Solving impossible problems

Mitchell Harper
Jan 16, 2016 · 2 min read

A mental “jiu jitsu” trick I learned to solve almost any problem.

Businesses grow because the people working there are good at solving problems — whether that means solving a customer’s problem through the creation of a new product or solving an internal problem, such as recruiting or communication.

There’s one question that the best CEOs use to help their people become better problem solvers. It’s a little bit of mental jiu jitsu and gets the subconscious mind working in the background to magically start piecing together the solution to a problem.

This question is simple to ask and I’ve seen it not only produce answers to problems, but also help companies double, triple and in one case, even 5x their revenue in just one year.

So what’s the question and how you can, as a CEO, use it to unlock the problem solving potential of everyone in your business? I’m glad you asked.

Here it is:

I understand you don’t know how to solve [problem], but if you did, how would you go about solving it?

Make sure you read it a few times and let it really sink in.

The question starts with a basic presupposition by acknowledging the current state of the person you’ve tasked with solving a problem — that they genuinely believe they don’t know how to solve it.

What follows is the mental jiu jitsu. By asking how they would go about solving the problem, their subconscious mind can’t help but kick in and start thinking about different ways to solve the problem.

Whether they like it or not, their brain has become fixated on finding an answer — and won’t stop searching until it does.

So what’s the best way to use this question? There are three basic steps:

  1. Sit down with whomever you need to solve a problem, and just ask the question
  2. Give them time to go away and process the question, but schedule a follow up to discuss solutions in 24–48 hours
  3. At the follow up, get them to list all of the solutions they came up with — there’s a great chance they’ve figured out multiple solutions to the problem

The subconscious mind is fascinating. It knows how to find answers to the hardest of problems. Give this question a try the next time someone tells you they don’t know how to solve a problem. I’m sure the results will pleasantly surprise you.

Get my new book “SANE: How To Build Your Business Rapidly Without Going Insane” at 📚

Mitchell Harper

Written by

Co-founder BigCommerce & Insane Growth. 8 companies, $200M in total sales. Startup growth advisor 👉👉👉