• Peggy Downs

Solve Any Problem With These 5 Questions

Updated: Jan 2

“For now, what is important is not finding the answer, but looking for it.” ― Douglas R. Hofstadter, Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid

Perspective is everything. What problem is on your mind today? Maybe you are worried about a student who is struggling. Maybe you have a difficult meeting ahead of you. Maybe you need to write a grant or a major policy and you have no time to get it done. Whatever it is, you are more likely to find a solution when you are asking questions. Our brains are funny that way.


If you ask a question, your brain starts to look for answers. You start to search for the information and resources you need to solve the problem. The trick is to ask the right questions, the kind of questions that trigger your creative side so you can find or create the solution.

Perspective is everything. What problem is on your mind today?

What's the problem?

Start by defining the problem. Go ahead...dump it all down on paper, unfiltered. Then, turn those "problem statements" into actionable items. For example, if the problem is that a student is failing a class for the 3rd time, turn that around into a solution-oriented statement. Here are some examples:

  • Go from "Sarah is failing math again!" to, "Sarah needs support and encouragement to ensure that she passes Algebra this term."

  • Go from "I don't have time to write that policy but the board meeting is in two days" to "This policy is important and I need to find a way to get it written."

  • Go from "I don't have the answers my teacher needs to solve the scheduling problem she wants to meet about" to "The scheduling problem is important and we need to find a reasonable solution together."

Already, you have re-framed the problem in positive terms and acknowledged the importance of each issue. Instead of resisting, you begin to be more open and willing to listen to your own inner wisdom.

“Frame your problem statements into actionable tasks and goals that lead to a solution. Problem statements incite procrastination and resistance whereas solution statements inspire hope and motivation.” ― Salil Jha

Think about what you'd like to see happening as the best case scenario. What would it look like? Sarah passes with a B? You find a willing board member to help you write the policy? Your teacher comes to you with 3 possible solutions she has already thought of? Now you have hope and possibilities ahead of you. But that's not enough. What happens next is crucial to actually solving the problem.


Imagine the solution

Focus on open-ended questions and let your creativity lead the way. This is classic "brain-storming" - don't filter or judge as you write your ideas. Ask yourself each of these questions and write down your responses:

  1. What's missing?

  2. What if?

  3. Why? or Why not?

  4. Who can help?

  5. What's next?

Now review your notes and start to create a list of ideas. A plan of action should begin to form in your mind. Where do you start? Start with one thing you are sure can't fail. Build up your enthusiasm and confidence with each successive activity until you can celebrate your success. It will happen. It's inevitable.


Build up your enthusiasm and confidence with each successive activity until you can celebrate your success.

Check out this helpful resource:

"10 Steps to Impact"

to learn how you can improve your influence. It's FREE!


Ready to learn more? Check out some of my most popular posts:


  1. Taking account of personal relationships between students in teaching

  2. How to increase your impact and influence in 10 steps

  3. Charter School Grants

  4. Get Every Student to Level Up: Supporting Students Who Struggle

  5. 7 day challenge - write an easy grant for your school

Peggy Downs works with school leaders who want to leverage grants to dramatically increase funding, impact, and credibility for their schools. More info and a ton of free resources are waiting for you at: www.peggydowns.com

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