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Become a Better Problem Solver by Telling Better Stories

One of the biggest obstacles to effective decision-making is failure to define the problem well. Invoking the power of narrative and a simple story structure can help ensure that teams are solving the right problem.

  • Developing Strategy

good problem solving stories

Alex Nabaum/

Like many companies at the end of 2021, a small European precision toolmaker was having trouble hiring and retaining talent. The executive team had a solution: Create a more attractive social space to encourage informal collaboration. But when the head of human resources presented the plan to the board (which included one of this article’s coauthors), the directors were puzzled. They didn’t know what problem the redesign was supposed to solve.

In retrospect, their confusion was understandable. The executive team had not spelled out the extent of the company’s recruitment challenges or made clear the link between the social space and attracting talent. Rather than seeking approval for the new space, they should have been discussing the best way to make the company a more attractive place to work or, more broadly, how to assemble the talent they needed given the expanding competition for talent across industries.

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This is a familiar pattern we have encountered in our teaching and executive consulting. In the face of complex problems and strategic decisions, executives often choose the wrong problem to solve. They focus on symptoms instead of causes, base their thinking on false assumptions and artificial constraints, and overlook key stakeholders. The answer, we have found, is to change the way the problem is defined. By doing so, business leaders can significantly expand their universe of alternatives and identify radically better solutions.

Seeking Problem Solvers

To find better answers, it is necessary to ask better questions. This is called problem framing . Often neglected, this initial step in the decision-making sequence sets the trajectory for generating alternative options. It is critical for two reasons: It can reveal new possible solutions, and it avoids wasting time, money, and effort on half-baked ideas.

In our study of more than 700 international executives, 60% identified poor problem formulation as one of the two most prevalent barriers to effective problem-solving in their organizations. (The other is insufficient stakeholder engagement.)

An effectively framed problem is simple to understand, which may explain why executives often underestimate the effort that good problem formulation requires. As with any high-order activity, it takes mastery to make it look simple. Executives don’t realize how tricky framing can be until they try it. To compound the challenge, plenty has been written on the importance of framing, but there’s been little concrete guidance on how to do it. Senior executives are especially prone to overestimating the value of experience as a guide to solving novel challenges. They come to our classes thinking they’re skilled problem framers only to realize their deficiencies when presenting to their peers. Their framing efforts go astray in predictable ways.

Framing Fails

When executives get stuck on a complex problem, they’re often urged to “think outside the box” and redefine the assumptions and constraints that hold them back — in short, to change their framing. Although executives are familiar with the concept of framing, in our work with them we’ve observed three recurring errors.

1. Assuming everyone sees the same problem. The biggest pitfall comes when executives take for granted that all stakeholders have the same intuitive understanding of the problem. This is hardly ever the case.

In our opening example, the HR chief reasoned that creating a new social space would make the company a more appealing place to work. But this was only one aspect of the challenge of attracting and retaining talent. He did not propose other alternatives — such as investing more in employee development, improving the company’s HR marketing, or devising better salary and benefits packages — to prompt discussion of which approach would offer the best return on investment.

By default, we frame problems without a great deal of thought, using routines, heuristics, and experience to bypass formal analysis. We instinctively recognize the type of problem before us and reach for familiar solutions. This makes sense for problems that are urgent, recurring, and low risk, where experience is most likely to lead to a good answer. 1 The trouble starts when we try to apply the same approach to problems that are complex, novel, or high risk.

When relying on intuition, cognitive biases (such as overconfidence and confirmation bias) can muddle the decision-making process. The deep smarts that enable people to discern problems and propose instant remedies in their domains of expertise quickly become a liability outside it. 2 The French call this déformation professionnelle — the tendency to see any problem through the distorting lens of one’s professional experience. We overestimate the relevance of our experience and underappreciate what we don’t know. However, complex strategic problems require new perspectives and options, not just what has worked in the past.

Of course, executives cannot afford to turn every decision into a project, so they need to be discerning about the types of decisions that warrant such investment, homing in on those that cannot be easily undone.

2. Targeting the wrong problem. Even when someone makes a conscious effort to articulate the problem and not rely on instinct, they might frame it too narrowly or too broadly.

In class, we show participants a cartoon of a company’s covered parking facility that is so jam-packed with cars that no one can get in or out anymore, and we ask, “What is the company’s problem?”

Many come up with skewed or narrow frames: How do we increase the parking capacity? How do we reduce the demand for parking? How do we incentivize people to not come by car? These are not just definitions of the problem; they are also solutions in disguise: The frame already indicates a preferred set of solutions and closes off alternative ways of addressing the situation.

Others propose frames that are too broad: How do we fix the parking lot problem? (Is it unsafe, too far away, dirty?) How do we get people to work? (This expands into other areas that are irrelevant.) Or even, How do we get all the employees to do their jobs? (This is too generic and opens up tangential issues like motivation and working from home.)

An effective frame captures the essence of the problem. If it’s too narrow, it risks being ineffective by focusing on just one of the drivers, such as demand for parking spaces, and missing important or emerging issues altogether. If it’s too broad, it risks stretching attention and resources across too many concerns, including ones that have little or no relevance.

In the car-park problem, a good formulation could be, How can we decongest our parking lot? or How can we align parking spaces and parking needs? These frames open the opportunity for alternatives that address both supply and demand issues and hybrid solutions that combine elements of both.

3. Pushing a single perspective. Another common trap is unilateral framing. Having defined the challenge alone or with like-minded colleagues, problem solvers are often blindsided by objections from critical stakeholders — especially those whose support they had taken for granted.

A cognitive bias known as the false consensus effect leads us to overestimate the extent to which others will perceive a situation in the same way we do. 3 As a result, we underinvest in engaging others or testing our frames.

This was the situation in our opening example. When the HR chief presented the project to create a new gathering space, he expected to discuss what kind of budget the board would approve and not the underlying rationale for the project, which he assumed was self-evident.

Having defined the challenge alone or with like-minded colleagues, problem solvers are often blindsided by objections from critical stakeholders.

The HR chief explained what the executive team was debating but not why . The board’s unexpected challenge reflected the HR chief’s failure to prepare board members for the initiative or to reflect their concerns in the solution. While the board didn’t have a preexisting view of the recruitment problem, its members believed that the social space only indirectly tackled the issue and that there were more-targeted and potentially lower-cost solutions. Had the board’s perspective been integrated in defining the problem, the executive team could have considered a broader set of solutions that reflected the board’s concerns.

There are other traps in strategic decision-making, such as failure to consider innovative solutions or simply choosing a bad one. Our point is that effective framing is more important and more difficult than it seems. A process is necessary. We propose a two-part solution: Frame and reframe.

Creating an Initial Frame

Research and our experience with executives show that using a basic story framework can help people make sense of complex information. Storytelling is not only useful for persuading others but also valuable for thinking through ambiguous information.

Too often, executives come to us with a bunch of ideas but no clear understanding of the problem they are trying to solve. At the other extreme, they present a bunch of different issues that are somehow related, but without clarity on how they connect with, contradict, or complement each other.

Storytelling is not only useful for persuading others but also valuable for thinking through ambiguous information.

Storytelling makes it possible to structure this complexity by summarizing the problem in the form of a single overarching question — a quest — that will lead to the solution. An effective quest has just three elements:

  • A hero — the main protagonist. Depending on the challenge, it could be a single person, a team, an ad hoc project group, a unit, or even the whole organization.
  • A treasure — the hero’s aspiration. This captures the one overriding goal, be it transforming the company, expanding into new markets, upgrading a team, or changing careers.
  • A dragon — the chief obstacle. This is the complication preventing the hero from getting the treasure. A compelling dragon creates a strong hook and a shared understanding of the challenge to be faced.

Pulled together, these three elements define the quest, which takes the form, How may [the hero] get [the treasure], given [the dragon]? A quest works best with one hero, one treasure, and one dragon — otherwise, it’s more than one story. When someone is dealing with multiple dragons, it’s better to ask whether there is a single challenge or whether it might be more sensible to place the different dragons into separate problem frames. (See “The Do’s and Don’ts of Framing.”)

What’s more, it’s important that all elements are present when defining a problem. In the car-park problem, we did not mention any constraints to the challenge (the dragon) in terms of space, money, time, or conflicting agendas. A more realistic framing of that quest might look like this: How can we as an organization provide adequate parking for our people, given our limited funding?

This story framework helps get to the heart of the challenge. It highlights the critical pain points and lays bare assumptions. Explicitly listing the hero, treasure, and dragon forces consideration of all that is necessary, but only what is necessary. It holds decision makers accountable for the choices and sets up more meaningful conversations with stakeholders.

We’ve applied this approach to hundreds of problems in a wide array of disciplines, including business, architecture, physics, and engineering, and have yet to meet a problem that can’t be summarized in this way. It helps explain in simple terms even the most complex problems, but that simplicity can be deceptive. Getting to such a simple quest will take significant effort, particularly for the most complex problems.

Developing an initial frame is good, but the real value comes from sharing it with other stakeholders early on.

Framing a Better Quest

One trap to avoid when using this method is the temptation to stick with the first quest that comes to mind. Developing a sound quest is an iterative process, and going deeper into understanding a problem requires stress-testing the quest.

The strength of the story template is that it formulates the problem in a concise way that is easily understood by others — decision makers who lack detailed knowledge, colleagues in other departments, outside stakeholders such as partners or suppliers — without overwhelming them with details or context. They can add perspectives and question premises, constraints, and blind spots. Bringing them in at the framing stage gives them a chance to be heard before anyone grows overly attached to a particular set of alternatives or a specific solution. Research also suggests that a diversity of perspectives promotes a more exhaustive exploration of alternative solutions and positively affects the quality of decisions. 4

Reframing can start with considering the initial approach to the problem and asking, “Why would this not be the best quest to undertake?” The answer may be that you’ve identified the wrong hero, treasure, or dragon.

Picking the wrong hero can result in efforts that fail to gain traction. This is a situation we observed at Europe’s largest paper and board maker, Stora Enso. As demand for paper plunged, the executive team wanted to renew the business and diversify into new businesses based on wood-fiber products. But the top executives — middle-aged industry veterans, all male, and all Scandinavian — found it impossible to come up with outside-the-box ideas.

Jouko Karvinen, then CEO, realized that the executive team was the wrong hero. It was ill-equipped to identify or explore emerging business opportunities in adjacent sectors. Members were too invested in the choices and practices of the existing business. They lacked the individual openness and collective diversity needed to rise to the challenge.

The company handed responsibility for the effort to a new, more diverse team that comprised a dozen up-and-coming employees, among them women, non-Scandinavians, and people with experience in other industries. This team was given free rein to challenge the status quo. Karvinen defined their mandate: “I don’t want PowerPoint presentations giving advice about what we could do. I want [you] to come back with ideas that we can implement and requesting to start up a new business.”

In our narrative framework, the second, more diverse team was the hero, transforming the organization into a renewable materials company was the treasure, and the original executive team’s lack of experience and skills in these new areas proved to be the dragon. Once the challenge was viewed in this way, the new team’s recommendations, along with important system and process changes, enabled Stora Enso to transform itself into a leading provider of renewable products in packaging, biomaterials, and wooden construction — as well as a developer of new textile fibers that use tree cellulose, in a joint venture with H&M and Ikea.

Focusing on the wrong treasure can mean that efforts won’t yield the desired results. Consider Switzerland-based Logitech. Piggybacking on the PC revolution, the developer of high-end peripherals — including mice, keyboards, speakers, and webcams — delivered 39 consecutive quarters of double-digit growth.

In 2008, Gerald Quindlen became CEO just as smartphones (and, later, tablets) began to disrupt the desktop market that accounted for 89% of Logitech’s revenues. In his quest narrative, he was the hero who had to overcome the dragon of the dwindling PC market to achieve his treasure — a return to double-digit sales growth. 5 To do that, he bet heavily on an acquisition in videoconferencing and a partnership with Google on its smart TV, but neither of the deals worked out as expected. The company spread itself too thinly and lost its focus on its core capability: innovation.

In the process, Logitech missed obvious trends in peripherals — notably the GoPro camera craze — and lost market share in specialized accessories for gamers. It was also slow to respond to opportunities in the mobile device market. What new products it did release were not cool or exciting. Focusing on sales targets often meant tacking on new features to existing products without considering what the market wanted. Engineers became preoccupied with creating products that hit price points but didn’t satisfy consumer needs or tastes. 6

Quindlen was replaced as CEO in January 2013 by Bracken Darrell, an industry outsider who had a different treasure in mind. “We’re going to become a design company” and put the user at the heart of Logitech’s innovation activities, he told employees.

“We didn’t lose the capability, we lost the expectation,” Darrell told investors. “We stopped expecting to have great products.” 7 After overcoming some initial resistance from engineers who feared that Logitech might become a “fashion” company, the design-led strategy opened the way for a host of innovations in different product categories.

While sales growth has the advantage of being concrete and measurable, it is less effective as a treasure. It has little power as an aspirational goal and does not provide guidance, focus, or inspiration on how to move forward. In contrast, the goal of becoming a design company, with its focus on user needs, provides a much stronger sense of direction.

Since Darrell’s appointment, Logitech has become much more agile, responsive, and innovative. One measure of the change is its annual haul of prestigious design awards: It has won more than 250 since 2015. In the same period, revenues have more than doubled while profits have increased thirteenfold and share prices have increased ninefold.

Reflecting on the tendencies of some CEOs to focus on financial performance, Darrell noted, “If you start in the wrong place, sometimes you get to the wrong place.” 8

Picking the wrong dragon means wasting energy on pointless battles. That’s what happened to Christine Christian, CEO of Dun & Bradstreet’s Australian operation. As the hero, her team spotted an opportunity to provide additional risk-management solutions in response to a forthcoming change in Australian tax regulations, a treasure that was a once-in-a-lifetime, windfall opportunity. The subsidiary was well positioned to capitalize on the opportunity, but doing so required funding to make a sizable investment in a call center.

The dragon, as Christian saw it, was convincing the head of the Asia-Pacific region to allocate funds from his limited budget to an initiative that had no strategic value for the other subsidiaries in the region. When her boss turned down the request, she was so frustrated that she wanted to resign. But her team persuaded her to consider alternative approaches, such as seeking funding from outside the regional group. That proposal was approved, and the team found several partners eager to pursue the opportunity.

Christian and her team had taken too restrictive a view of the obstacle. The need for internal funding was in fact a dragon that could not be surmounted, but securing general funding was one that was more easily overcome. The narrow framing led Christian to ask her boss the wrong question. Addressing the real dragon led to finding an external partner with a shared interest in the Australian market, which proved to be a very lucrative strategic move for the subsidiary.

In each of these cases, questioning the logic and assumptions enabled the protagonists to reframe the challenge, thereby opening a whole realm of new strategic opportunities. The quest format is a key lever for formulating problems that the organization can actually solve.

Why Stories Help

Statistician George Box famously said, “All models are wrong, but some are useful.” The key to developing a useful model is to include all that matters, but only what matters. This is how the story approach helps with problem-solving: by providing a straightforward way to define and clarify the problem to be solved. A concise description of the quest can lead to a clear strategy for moving forward.

The brevity of the quest narrative is part of its strength. Uncluttering exposes the chief pain point, the blind spots and constraints, and assumptions about causality. It makes it easy to share and to challenge the logic.

The simplicity of the template also makes it something that’s easy for business leaders to recall and useful in identifying what’s missing from or confusing in presentations from team members. It makes it easy to decide whether new evidence requires changing leading actors, goals, or obstacles. In short, it helps leaders sift out the background information so that they can focus on the essential components of the problem. Indeed, executives can use the quest narrative to educate teams on how to present problems.

The story ingredients depersonalize criticism when people question assumptions, blind spots, and artificial constraints. Tough questions like “Why you? Why this? Why now? Why haven’t you …? Aren’t you missing …? Who will resist?” are easier to voice and less likely to trigger defensiveness when couched in terms of a hero, treasure, or dragon.

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Finally, stories tap into our playfulness. The language of stories makes exchanges more engaging. It contributes to creating a safe environment. It is liberating, putting team members into a more expansive and upbeat frame of mind when discussing problems. It awakens our creativity. Of course we could slay the dragon, but what else could we do? Circumvent it, neutralize it, or turn it into an ally?

Beyond being an analytical challenge, complex problem-solving is also a people challenge. It requires input, different perspectives, involvement, and buy-in from other stakeholders. Integrating outside views obviously is important when making recommendations for a specific course of action, but it is critical when deciding the appropriate way to frame the problem. When the audience agrees with your framing, it becomes much easier to persuade them of your solutions.

About the Authors

Arnaud Chevallier is a professor of strategy, and Albrecht Enders is a professor of strategy and innovation at the International Institute for Management Development (IMD) in Lausanne, Switzerland. They are the coauthors of Solvable: A Simple Solution to Complex Problems (FT Publishing, 2022). Jean-Louis Barsoux is a term research professor at IMD Lausanne.

1. D. Kahneman, “Thinking, Fast and Slow” (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011), 79.

2. S. Finkelstein, “ Don’t Be Blinded by Your Own Expertise ,” Harvard Business Review 97, no. 3 (May-June 2019): 153-158.

3. L. Ross, D. Greene, and P. House, “The ‘False Consensus Effect’: An Egocentric Bias in Social Perception and Attribution Processes,” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 13, no. 3 (May 1977 ): 279-301.

4. S.F.C. Schulz-Hardt, A. Brodbeck, A. Mojzisch, et al., “ Group Decision-Making in Hidden Profile Situations: Dissent as a Facilitator for Decision Quality ,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 91, no. 6 (January 2007): 1080-1093.

5. “ Logitech International Q3 FY08 Earnings Conference Call Transcript ,” Seeking Alpha, Jan. 20, 2008,

6. M. Wilson, “ Logitech Quadrupled Its Profits — With One Big Design Idea ,” Fast Company, Sept. 20, 2017,

7. “ Logitech International SA CEO Hosts Annual Investor Conference (Transcript) ,” Seeking Alpha, May 24, 2013,

8. M. Stettner, “ Why Logitech’s CEO Fires, Rehires Himself ,” Investor’s Business Daily, Dec. 30, 2020,

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26 Good Examples of Problem Solving (Interview Answers)

By Biron Clark

Published: November 15, 2023

Employers like to hire people who can solve problems and work well under pressure. A job rarely goes 100% according to plan, so hiring managers will be more likely to hire you if you seem like you can handle unexpected challenges while staying calm and logical in your approach.

But how do they measure this?

They’re going to ask you interview questions about these problem solving skills, and they might also look for examples of problem solving on your resume and cover letter. So coming up, I’m going to share a list of examples of problem solving, whether you’re an experienced job seeker or recent graduate.

Then I’ll share sample interview answers to, “Give an example of a time you used logic to solve a problem?”

Problem-Solving Defined

It is the ability to identify the problem, prioritize based on gravity and urgency, analyze the root cause, gather relevant information, develop and evaluate viable solutions, decide on the most effective and logical solution, and plan and execute implementation. 

Problem-solving also involves critical thinking, communication , listening, creativity, research, data gathering, risk assessment, continuous learning, decision-making, and other soft and technical skills.

Solving problems not only prevent losses or damages but also boosts self-confidence and reputation when you successfully execute it. The spotlight shines on you when people see you handle issues with ease and savvy despite the challenges. Your ability and potential to be a future leader that can take on more significant roles and tackle bigger setbacks shine through. Problem-solving is a skill you can master by learning from others and acquiring wisdom from their and your own experiences. 

It takes a village to come up with solutions, but a good problem solver can steer the team towards the best choice and implement it to achieve the desired result.

Watch: 26 Good Examples of Problem Solving

Examples of problem solving scenarios in the workplace.

  • Correcting a mistake at work, whether it was made by you or someone else
  • Overcoming a delay at work through problem solving and communication
  • Resolving an issue with a difficult or upset customer
  • Overcoming issues related to a limited budget, and still delivering good work through the use of creative problem solving
  • Overcoming a scheduling/staffing shortage in the department to still deliver excellent work
  • Troubleshooting and resolving technical issues
  • Handling and resolving a conflict with a coworker
  • Solving any problems related to money, customer billing, accounting and bookkeeping, etc.
  • Taking initiative when another team member overlooked or missed something important
  • Taking initiative to meet with your superior to discuss a problem before it became potentially worse
  • Solving a safety issue at work or reporting the issue to those who could solve it
  • Using problem solving abilities to reduce/eliminate a company expense
  • Finding a way to make the company more profitable through new service or product offerings, new pricing ideas, promotion and sale ideas, etc.
  • Changing how a process, team, or task is organized to make it more efficient
  • Using creative thinking to come up with a solution that the company hasn’t used before
  • Performing research to collect data and information to find a new solution to a problem
  • Boosting a company or team’s performance by improving some aspect of communication among employees
  • Finding a new piece of data that can guide a company’s decisions or strategy better in a certain area

Problem Solving Examples for Recent Grads/Entry Level Job Seekers

  • Coordinating work between team members in a class project
  • Reassigning a missing team member’s work to other group members in a class project
  • Adjusting your workflow on a project to accommodate a tight deadline
  • Speaking to your professor to get help when you were struggling or unsure about a project
  • Asking classmates, peers, or professors for help in an area of struggle
  • Talking to your academic advisor to brainstorm solutions to a problem you were facing
  • Researching solutions to an academic problem online, via Google or other methods
  • Using problem solving and creative thinking to obtain an internship or other work opportunity during school after struggling at first

You can share all of the examples above when you’re asked questions about problem solving in your interview. As you can see, even if you have no professional work experience, it’s possible to think back to problems and unexpected challenges that you faced in your studies and discuss how you solved them.

Interview Answers to “Give an Example of an Occasion When You Used Logic to Solve a Problem”

Now, let’s look at some sample interview answers to, “Give me an example of a time you used logic to solve a problem,” since you’re likely to hear this interview question in all sorts of industries.

Example Answer 1:

At my current job, I recently solved a problem where a client was upset about our software pricing. They had misunderstood the sales representative who explained pricing originally, and when their package renewed for its second month, they called to complain about the invoice. I apologized for the confusion and then spoke to our billing team to see what type of solution we could come up with. We decided that the best course of action was to offer a long-term pricing package that would provide a discount. This not only solved the problem but got the customer to agree to a longer-term contract, which means we’ll keep their business for at least one year now, and they’re happy with the pricing. I feel I got the best possible outcome and the way I chose to solve the problem was effective.

Example Answer 2:

In my last job, I had to do quite a bit of problem solving related to our shift scheduling. We had four people quit within a week and the department was severely understaffed. I coordinated a ramp-up of our hiring efforts, I got approval from the department head to offer bonuses for overtime work, and then I found eight employees who were willing to do overtime this month. I think the key problem solving skills here were taking initiative, communicating clearly, and reacting quickly to solve this problem before it became an even bigger issue.

Example Answer 3:

In my current marketing role, my manager asked me to come up with a solution to our declining social media engagement. I assessed our current strategy and recent results, analyzed what some of our top competitors were doing, and then came up with an exact blueprint we could follow this year to emulate our best competitors but also stand out and develop a unique voice as a brand. I feel this is a good example of using logic to solve a problem because it was based on analysis and observation of competitors, rather than guessing or quickly reacting to the situation without reliable data. I always use logic and data to solve problems when possible. The project turned out to be a success and we increased our social media engagement by an average of 82% by the end of the year.

Answering Questions About Problem Solving with the STAR Method

When you answer interview questions about problem solving scenarios, or if you decide to demonstrate your problem solving skills in a cover letter (which is a good idea any time the job description mention problem solving as a necessary skill), I recommend using the STAR method to tell your story.

STAR stands for:

It’s a simple way of walking the listener or reader through the story in a way that will make sense to them. So before jumping in and talking about the problem that needed solving, make sure to describe the general situation. What job/company were you working at? When was this? Then, you can describe the task at hand and the problem that needed solving. After this, describe the course of action you chose and why. Ideally, show that you evaluated all the information you could given the time you had, and made a decision based on logic and fact.

Finally, describe a positive result you got.

Whether you’re answering interview questions about problem solving or writing a cover letter, you should only choose examples where you got a positive result and successfully solved the issue.

Example answer:

Situation : We had an irate client who was a social media influencer and had impossible delivery time demands we could not meet. She spoke negatively about us in her vlog and asked her followers to boycott our products. (Task : To develop an official statement to explain our company’s side, clarify the issue, and prevent it from getting out of hand). Action : I drafted a statement that balanced empathy, understanding, and utmost customer service with facts, logic, and fairness. It was direct, simple, succinct, and phrased to highlight our brand values while addressing the issue in a logical yet sensitive way.   We also tapped our influencer partners to subtly and indirectly share their positive experiences with our brand so we could counter the negative content being shared online.  Result : We got the results we worked for through proper communication and a positive and strategic campaign. The irate client agreed to have a dialogue with us. She apologized to us, and we reaffirmed our commitment to delivering quality service to all. We assured her that she can reach out to us anytime regarding her purchases and that we’d gladly accommodate her requests whenever possible. She also retracted her negative statements in her vlog and urged her followers to keep supporting our brand.

What Are Good Outcomes of Problem Solving?

Whenever you answer interview questions about problem solving or share examples of problem solving in a cover letter, you want to be sure you’re sharing a positive outcome.

Below are good outcomes of problem solving:

  • Saving the company time or money
  • Making the company money
  • Pleasing/keeping a customer
  • Obtaining new customers
  • Solving a safety issue
  • Solving a staffing/scheduling issue
  • Solving a logistical issue
  • Solving a company hiring issue
  • Solving a technical/software issue
  • Making a process more efficient and faster for the company
  • Creating a new business process to make the company more profitable
  • Improving the company’s brand/image/reputation
  • Getting the company positive reviews from customers/clients

Every employer wants to make more money, save money, and save time. If you can assess your problem solving experience and think about how you’ve helped past employers in those three areas, then that’s a great start. That’s where I recommend you begin looking for stories of times you had to solve problems.

Tips to Improve Your Problem Solving Skills

Throughout your career, you’re going to get hired for better jobs and earn more money if you can show employers that you’re a problem solver. So to improve your problem solving skills, I recommend always analyzing a problem and situation before acting. When discussing problem solving with employers, you never want to sound like you rush or make impulsive decisions. They want to see fact-based or data-based decisions when you solve problems.

Next, to get better at solving problems, analyze the outcomes of past solutions you came up with. You can recognize what works and what doesn’t. Think about how you can get better at researching and analyzing a situation, but also how you can get better at communicating, deciding the right people in the organization to talk to and “pull in” to help you if needed, etc.

Finally, practice staying calm even in stressful situations. Take a few minutes to walk outside if needed. Step away from your phone and computer to clear your head. A work problem is rarely so urgent that you cannot take five minutes to think (with the possible exception of safety problems), and you’ll get better outcomes if you solve problems by acting logically instead of rushing to react in a panic.

You can use all of the ideas above to describe your problem solving skills when asked interview questions about the topic. If you say that you do the things above, employers will be impressed when they assess your problem solving ability.

If you practice the tips above, you’ll be ready to share detailed, impressive stories and problem solving examples that will make hiring managers want to offer you the job. Every employer appreciates a problem solver, whether solving problems is a requirement listed on the job description or not. And you never know which hiring manager or interviewer will ask you about a time you solved a problem, so you should always be ready to discuss this when applying for a job.

Related interview questions & answers:

  • How do you handle stress?
  • How do you handle conflict?
  • Tell me about a time when you failed

Biron Clark

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21 Good Picture Books to Teach Problem and Solution

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Read mentor text picture books to teach problem and solution text structure. Understanding the problem and solution story structures improves comprehension and helps readers make informed predictions. (As well as helping children see the creative possibilities in problem-solving!)

Of course, almost all stories have a problem and a solution –with the exception of a concept book. So really, you can search out problem and solution examples in any book, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction.

problem and solution books

When children learn what to expect in a problem and solution story, not only will they be able to predict solutions, but they will also be better able to write their own problem-solution stories. I started teaching this early to my young kids, well before they were school-age because we want our children to become problem solvers. That is an important life skill!

While many picture books model the narrative story structure of problem and solution, these are my favorites to use with kids both at home and in the classroom.


problem and solution picture books mentor texts

Mentor Text Picture Books to Teach Problem and Solution

good problem solving stories

Problem Solved! by Jan Thomas When Rabbit sees his messy room, he learns that he has HIS OWN PROBLEM SOLVING PORCUPINE! Which seems good at first. But, it turns into a disaster. Because to clean up the blocks, the porcupine flushes them down the toilet. And to clean up his shirts, he feeds them to the goldfish. How can Rabbit get rid of his not-very-helpful problem-solving porcupine?

good problem solving stories

A House in the Woods  by Inga Moore Little Pig’s den becomes filled with friends, but once Moose arrives, the den collapses. Oh, no! Problem. What will they do to find a solution? Together, the animals build a new house in the woods big enough to fit all the friends.

good problem solving stories

Enigma  by Graeme Base Bertie needs to find the missing magic show props that have disappeared from his grandpa’s retirement home. Each performer tells him what’s missing. Readers help find the items in the illustrations so that Bertie can find the culprit. Like all his books, Base excels in his detailed illustrations.

good problem solving stories

7 Ate 9: The Untold Story  by Tara Lazar, illustrated by Ross MacDonald 6 bangs on Private I’s door for help! Because there’s a rumor that 7 is eating other numbers because apparently, 7 ate 9. YIKES! But did 7 really eat 9? Pitch perfect tongue-in-cheek number and word humor will crack you up throughout this suspenseful, funny problem and solution story. (Also on:  Best Picture Book Mysteries .)

good problem solving stories

The Brownstone  by Paula Scher, illustrated by Stan Mack The Bear family is ready for hibernation but first, they need to figure out what to do about the noise problem. Their solution? All the animals work together to shift apartments so that everyone finds the best apartment for their specific needs. You’ll love the message and illustrations.

good problem solving stories

Pigeon P.I.  by Meg McLaren What a unique and delightful mystery story! A little canary asks Pigeon P.I. (private investigator) to help her find her missing friends. Then the canary goes missing, too. It’s up to Pigeon to solve the missing bird mystery. The author writes in the style of the old detective shows– punchy with short sentences. The illustrator captures the details, giving kids clues to notice as they read.

good problem solving stories

One Word from Sophia  by Jim Averbeck, illustrated by Yasmeen Ismail This picture book is a great way to teach kids summarizing and word choice as well as a problem-solution text structure! Sophia really wants a pet giraffe for her birthday. As a result, she sets out to convince her family, starting with her mother, a judge. However, Mother says that Sophia’s argument is too verbose. As a result, Sophie tries fewer words with Father. But he says her presentation is too effusive. Sophia continues with each family member until she reaches her last-ditch attempt and says the one word that works: PLEASE.

good problem solving stories

No Boring Stories!  by Julie Falatko, illustrated by Charles Santoso When a cute little bunny tries to join a group of animal storytellers (mole, weevil, crab, and babirusa), the group doesn’t want to add her to their brainstorming group. As the animals continue their story plans with relatable characters, an inciting incident, rising action, climax, and…. Only the group gets stuck with the ending. That’s when bunny reveals that she likes making up weird (not boring) stories. The group realizes that the bunny has the perfect ending idea. Reluctantly, they agree that she can be part of the group. At least until a “ bunch of adorable frogs and puppies show up next week… ” This book shows plotting as well as the creative strengths of writers working together.

good problem solving stories

That Fruit Is Mine!  by Anuska Allepuz This is a charming problem and solution story about learning to share and the power of working together. You’ll crack up watching the elephants’ many failed attempts to get delicious-looking fruit off a tree while simultaneously watching a tiny group of mice work together to get the yummy fruit, too. The problem is getting the fruit but only one animal group succeeds in a solution. Who do you think it will be? Great for prediction! (Also on:  Picture Books That Teach Cooperation .)

problem solution picture book

Great, Now We’ve Got Barbarians!   by Jason Carter Eaton, illustrated by Mark Fearing Mom says that if the boy doesn’t clean his room, he’ll get pests . . . which the boy thinks aren’t all that bad, right? However, things go downhill when barbarian “pests” start arriving. Because they eat everything, use his toys to clean out their ears, and steal blankets and pillows. So there is only one thing to do — CLEAN up his room. It’s a predictable but funny solution with the perfect forgot-to-clean-up twist at the end.

problem solving picture books

Walrus in the Bathtub  by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Matt Hunt The worst thing about this family’s new home is the walrus in the bathtub. And walrus songs are very, very loud. It’s a big problem. The family tries lots of clever things to get the walrus to leave the bathtub but with no success. So they decide to move. Again. That’s when the walrus shows them his list — “ How to Make Your New Family Feel Welcome ” — which, surprisingly, includes all the things that annoy the family. It turns out the walrus was just trying to be nice. As a result, the family stays with a few *new* rules. This story will make you want your own walrus in a bathtub.

good problem solving stories

The Thingity-Jig by Kathleen Doherty, illustrated by Kristyna Litten Wordplay, problem-solving, and persistence! One day Bear finds a Thingity-Jig (aka. a couch), which he thinks is wonderful as a sit-on-it, jump-on-it thing.  He asks his friends to help him carry it home but they’re too fast asleep, so Bear figures out some ideas to do it himself. He makes a Rolly-Rumpity! Which is a pack-it-up, heap-it-up, load-it-up thing. That isn’t enough to move the Thingit-Jig so Bear makes something else — a Lifty-Uppity. And then, a Pushy-Poppity. And at daybreak, he arrives back at home where his friends are waking up, with his special Thingity-Jig. Bingity…Bing…Boing…Bear falls asleep.

good problem solving stories

Someday is Now: Clara Luper and the 1958 Oklahoma City Sit-Ins  by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich Clara advocated for justice and equality during a time when Black people weren’t permitted the same rights as white people. As a teacher, she inspired her students to believe that change was possible. Clara and her students went to the Katz drugstore and asked to be served — even though the store didn’t serve black people. She and her students returned day after day despite people yelling and throwing food. Eventually, the Katz store relented and started to serve people of all races. Clara and her students finally could enjoy a Coke and a burger without trouble.

good problem solving stories

Wangari’s Trees of Peace  by Jeannette Winter Based on the true story of Wangari Maathai, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, read how Wangari helped her country of Kenya whose forests were all but destroyed. She started planting trees which started a movement motivating other people to plant trees as well. This is an example of how narrative nonfiction book can also teach the plot structure of problem and solution .

good problem solving stories

Battle Bunny   by Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett, illustrated by Matt Myers When Alex gets a silly, sappy picture book called Birthday Bunny, he picks up a pencil and turns it into something he’d like to read: Battle Bunny. An adorable rabbit’s journey through the forest becomes a secret mission to unleash an evil plan–a plan that only Alex can stop. Not only does this mentor text model problem and solution, but also voice and revision.

good problem solving stories

When Pigs Fly  by James Burke One day, an exuberant pig declares that he will fly. His sister observes with disbelief and horror as one attempt after another fails. The brother pig is so disappointed that he decides to give up. That’s when his sister comes up with an idea — something he hasn’t tried before that will help her brother fly — a pretend airplane. The pigs’ expressive illustrations are absolutely perfect as is the message of persistence despite failure.

good problem solving stories

Piper and Purpa Forever!  by Susan Lendroth, illustrated by Olivia Feng Most stories have a  problem and a solution  but this story is a great example showing a little girl’s ability to creatively  problem solve  with a beautiful solution to her problem. Piper loves her beloved purple sweater, Purpa, and is so sad when she grows out of it. Will she be able to keep her sweater somehow?

problem and solution picture books


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Melissa Taylor, MA, is the creator of Imagination Soup. She's a mother, former teacher & literacy trainer, and freelance education writer. She writes Imagination Soup and freelances for publications online and in print, including Penguin Random House's Brightly website, USA Today Health, Adobe Education, Colorado Parent, and Parenting. She is passionate about matching kids with books that they'll love.

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My grandson loves cars, RC cars, sports cars but I don’t find any books about cars, racing, car features, etc. It would be a ‘hook’ to get him to read more. Any suggestions appreciated.

Here is a list of vehicle books. . My recommendation for car books is Professor Wooford McPaw’s History of Cars by Elliot Kruszynski.

This Reading Mama

Books with a Clear Problem and Solution

By thisreadingmama 5 Comments

When teaching kids how to comprehend and/or write fiction text, often times it’s good to start with books and stories that have a clear problem and solution text structure .

This means that the story line introduces characters and a problem at the beginning –> the character(s) try to solve the problem in the middle, which rises to a climax –> and at the end, the problem is solved, with the “good” guy winning.

The  determining importance post , from our Reading Comprehension Series , has a great visual to SHOW this progression in fiction text. We also have lots of free, graphic organizers for fiction text structure here .

Books that Have a Clear Problem and Solution Text Structure - This Reading Mama

*This post contains affiliate links.

Books with a Clear Problem and Solution Structure

Today, I’m sharing 16 of our favorite books that feature a clear problem and solution structure to help kids see how fiction texts are often composed. By the way, these texts aren’t just great for comprehension, but can also be used to help kids WRITE their own fiction stories as well, an extra bonus!

Ira Sleeps Over  by Bernard Waber is about boy named Ira, who becomes anxious quite about what his friend, Reggie, will think of him if he brings his teddy bear over to spend the night. This is a GREAT book for teaching text-to-self connections as well as the problem and solution text structure.

Dog Breath by Dav Pilkey is a pun-filled book about a family pet, Hally Tosis, who has incredibly bad breath. The Tosis family tries to help Hally get rid of the bad breath to no avail. But dog breath may actually be a good thing, especially when two thieves visit the Tosis family!

Oliver Button is a Sissy by Tomie dePaola is about a little boy named Oliver who is clearly different than all the other boys at school. He’d rather paint, tap dance, and read instead of playing sports like all the other boys, which earns him the name, “Sissy.” But once he shows his dancing skills at the school talent show, he receives a new name – “Star.”

Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion features a cute little family puppy who despises his baths. So much so, that he hides his bath brush and runs away. As he is away, he gets very dirty, from a white dog with black spots to a black dog with white spots. As hunger strikes, he heads home only to find that the family doesn’t recognize him.

The Little Engine by Watty Piper is a classic book that features a clear problem and solution structure as the little engine helps the broken down engine climb over the mountain to deliver toys to all the boys and girls on the other side of the mountain.

Caps for Sale  by Esphyr Slobodkina is such a fun and interactive book about a peddler who gets his caps stolen by a bunch of monkeys. He tries, in anger, to get his caps back, only to be mocked by the monkeys. What will he do to get all those caps back? Such a simple solution that kids may be able to predict as they read along.

Any of Kevin Henkes’ books are great for teaching the problem and solution text structure with fiction. One of my daughter’s favorites is Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse . Lily loves her purple plastic purse so much she brings it to school to share, but Mr. Slinger, her teacher, takes it from her. To get revenge, she draws a mean picture of her teacher only to have him see it. She begins to feel great remorse for her actions and wants to make amends. Will Mrs. Slinger forgive her?

Mo Willems is one of my kids’ favorite authors. Knuffle Bunny was probably the first book they were introduced to by him. Trixie and Daddy take a trip to the laudromat. On the way home, Trixie realizes Knuffle Bunny has been left behind. Follow the journey of Trixie and Daddy as they try to get Knuffle Bunny back. There are more Knuffle Bunny adventures including Knuffle Bunny Too , but I warn you to keep a tissue box handy when you read Knuffle Bunny Free .

Jamaica’s Find by Juanita Havill features a little girl, Jamaica, who finds a stuffed dog and hat at the park. She takes the hat to the lost and found, but decides to keep the stuffed dog for herself. She finds herself wondering if she’s done the right thing by keeping the dog. She finally decides to take it back to the lost and found and finds a friend along the way. This book is a great one to show that characters don’t always face external problems; sometimes characters have internal struggles and problems.

Sylvester and the Magic Pebble  by William Steig is about a donkey named Sylvester who finds a magic pebble. Just then, a lion comes to attack him and he wishes to be a rock. Sylvester is changed into a rock, but he can no longer hold the magic pebble to wish himself back into his usual form. His family looks high and low for him and is eventually returned to his family. William Steig has such a  way with words  and his books can fit into multiple comprehension strategies, such as asking questions .

Enemy Pie  by Derek Muson is such a fantastic book for many comprehension strategies. It’s been one of my favorites for a long time and I LOVE reading it to kids who have never heard the story. When a bully (Jeremy Ross) moves into the neighborhood, the young boy’s summer is ruined. That is until the young boy’s father says he can help get rid of the bully (enemy) by making him some enemy pie. The boy wonders: What is “enemy pie” and how does it work? Will it get rid of enemies? What does it taste like? Will “enemy pie” solve all his problems?

Camilla worries about what others think of her so much that on the first day of school, she wakes up with a bad case of the stripes…and much more! Her body adds on the ailments of every fear she has until a kind, old lady helps her to learn that it’s okay to just be herself. A Bad Case of the Stripes  by David Shannon has an explicit external conflict, but kids have to read “in between the lines” to get the internal problem Camilla faces and eventually conquers.

The Stray Dog by Marc Simont is one of the books we used an example for our determining importance post with fiction . A family goes for a nice picnic away from the city only to meet a cute, stray dog. They leave the park without the dog, but think about him all week. The next weekend, the family returns to the park, hoping that the stray dog will show up again. He does, but now they have another obstacle to overcome. Such a cute book and one that requires kids to pay attention to the story that the pictures also tell.

If I had a dollar for every Elephant & Piggie book we’ve read {and re-read} this school year, I’d be rich! 🙂 All of his books contain a clear problem and solution format, but in such a fun and playful way that kids WANT to read these. While the words are written for the 1st grade level, older kids will enjoy them, too. Waiting is Not Easy! is one of Mo Willems’ newest Elephant & Piggie books and was also featured in our determining importance post with fiction  from our Reading Comprehension Series .

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak is another classic book that features a clear problem and solution structure. Max is banished to his room without supper because of his behavior and falls asleep only to “wake up” in a world of wild things. Max begins to long for home again and wakes up to find that his mother has left his supper in his room to eat. I love how Sendak asks kids to read between the lines a bit to figure out how his supper got there and why. So adorable and such a classic!

More Book Lists You May Enjoy:

50+ Texts for Modeling Comprehension Strategies compiled This Reading Mama

  • 50+ Books for Modeling Comprehension Strategies
  • Books to Help you Teach Comprehension
  • Letter of the Week Book Lists & Letter Packs

Books that Have a Clear Problem and Solution Text Structure complied by This Reading Mama

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April 25, 2016 at 6:38 pm

This was helpful. Thanks, I have most of these books.

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November 4, 2016 at 11:22 am

Is this list available somewhere in document form?

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November 4, 2016 at 11:47 pm

I don’t believe so, but that’s a GREAT idea!

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December 7, 2020 at 7:51 pm

Loved the tips and advice in your article. You explained it well and I guess I am going to apply these in my future writing project. You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children. Come and visit my blog on Tips on How to Write a Story That’s Perfect for Children Hope this will help.

Thanks Attilio

January 8, 2021 at 9:19 pm

This is useful information that helps me in my future writing. Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body. It is also to train your mind to imagination to think big. Keep it up!

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Episode 84: Storytelling For Problem Solving

A conversation with denise withers, founder and story coach at denise withers..

“I firmly believe that culture is essentially just a collection of stories that define how we think and how we behave. In a very simple organizational example, if you’re sitting in a meeting and somebody speaks up to question what their boss says and their boss tells them to shut up, that’s a story that everybody’s going to remember, everybody’s going to file away in their own story database and that story is going to define the way they behave and it’s going to influence whether or not they decide to speak up the next time in a meeting. And so you can come up with all the nice sayings that you want about how your organization works, but it’s the stories that we tell each other, it’s the stories that we see, it’s the stories that we experience that we actually internalize and remember and use to guide our decisions and our behaviors going forward.” – Denise Withers

In this episode of Control the Room, I had the pleasure of speaking with Denise Withers about her journey becoming a Story Coach and helping leaders drive change.  She shares the importance of developing your Narrative Intelligence to improve our abilities to learn, solve problems, and make sense of the world.  We then discuss stories’ influence on culture, change initiatives, and leadership development.  Listen in to learn more about why we need to think beyond just telling stories and start noticing the problem the story is solving.  

Show Highlights

[2:10] How Denise Got Her Start As A Story Coach

[9:30] How To Use Story To Learn, Solve Problems, And Make Sense Of The World. 

[16:20] How To Use Story In Change Initiatives.

[30:00] How To Use Backcasting To Free Up Resources.

[39:00] Helping People Think Beyond Just Telling Stories

Links | Resources

Denise on Twitter

Denise on LinkedIn

About the Guest

Denise Withers has spent the last 30+ years helping leaders use stories to drive change, through her work as an award-winning filmmaker and certified coach. Working with clients across sectors, she’s inspired millions of people to take action on issues like climate change, clean energy, and equity, through channels from Discovery to the UN. 

About Voltage Control

Voltage Control is a change agency that helps enterprises sustain innovation and teams work better together with custom-designed meetings and workshops, both in-person and virtual. Our master facilitators offer trusted guidance and custom coaching to companies who want to transform ineffective meetings, reignite stalled projects, and cut through assumptions. Based in Austin, Voltage Control designs and leads public and private workshops that range from small meetings to large conference-style gatherings.

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good problem solving stories

Engage Control The Room

Voltage Control  on the Web Contact  Voltage Control

Full Transcript

Douglas:  Welcome to the Control the Room Podcast, a series devoted to the exploration of meeting culture and uncovering cures for the common meeting. Some meetings have tight control and others are loose. To control the room means achieving outcomes while striking a balance between imposing and removing structure, asserting and distributing power, leaning in and leaning out, all in the service of having a truly magical meeting. Thanks for listening. If you’d like to join us live for a session sometime, you can join our weekly Control the Room Facilitation Lab. It’s a free event to meet fellow facilitators and explore new techniques so you can apply the things you learn in the podcast in real-time with other facilitators. Sign up today at

If you’d like to learn more about my new book, Magical Meetings, you can download the Magical Meetings Quick Start Guide, a free PDF reference with some of the most important pieces of advice from the book. Download a copy today at Today I’m with Denise Withers, story coach for the planet. Denise helps leaders use stories to solve tough problems and create narrative change. She’s also the author of the book Story Design: The Creative Way to Innovate, and the host of the podcast Forward: How stories drive change. Welcome to the show, Denise.

Denise:  Thanks so much for having me. I’m really excited about our conversation.

Douglas:  I am excited as well. I’ve been looking forward to this for a while. Picked up the book. Gosh, it’s been a while. I think we first spoke, it’s been months now and we’re finally here doing the recording, so really looking forward to digging in. So far my conversations with you have been really, I would say, inspiring. I know we’ll probably go even deeper now, so really looking forward to it.

Denise:  Yeah, that’s great. There’s so much you can do with stories. We could talk for hours.

Douglas:  Absolutely. I guess before we get into kind of more current events, I’d love to hear how you got your start in the work of story design.

Denise:  Yeah. I guess I started back in the ’80s. I studied radio and television arts and I ended up becoming a documentary filmmaker for about 20 years. I was really lucky in my career that I launched my career just a little bit before all the specialty cable channels started out in Canada, if anybody remembers cable, and Discovery Channel had just gone on the air. So they were really hungry for content. So I was quite lucky to be able to get hired by a lot of the different shows on Discovery Channel and spent 20 years doing documentaries on everything from life and space to endangered species, to topics like HIV/AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa. It was literally, it really was the best job in the world. I was traveling around the world, learning all kinds of new things and really helping leaders and organizations spread the word about the good work they were doing and make a change.

It all kind of came crashing to a halt around 2001, 2002 when reality TV took off. That just changed the business model for television and they weren’t really interested in documentaries anymore. So I tried reality TV for a year or so and I really just couldn’t do it. I literally woke up one morning and said, “This is no way for a grown-up to make a living,” and I walked away from TV. I ended up going to grad school, a new program here in British Columbia, Canada, focused on interactive arts and technology. This was when digital media was really starting to take off. I thought it was going to look at how we use different kinds of media, video versus audio, for different kinds of learning, because I really loved the learning part of the work that I’d been doing.

But what I discovered was at the time, nobody was talking about this thing called engagement that was second nature for us in television. If you didn’t make your program engaging, people would change the channel and the show would get terrible ratings and you’d be out of a job. So I ended up doing a Master of Science on what engagement is, how it works. So looking at the cognitive science behind it, the behavioral science, the developmental psychology, and then really exploring how do you put that all together? Are there ways that you can actually design media or design experiences to be more engaging? I ended up developing a set of guidelines for how you do that.

Ironically, it turned out that the most powerful tool we have for engagement is story. And so as part of that research, I started exploring this concept of narrative intelligence. I also was exposed to the idea of design, which now it’s really popular this idea of design thinking in business as a problem solving framework. That’s when it really all came together for me. I realized that what I’d been doing during my documentary work was really this thing called story design where you have basically a communications problem or an education problem that you need to solve and you design a story to solve that problem. The process I was using as a creative was very similar to the process that organizations and businesses and entrepreneurs are using in design thinking.

When I graduated, I ended up doing quite a lot of work in the post-secondary world because that’s where design thinking was really starting to take off. I spent the next few years really weaving together all of these tools. So everything from storytelling, design thinking, strategic foresight, appreciative inquiry, behavioral economics. Starting to bring all those things together to say, how can we change the way that we design solutions to problems? So how can we change our approach to change? That’s really what I’ve been doing for the last 15 years. So really it’s led into this movement to go beyond just using stories as a way to influence people and as a framework for communication to using stories as a way to learn and solve problems and make change.

Douglas:  That’s an amazing story in itself. I think maybe the one thing that blows my mind the most is the epiphany that reality TV is really the thing you can point to as the reason why the television documentary really took a dive. From my personal experience, I remember it but I can’t say that I pointed to that one cause, but it makes so much sense in retrospect.

Denise:  Yeah, it was quite clear reality TV appealed to the demographic that the advertisers wanted whereas documentaries appealed to an older demographic. The younger demographic spends more money. Anybody who thinks that the networks care about content is fooling themselves. The networks are in the business to make money. So if they could produce reality TV cheaper and get the demographic that the advertisers wanted, then they were going to be all over that. So yeah, we really got kicked to the curb quite quickly.

Douglas:  And it’s not surprising that you didn’t find much passion in the reality TV space because it’s really a void of many stories.

Denise:  Well, yeah, I would argue that. I mean, I’ve got one of my best friends is an editor on Survivor and she’s the best storyteller I know. She is a master at taking all of the stuff that’s filmed in the course of an episode of Survivor, which doesn’t have a story to it, it’s just a whole bunch of stuff that happened. Her expertise is in taking all of that and finding a compelling story to tell. So I wouldn’t say that it doesn’t have a story but there’s no room for a writer-director, which is what I was in the classical sense in that genre.

Douglas:  That is fascinating the point that the story’s almost fabricated from all these threads that were kind of collected versus documentary style’s more around like showcasing the story that’s kind of already there.

Denise:  Yes. And in fact, it’s actually a great metaphor. The work that she’s doing on Survivor is actually a great metaphor for what our narrative intelligence does. So narrative intelligence is really our natural ability to learn and solve problems from stories. When you think about intelligence, emotional intelligence, or linguistic intelligence, intelligence is all about the ability to analyze patterns in a specific domain like math or language, or sports and learn and solve problems from those patterns.

And so when you think about the way that our brain works, we get bombarded with random bits of information all the time and what our brain does, what our narrative intelligence does is it organizes all those bits of information into the pattern of a story with a problem, a quest for answers and a solution. And then it packages that and that’s how we make sense of the world. Everything that happens to us, that’s actually how we make sense of it. And so as an editor on Survivor, she’s doing the same thing. She’s taking all these random bits of information and she’s organizing them into a story so we can make sense of what’s happening in that situation.

Douglas:  It also reminds me, when you’re talking about these patterns that we’re basically identifying and applying these models of the world that we know about or that we’ve learned, it reminds me of our pre-show chat and how you were talking about how cultures contain stories and being a part of culture means that you kind of are part of these stories or you identify with these stories and they can influence the way you see the world. It seems fairly similar these kinds of cultural stories or these stories that are aligned with the cultures and these patterns and models that we pick up through disciplines as well.

Denise:  Yeah, absolutely. I firmly believe that culture is essentially just a collection of stories that define how we think and how we behave. In a very simple organizational example, if you’re sitting in a meeting and somebody speaks up to question what their boss says and their boss tells them to shut up, that’s a story that everybody’s going to remember, everybody’s going to file away in their own story database and that story is going to define the way they behave and it’s going to influence whether or not they decide to speak up the next time in a meeting. And so you can come up with all the nice sayings that you want about how your organization works, but it’s the stories that we tell each other, it’s the stories that we see, it’s the stories that we experience that we actually internalize and remember and use to guide our decisions and our behaviors going forward.

Douglas:  As you were saying that, something really just emerged for me. Then you reinforce it further with these words like internalized and remember, stories can be a memory device. People talk about like memory palace planting these things that we want to remember in these visual kinds of spaces in our mind. But also stories can be a way of remembering things, the way we tell a story and the way we repeat that story. I know my mom has these stories about me being a seven-year-old that she likes to tell over and over and over again and it’s a way of remembering. Those are the things that you don’t forget because you kind of internalize them and you tell them.

Denise:   Yeah, absolutely. Again, my working hypothesis is that we keep absolutely everything we know about the world in packets of stories in our own personal story database. And so that’s how we remember everything. And so the implications of that are actually huge because that means that stories are actually the source of all of our knowledge, our creativity, and our innovation. And then the piece that goes along with that, what we’re seeing, the neuroscience of stories is coming a long way because we’re getting all these advances in medical imaging and that kind of thing. What we’re learning is that the more often you tell a story, whether you tell it aloud or you tell it to yourself, the more deeply sort of “wired” or rooted it gets. That’s one reason why it’s so hard to make change.

When somebody starts a change initiative, whether it’s within an organization or it’s personal, I’m going to run five miles every day, or it’s social, we’re going to get everybody to switch over to electric cars, typically what we do is we think that we’re starting with a blank slate. We just look ahead to the future and we say, “This is the story that I’m going to create. I’m going to be a runner. I’m going to be an electric car owner.” What we forget is that people are already telling themselves stories about that situation. We’re not starting with a blank slate. And those stories are typically very deeply ingrained. And so the only way that you are going to get them to change their behavior is to replace the story that they’re telling themselves with one that they like better, one that shows them the path to a better future.

This is why we’re failing to get people to take action on things like climate change because the stories that we’re telling are all stories of sacrifice and loss. They’re not better stories. They don’t offer us a better future. So we’re not going to give up our old stories about I like my car, I like my warm house, I like my 30-minute shower. We have to reframe the way we try to change the climate narrative. We have to figure out what people actually really want more of and then design the solutions. This is where it gets into change design, design the solutions that they actually really want and will adopt. They’re not going to do it just because it’s the right thing to do.

Douglas:  It reminds me too of some research that I’ve seen around resistance to change and how it’s tied into identity. Identity is just stories that we’re telling ourselves about who we are and who we believe we will be in the future. And if this change is coming along that makes us think that we’re not going to be the same way or be that same person that we always knew to be or always wanted to be, that can be really hard for folks and if they’re not willing to change that story or see how it might unfold differently or if we don’t confront that, then it’s going to be really difficult to actually see the actual change through.

Denise:  Yeah, absolutely. When you think about it, a lot of the work that I do is one-to-one coaching. So narrative coaching at an individual level for change makers and for leaders. That’s exactly it, who are you now and who’s the person that you want to be, and what’s the journey that you need to undergo to become that person, and identity is a really strong part of that. It’s really fascinating to me to see, once people start to step into a new identity, change happens really fast.

Quite often, we see this a lot in coaching, if somebody says, “I want to be the CEO, I want to be the CEO.” You say, “Okay, well, what’s stopping you from being the CEO right now?” And they list 10 things that they think are stopping them from being a CEO right now. In reality, those are just stories that they’re telling themselves. They could actually start to be a CEO of their own company right now. There’s very few actual, real barriers. The biggest barriers, as you say, are the way that they see themselves right now. They tell themselves they have to do all of these things before they can be somebody different when the fact is you can actually start to be somebody different right now.

Douglas:  I love that. I think in one of our earlier chats, I wrote down this notion of be the person you want to be. And so reframing the story, you’re giving yourself permission to do it.

Denise:  Absolutely. That’s a really nice way to put it. You give yourself permission to do it. And again, we don’t realize that the stories we tell ourselves are typically our biggest barriers. They’re the things that hold us back.

Douglas:  I also remember you saying that in your one-to-one coaching that you craft a change story with them. It sounds like that’s what you were describing here with this kind of workaround what is it that they want to do and how they reshape that. So I guess I’m curious how that looks when someone’s crafting the story. What does that entail?

Denise:  Yeah. A change story is really, it brings together several different forms of stories that people call different things. So it’s a leadership story, it’s a future story, it’s a pitch story, and it’s based on kind of everything I’ve learned over the last five to 10 years. What I’m realizing is we hear a lot about you need to tell your story, you need to tell your story. That work is often focused on telling the story of what you’ve done in the past. What we’re actually seeing is that people are more drawn to the story of where you’re going. If you want to lead change, you need to be able to tell people the story of where you’re leading them, why it matters and how it’s going to make their life better. And within that, you do need to absolutely include why you’re the right person to be able to do it, which includes some of what you’ve achieved in the past.

But people are less interested in what you’ve done in the past and more interested in where you’re going in the future. So what I ended up doing was looking at different story models and putting together my own story structure that I call this change story. And so it really, I think there’s eight steps to it. One of the things it does to it, it also tries to weave you through the emotional flow of the journey where you have highs and lows. So you start out with there’s a problem. You’re struggling, whatever it is that you’re struggling with, but things don’t have to be this way. And then it moves right into the vision. Just imagine how much better life could be instead of where you are with your struggling.

So what’s stopping you, and then you get into obstacles. You’re being held back by limiting stories that you’re telling yourself about what is and is impossible. And then that’s where you really come in with your solution, which in classical storytelling is the magic gift. So you have the power to change whatever it is that’s stopping you with this magic gift and be able to make your future reality. And then this is where more of the pitch piece comes in. You remind people that it can be scary to make change. Making change like this can be scary. How do you know you can do it?

And then you move into courage or strengths, which is, if it’s individual coaching, well, you’ve done it before and you look at examples of how you’ve done it before. Or if you’re trying to get somebody to follow you, well, the reason we know we can do it is because here’s all the things that I’ve done before as a leader. And then you wrap up with reminding them of the urgency, why they need to take action now, really how crappy their life is right now and how much better it could be if they would just make this one change. And then you end with a call to action.

I love it. It has some parallels to some of the stuff from Nancy Duarte around the way the world is and the way the world could be as far as really good framing for presentations, but it’s so much more personally actionable.

Denise:  Yeah. It absolutely includes, Nancy Duarte came up with that framework by analyzing some of the most powerful speeches of our time like Martin Luther King. One of the speeches that I love is JFK talking about going to the moon. It’s an example that I use quite a lot when I’m trying to help people under the power of vision. In his speech, he rallies people by saying Russia’s kicking our butt and if we can be the first ones to the moon, I guarantee that we’re going to become the technological leaders of the world. And so he sets this great challenge, we’re going to win the race to the moon. He has no freaking idea how they’re going to win the race but he tells the story to inspire a nation to go out and do it.

He didn’t spend 10 years figuring out the solution to the problem and then come and tell the story. He started with the story of this is what we’re going to do and galvanized a nation to get there. That’s the power of bringing story right up to the beginning of your change design cycle. You don’t leave it until the end when you want to just communicate, you bring it right up to the front. And so the work that I’m doing now with organizational clients is we are using this change story framework to design the change initiative itself, to design the change strategy itself. And so what happens is once you finish your strategy, you’ve also got your story that’s ready to go to bring other people along with you.

Douglas:  Well, that makes so much sense because it reminds me of how a lot of companies, they hear about OKRs and they think, “Oh, wow, that’s going to be a silver bullet for us. We’ll adopt OKRs and we’ll have a really straightforward strategy and it’ll be aligned and we’ll be so much more successful.” And as Christina Wodtke so eloquently points out, OKRs are a strategy deployment vehicle, they’re not a strategy definition vehicle. And so while the stories can be really powerful, if there is no vision, if there’s no dream to anchor it, then it’s not going to be nearly as galvanizing. So it makes sense that you would start there and bring your clients to a point where they have that focal point to rally everyone around.

Denise:  Yeah. The most important piece of this is that you develop the change story with the people that you’re trying to get to change. I’m just going to come back to climate because that’s where I’m doing a lot of my work right now. The vision that we’ve been trying to sell is this vision of a green future where everybody’s driving electric cars. And again, that in itself is not compelling. And so what we did, I’m working with the municipality here in Canada right now, we actually went out and we did story research. So we collected stories from the people that we want to change to find out, what do they want more of in their life? What’s holding them back? What are they really struggling with? Then we use that to craft a vision that they really want that also gets us to zero emissions.

So the things that they’re struggling with like they want to… This is a suburban community, so they want to stop commuting. Nobody wants to spend four hours a day in their car. They want more time with their families. They want to save money. They want to be able to spend more time in nature. So how do we craft a climate solution that creates that vision for them, that makes that their reality, and also reduces their emissions? Now that’s something they’re going to get behind. They’re not going to support it because it reduces emissions, they’re going to support it because it gives them the life they want.

Douglas:  That’s amazing. It shows that tie back to the design thinking or just the kind of understanding the problem that we’re solving before we even begin to think about the approach.

Denise:  Yeah. I think this is where the storytelling community, professional storytelling community has really kind of done itself a disservice because over the last 20 years or probably longer, stories have been positioned as this magical tool to convince people, to influence people, to sell them on ideas. What that’s made people think about it, I can have a crappy idea but if I have a great story, people will buy it anyway. What I’m saying is, especially when we start to talk about social and environmental change, that’s not working. We have to stop trying to sell crappy ideas. This is where the design thinking piece comes back in. We actually have to use stories to design better solutions, and then you don’t need the really slick million-dollar story to sell it because it’s a good solution and it will sell itself.

Douglas:  So how does strategic foresight come into the work you do? You mentioned that earlier. I’m a big fan and think it’s super cool and not enough people are doing it. I’m just kind of curious how it actually shows up in the work that you’re doing around maybe climate.

Denise:  Yeah. It shows up. Well, again, if you look at this change story, it shows up in two spots there. It shows up in the vision piece. Well, it shows up in the problems too. The problem, the vision, and the solution. So looking at trends, what are the trends that we’re faced with? How can they inform the solution that we develop? How can they inform the vision of the future? And how can they help us better understand the problem that our audience is struggling with? Not a climate example but a healthcare example, I was working with an organization that served a large south Asian population and we were trying to look ahead to say how are we going to change our care model so that we can engage this population better because it was a really big gap between the needs of the population and the care that was being provided.

So I actually ran kind of a future workshop for them where I brought in all the trends that we were starting to look at and I created several scenarios for them about possible futures for this region of the province that I live in. So the solutions included things like what happens if there’s an earthquake? What happens if we have all autonomous vehicles because a big part of the population drive for a living? What happens if the way that we all live changes where we’re not living in multi-generational houses and things like that? It was fascinating for me to bring in everybody that included urban planners and to see the shock on their faces when they started to think about the fact that the future, even just a few years down the road, is going to be different than it is right now.

We were able to bring in those trends. I look a lot of the World Economic Forum. They have great data available on what’s going on in trends, but we have a really hard time envisioning the future. We typically think of the future as looking exactly like today. And so I find that strategic foresight, bringing in the trends, helping clients play around with those trends and connect them to what they’re seeing in their own lives is a really nice way to get them to start to break free of the past and the current situation that they’re in and really let loose to imagine a better future.

