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The ability to identify and solve problems is a crucial skill in any organisation. Strong problem-solving skills are essential for the success of any business, whether it is resolving a technical issue, finding a new solution to a persistent problem, or making a difficult decision. This is especially important for those in leadership positions. These transferable skills are useful in many different situations in the workplace, at home, or in day-to-day life experiences.  

SEE: Understanding Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving

Problem-solving provides a mechanism for identifying issues, determining why they are broken, and figuring out a course of action to fix them. In this series, we discuss various problem-solving techniques and methods designed to help a group or team through the process of identifying problems and challenges, ideating, and finding the best solution. Problem-solving is a critical skill that enables individuals and organisations to move forward and achieve success. 

We now share how to use the Brainstorming and the Five Whys techniques. 


Brainstorming involves generating a large number of ideas through free-flowing discussion, without evaluating or criticising them. 

This technique is used to solve problems or challenges by generating as many new and innovative ideas as possible. It is often done in an informal and relaxed setting where participants are encouraged to share their thoughts freely, build upon the ideas of others, and explore a wide range of possibilities. Group brainstorming is preferred as it allows for a greater variety of ideas to be generated and prevents people from getting stuck on one idea.

To have an effective brainstorming session, it is important to create an environment of psychological safety where all ideas are welcomed, and no one is afraid to speak up. The best brainstorming sessions are those in which participants feel free to share any ideas, no matter how crazy or outlandish they may seem.  

Brainstorming combines an informal approach to problem-solving with lateral thinking, which is a method for developing new concepts to solve problems by looking at them in innovative ways. This technique requires an intensive, freewheeling discussion in which every member of the group is encouraged to think aloud and suggest as many ideas as possible based on their diverse knowledge.  

Brainstorming is a strategy used to generate several ideas to help solve a particular problem. It has been around for over 70 years and is considered better than conventional group interaction, which might be hindered by groupthink. 

Brainstorming Steps

To conduct a brainstorming session, you can follow these general steps: 

  • Define the problem or topic to be brainstormed. It helps to be very clear about the problem you wish to solve.
  • Set ground rules and expectations for the session. (Agree on keeping quiet while someone is talking; not disparaging someone’s contribution) 
  • Pick an appropriate facilitator. The facilitator should facilitate the process, not lead the discussion.
  • Invite a small group of people to participate. If too many people are involved, some folk may become passive spectators and not contribute. 
  • Encourage everyone to share their ideas and avoid criticism or judgment. It takes a bit of time for the group to warm up and go into creative mode’. 
  • Write down all ideas and encourage participants to build on each other’s ideas. Having a scribe whose purpose is to keep the notes, helps to expedite this. 
  • Keep the session short and focused. Red herrings and sequels can take the process off course. It is the role of the facilitator to keep things on track.  
  • Follow up on the ideas generated and act on the most promising ones. Make an action list with responsibilities and timelines. 

Brainstorming can be used to solve a variety of problems, including simple problems that require generating a list of ideas or focusing on a broad issue. It can also be used to solve complex problems, although group brainstorming may be more effective in this case. However, there are also some problems associated with brainstorming, such as groupthink and difficulties when working remotely. Despite these challenges, brainstorming remains a popular and effective process for generating new ideas and solutions to problems.  

The Five Whys  

This technique involves repeatedly identifying a problem’s underlying cause by asking “why” questions (at least five times) until the root cause is discovered. 

The Five Whys Problem Solving technique is a deceptively simple but powerfully effective tool for uncovering the root cause of a problem. It involves repeatedly asking the question ‘Why’ (five times is a good rule of thumb) to peel away the layers of symptoms that can lead to the root cause of a problem. This strategy relates to the principle of systematic problem-solving. The technique can be used in troubleshooting, problem-solving, and quality improvement initiatives. Its primary goal is to find the exact reason that causes a given problem by asking “why” repeatedly until the root cause is identified. 

To use the 5 Whys problem-solving technique, you need to follow a simple process of repeatedly asking the question “Why” (five times is a good rule of thumb) to peel away the layers of symptoms that can lead to the root cause of a problem.  

  • First, write down the specific problem to formalise and describe it completely.  
  • Then, ask “Why” repeatedly until you reach the root cause of the problem. 

In the example below, we apply the Five Whys to a situation where a company has found that website hits have been declining. 

The Five Whys Example

The technique is designed to guide you to the root of the problem and determine the most basic reason that, if eliminated, would prevent reoccurrence. You can use the 5 Whys technique for quality and process improvement, problem-solving and problem analysis, and problem prevention and futureproofing. It is important to avoid emphasising the person or blame and making it a tedious process. 

The Five Whys problem-solving technique can be used to solve a wide range of problems. It is a versatile tool that can be applied to various industries, including manufacturing, healthcare, and software development. Some examples of problems that can be solved using the Five Whys technique include production delays, customer complaints, equipment failures, software bugs, and process inefficiencies.

This technique can also be used to identify the root cause of safety incidents, workplace accidents, and environmental issues. The Five Whys technique is a simple and effective tool that can be used to solve any problem by repeatedly asking the question “Why” five times to peel away the layers of symptoms that can lead to the root cause of a problem. 


Having strong problem-solving skills is crucial in the business world as it enables organisations to efficiently and effectively identify and address challenges, overcome obstacles, and seize new opportunities. It also drives innovation and improves decision-making, leading to increased productivity and customer satisfaction.  

Developing and fostering a culture of problem-solving is essential for the success of any business. Employers value problem-solving skills as they enable individuals to handle difficult or unexpected situations in the workplace and tackle complex business challenges. Effective problem-solving requires a combination of hard and soft skills, including industry or job-specific technical skills. 

Creative problem-solving is particularly important as it helps individuals and organisations overcome unforeseen challenges and find solutions to unconventional problems. It encourages individuals to find fresh perspectives and come up with innovative solutions, enabling them to formulate a plan to overcome obstacles and reach their goals.  

Problem-solving is important both to individuals and organisations as it enables them to exert control over their environment and fix things that are broken. Therefore, candidates with great problem-solving skills are highly valued in the workplace. 

  Watch out for our next article in the series on problem-solving. 

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Author James Forson

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