Leading modules


Module 5 “Can I solve problems?” – Creative problem solving

Unit 2 – How to analyze a problem?
A problem can hide another

Albert Einstein once said, “If I were given one hour to save the planet, I would spend 55 minutes defining the problem and five minutes resolving it.”

Problem analysis is of great importance, because a well stated problem is a half-solved problem, while wrong stated problems persist. That’s why we must first find the root cause of the problem and an accurate problem definition.

There are plenty of different problem-definition techniques, the two main techniques are the

  • Is-Is Not analysis
  • 5Wys analysis

The Is-Is Not tool, a problem-solving tool that explains the rational process for finding the possible root cause of the problem.

Is – Is Not analysis works by making you deliberately think about the problem and in particular the boundaries of what it is or is not. It thus helps to create focus in attention and consequently is more likely to lead to the right problem being solved  an unclear boundary can lead to wandering off the path and solving unimportant problems.

The principle of  “Is – Is Not” analysis is to split a paper board (or any support) in two columns, one for “is” and the other for the “is not”. Consider all data and facts and try to understand what is influencing to the problem and what not.

This analysis should be carried out before starting with the more complicated root cause analysis, such as the 5Why technique, which was originally developed by Sakichi Toyoda and used within the Toyota Motor Corporation during the evolution of its manufacturing methodologies.

Asking a series of 5 Why questions is a simple technique that helps you to get to the root of the problem. It is a perfect method to clarify the problem and understand the underlying issues. Because sometimes a problem can hide another, and it turns out that the real problem is behind the challenge you see in the first place. It is also possible that similar problems arise for different reasons. The first question you should ask is “Why is this a problem?” or “Why do I wish to achieve this goal?”. Once you have answered, you ask four more times “Why else?”.

Jeffrey Baumgartner gives in The Basics of Creative Problem Solving the following example: For instance, you might feel you want to overcome your shyness. So, you ask yourself why and you answer: “because I am lonely”. Then ask yourself “Why else?” four times. You answer: “Because I do not know many people in this new city where I live”, “Because I find it hard to meet people”, “Because I am doing many activities alone” and “Because I would like to do activities with other people who share my interests”. This last “why else” is clearly more of the issue than reducing shyness. Indeed, if you had focused your creative energy on solving your shyness issue, you would not have actually solved the real problem. On the other hand, if you focused your creative energy on finding people with whom to share activities, you would be happier without ever having to address the shyness issue.

When using the 5 Why technique, it is important to distinguish causes from symptoms. You should look for the cause step by step without jumping to conclusions. An important rule is also to never leave “human error”, “worker’s inattention”, “blame John”, etc. as the root cause.

You will find another example in this short video: