompany , while " make your job easier “Perhaps more like something you do for your own benefit, but that society also benefits from. In the end, the problem is still the same, but the feelings and viewpoints associated with each are very different.

Play freely on the statement of the problem by reformulating it several times. With a methodical approach, take simple words and substitute variations. " To increase the sales " ? Try replacing 'increase' with 'attract', 'expand', 'extend', 'repeat' and see how your perception of the situation changes. A rich vocabulary plays an important role here. If you want, use a dictionary or expand your vocabulary.

2 / Expose your assumptions and defend the

Every seemingly simple problem can come with a long list of assumptions. Many of these assumptions may be inaccurate or insufficient, or even incorrect.

The first step to getting rid of bad assumptions is to make them explicit . Make a list of assumptions and state them. Especially the ones that may seem the most obvious and 'unshakeable'.

This brings more clarity to the situation at hand. Go further by testing each hypothesis and their validity. For example: find out under what conditions they could be erroneous and their consequences. What you find may surprise you: many of these bad assumptions are self-imposed. With a little control you will be able to eliminate them safely.

For example, suppose you are about to enter the restaurant business. One of your guesses might be "one-menu restaurants". Although this assumption may seem true at first, try challenging it. You might find some very interesting business models like a restaurant where customers bring dish ideas to the chef.

How to solve a problem in 10 steps according to Albert Einstein

3/ Generalize the problem

Each problem is a small piece of a bigger problem. The same way you can literally explore it like playing with difficult words or assumptions, you can also explore it at different altitudes   .

If you feel like you are overwhelmed with details or are thinking too narrowly, try reviewing it from a more general perspective. To make it more general, ask questions like, “What is the part of? ", "What is the example of? Or "What is the intention behind all this?">>.

Another approach that helps a lot in getting a more general view of a problem is to replace the words in its statement with their hyperonyms.

Hyperonyms are words that have a broader meaning than the given word. (For example, a hyperonym of "car" is "vehicle").

4/ Divide the problem

If each problem is part of a bigger one, it also means that each problem is made up of many smaller problems. It turns out that breaking down a problem into several smaller ones makes each one more precise than the original. Decomposition can also provide a better view of the subject.

Breaking the problem down into smaller ones, making it more specific, is especially helpful if you find it overwhelming or intimidating.

Some of the typical questions you can ask yourself to make a problem more specific are: “What are the parts of this?” or “What are examples of this situation?”.

As in Generalization, word substitution can also be of great use. The class of words that are useful here are the hyponyms.

Hyponyms are words that are stricter in meaning than the one given. For example two hyponyms of "car" are "minibus" and "limousine".

5. Find several ways to view the problem

How to solve a problem in 10 steps according to Albert Einstein

Before rushing into solving your problem, always make sure that you are looking from different points of view. Looking with a different eye is a great way to gain instant insight into overlooked new directions.

For example, if you have a company and your goal is to increase sales. ”Viewing the situation from a customer's perspective can mean adding features to your product that you would be willing to pay more for.

Rewrite the problem statement several times, each time with one of these different viewpoints. How would your competitors see this problem? Your employees? even Your mom Also, imagine how people in various roles would have framed the issue. How would a politician see it? A college professor? A nun? Try to find the differences and similarities in how the different roles would handle the situation.

6/ State the problem in the clearest and most effective way possible

It is not a magic formula that allows the problem to be perfectly stated, but there are language constructs that always help to make it more efficient:

  • Assume a myriad of solutions . A great way to start a problem statement is: "In what way could I…". This expression is far superior to “How can I…” because it suggests that there are a multitude of solutions, and not just one - or maybe not. As simple as it sounds, the feeling of hope enables your brain to find the solutions.
  • make it positive . Negative sentences require a lot more cognitive power to process and can slow you down or even derail your train of thought. Positive statements can also help you find the real purpose behind the problem and, as such, are much more motivating.

For example: instead of finding ways to "quit smoking" you may find that increasing your energy "," living longer "are much more interesting as goals.

  • Rephrase your problem as a question . Our brain love questions. If the question is powerful and endearing, our brain will do everything in its power to answer it. Our brain will start working immediately and continue in the background, even if we don't feel it (for example when we let's sleep).
  • If you're still stuck, consider using the following formula for your problem statement :

“In what way (action) (object) (qualifier) ​​(end result)? “
Example: How could I package (action) my book (object) to make it more appealing (qualifier) ​​so that people can buy it a lot (end result)?

How to solve a problem in 10 steps according to Albert Einstein

7/ Make your problem statement engaging

In addition to using effective language constructs, it's important to come up with a problem statement that really turns you on if you're in the best frame of mind to approach the problem creatively. If the problem seems too boring for you, invest in adding some rigor while it's genuine. Make it attractive and your brain will thank you.

One thing is to “increase sales” (boring), another is to “woaoooo!!! your customers. One thing is to “create a personal development blog”, another completely different is to “motivate your readers to live life to the fullest.

8/ Reverse the problem

The trick that usually helps when a situation gets you stuck.

If you want to win, you have to know what would make you lose. If you're having trouble finding ways to "increase sales," find ways to reduce them instead. Then all you need to do is reverse your answers.

“Making more sales calls” might seem like an obvious way to increase sales, but sometimes we no longer see those “obvious” answers when looking at the problem from the opposite direction.

This method seems complicated and may not seem intuitive at first, but by turning a problem on its head one can discover fairly comprehensive solutions to the initial situation.

9/ Collect the facts

Investigate the causes and circumstances, details about the subject - such as its origins and causes. Especially if you have a problem that is too vague, theinvestigation of the facts is usually more productive than trying to solve it right away.

If, for example, the problem posed by your spouse is “You never listen to me”, the solution is not obvious. However, if the statement is “You're not making enough eye contact when I'm talking to you”, the solution is obvious and you can skip thinking altogether. You'll still need to work on the implementation, though!

Ask yourself questions about the problem. What is not known about this? Can you draw a diagram of the situation? What are the limits ? Be curious. Ask questions to gather facts. It is said that a well-defined problem is halfway to being solved: I would add that the perfectly defined problem is no longer a problem.

10 / Solve your problem (finally)

I know I risk getting into an infinite loop here, but as you may have noticed, getting the right perspective on an issue is a problem in and of itself. As such, feel free to use whatever creative thinking technique you find useful. For example to practice:

The amount of effort you put into defining the situation contrasts with the amount of effort you will put into resolving it. In either case, this is a difficult balance to achieve, but the former is achievable with practice.

Personally, I don't think 55 minutes to define a problem versus 5 minutes to solve it is generally a good proportion. The point is, we need to be aware of the importance of defining it and how to correct our tendency to ignore it.

In fact, when you start to pay more attention to how you define your problems, you will probably find that it is generally much more difficult than solving them. But you will also find that the reward will be well worth the effort.

Last update March 11, 2023 at 07:03 am


You have understood that to solve a difficult problem, you have to spend more time to understand and define what the problem really is. There are many strategies for defining the problem to be treated. To do this, you must:

  • Rephrase the problem
  • State your assumptions and defend it
  • Generalize the problem
  • Divide the problem
  • Find several ways of looking at the problem
  • State the problem as clearly and effectively as possible
  • Make your problem statement engaging
  • reverse the problem
  • Collect the facts
  • Finally solve your problem

After applying these different strategies, there is a good chance that you will find not just one solution, but several to your difficult problem. These scientific strategies can be applied in our everyday lives to make good decisions.

Related to How to find a solution to solve a difficult problem – 10 steps inspired by Albert Einstein's method

Problems - How to solve them all in 10 steps according to Albert Einstein