Douglas:  Super cool. I’m curious to come back to the model here that you have, which is the Story Specs and the story being comprised of the problem, the quest, and the resolution. I’m curious when you are helping people craft stories about their future, how does resolution show up in a story about the future?

Denise:  Yeah, that’s interesting. That Story Specs model is, it’s really a simplified version of the hero’s journey because I find the hero’s journey is just way too complex for anybody, including me, to work with. So it really boils down to, it’s really story kind of boiled down. Typically if you’re talking about a story in the past, when you start to try to capture or understand the story, you do it in a linear way. So you start with, what was the problem you were trying to solve? What were all the things that you tried to do to solve that problem, so what was your quest, and how did the story end? And typically stories really only end in one of three ways; you succeed, you fail or you die trying.

The difference though is when you’re starting to think about a future story, you actually start with the end and then reverse engineer from there. So it is a different approach from a design perspective in working with clients. And quite often, even though in design thinking you often start it with what’s the problem that we have to solve, I find more and more these days I’m actually starting with, well, what’s the vision? What’s happily ever after? Where do we want to actually end up, and then how do we reverse engineer from there?

Douglas:  Interesting. And I’m curious, once you do that, do folks then take a more kind of explorative approach to thinking about how they decompose the pieces that get them on that journey?

Denise:  Yeah. I don’t know if it’s a more explorative approach but I do find it frees them up. One of the truths of design thinking for me has always been problem definition is absolutely the hardest part. And by starting with the future, you’re kind of shifting the problem a little bit and moving it into the future. But once you get clear on what it is you really want, like you get really crystal clear, a vision of where you want to go, figuring out how to get there really isn’t that hard. Like that’s never been the thing that stopped us. Typically what stops us is that we’re trying to solve the wrong problem or we don’t really know what we’re trying to create, why it matters. And so that’s the bulk of the work that I end up doing is really trying to clarify those things. It’s that Einstein quote. What is it? If I had an hour to save the world, I’d spend the first 59 minutes trying to figure out what the problem is.

Douglas:  Yeah. Figure out all the right questions to ask. It’s like so good. Yeah, I love that. I think you’re so right. The problem is often so misunderstood or people struggle how to articulate it. And so moving into that visionary piece, especially if it truly is visionary work, if we’re talking about like what’s the next feature or what’s the next market we’re going to go into, maybe an explorative approach where we research and learn and gather might make sense, but I love this backtracking. It’s similar to how you might just take a big project and decide, hey, what’s the deadline for these little pieces? Well, when does it all need to be done, and let’s work our way backwards. It’s like that backwards design piece.

Denise:  Yeah, exactly. Some people call this backcasting, I just reverse engineering. It’s all kind of the same thing for me. But the other reason that I really love it is quite often, again, clients come in and they’ve got this laundry list of things that they have to achieve on their project. Most of the time, 80% of the stuff on their laundry list turns out to be irrelevant. If you start with what you really need to have by the end, it changes the way that you design your solution and a lot of the stuff that’s on that list can quite often fall off. The beauty of that is, it often frees up resources for you to do other things or invest more deeply in the most important areas.

Douglas:  Another note that I wrote down was around because you mentioned the word engagement and I was thinking about connection and how stories create connection and alignment. The JFK story that you told is 100% around alignment and connection like people were focused and galvanized on this common mission. I think that’s super powerful when we think about change efforts inside organizations.

Denise:  Absolutely. You need to have everybody moving in the same direction. There’s a great little anecdote that goes with JFK piece, which is apparently a few years later he was visiting one of the NASA facilities and stopped to talk to a janitor in the hallway and said, “Tell me what you do here.” The janitor looked at him and said, “Well, Mr. President, I’m helping to put the first man on the moon.” You don’t get better alignment than that.

And so, again, the reason I say you want to develop your strategy as a story is it also gives you space to help everybody who needs to be involved in your story figure out what character they are. What role do they have to play? Are they Frodo? Talking about Lord of the Rings, are they Frodo? Are they the hero? Are they Aragorn, a supporter? Are they Gandalf? Are they the wizard? What role do they have to play? People really need that clarity and that understanding and coming back to identity, that sense of belonging. I’m part of this group, I have a really important contribution to make. It’s crystal clear to me why I belong and why this organization needs me.

Douglas:  It’s interesting, unrelated to what you were just telling me but it just jogged a memory of mine of a client that we were working with. Their story that they were telling themselves around this problem and around this project was so heavily laden with their internal jargon and their brand identity that they didn’t really understand the story, because this Brandy word, I’m trying to be vague here, but this Brandy word meant different things to different people, especially as they applied it to the context of this project. And so a lot of the work that we were doing was helping to unpack it and like, wait, hold on, let’s remove the metaphor and let’s remove the fancy marketing shin and just get down to some real words around what we’re talking about. I’m just wondering if that’s ever come up in your work with stories because it seems like the jargon was getting in the way of good storytelling.

Denise:  Yeah. Details always get in the way. And so one of the first things that I do with clients is we build the bullet point story. So if the change story has eight steps to it, there’s like one bullet for each step and you can tell that story in one minute. You have to be able to do that first to get really clear on what matters. And again, that’s where a lot of the stuff that doesn’t matter falls off and frees you up. One of the biggest barriers to change is all the baggage that we bring into it. So if we can drop that baggage as we kind of cross the threshold into the new world and the new identity and the new situation that we want to go into, now we have resources, we have energy, we have mental space to really focus on where we want to go as opposed to where we’ve been and all this stuff that we think is important and really isn’t.

Douglas:  That reminds me of a funny thing a mentor once told me. He said, “Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.” He wasn’t telling me to lie or fib or make stuff up, but I think that my tendency was just to lay the facts on them so much that like, or to be so specific about what it was. He was like, “Is that going to catch people’s emotions and minds and imagination?” Like, give them fuel to be excited about this thing.

Denise:  Yeah. It’s interesting. So my research into engagements back in grad school revealed that actually, the biggest factor in getting and keeping people’s attention was creating like a gap or a challenge for them, basically inviting them into solving a problem, because we’re just wired for that. And so once you invite them to solve a problem, they’re going to stay engaged for as long as that problem remains unsolved. And then as soon as it’s solved, the engagement ends.

Douglas:  Well, that reminds me of Cunningham’s law. Have you heard of this?

Douglas:  How do you learn anything on the internet? You post the wrong answer because everyone wants to tell you you’re wrong. It’s also a great way to get children engaged. If you point at something that’s clearly not an elephant and you say that’s an elephant, then they want to tell you that’s not an elephant, you’re wrong.

Denise:  Right. Yeah.

Douglas:  I guess as we’re kind of nearing an end here, I wanted to just hear from you what your advice would be for someone who’s wanting to get their start. What’s a good first step to start working in this area of story design?

Denise:  Yeah. I think the easiest thing actually is to go out and do some really small, really simple narrative analysis or story collecting and analysis just so you can start to get a sense of how powerful it is. And so you can pick a question or a problem that you’re dealing with and go out and even just talk to three or five people may be outside your regular circle and get them to tell you a story about it. So let’s say you’re trying to get people in your office to recycle more. So you go out and you talk to people outside your office and you ask them to tell you stories about recycling, like how did they get started recycling? What’s the best recycling experience that they’ve ever had? Where have they seen great recycling done?

When you collect stories like that, even just if you get three or four stories, your narrative intelligence is naturally going to start to analyze the patterns in those stories and look for themes and look for commonalities. That’s where you can start to get great ideas that fuel innovation. If you’d only ever do this within your circle, you’re not going to get fresh ideas that way. You’re just going back to culture. You’re just going to reinforce the stories that you’re already telling yourselves. So that’s one way to get started is just go out and collect stories about a specific thing that you’re trying to work on outside of your regular circle and kind of start to learn what other people have to say.

The other thing you can do is next time you’re planning something, whether it’s a strategy or a program or even just a meeting, try actually planning it as a story using that really basic structure of what’s the problem we’re trying to solve? What are two or three that we think we need to do to solve it? And what’s our vision of success, what would happily ever after look like? And then build on that and say, who are the characters that we need to do this with us? What roles would they have to play? What superpowers do we need them to bring in?

And then look at what are some of the potential obstacles? Who are the bad guys that we’re going to have to fight? What are some of the potential barriers that we’re going to have to come up against? I think you’ll find that it’s a great tool for alignment for whoever’s working on the thing that you’re planning. And it’s also going to be a great tool for helping you both be creative and then share your ideas with other people and get them engaged.

Douglas:  Awesome. Sounds like great advice. Let’s kind of bring things to an end here. And as we do, I’d love to give you an opportunity to leave our listeners with a final thought and maybe share a little bit of information around how they can find your work and the book, et cetera.

Denise:  Yeah. The final thought I think is to really start to think beyond just telling stories and really start to focus on identifying and listening to and analyzing and processing stories. And as you do that, every time you hear a story, try to figure out what the problem in that story is. What’s that person trying to do? What are they trying to achieve? What problem are they trying to solve? That’s really, it’s not just going to beef up your narrative intelligence, it’s also going to make you a much better critical thinker and designer because you’re going to develop your problem definition skills.

So I think looking beyond what the hype is telling us in terms of everybody should be a storyteller, because that just makes us a whole lot of talkers with nobody listening, and really spend some time focusing on developing your listening, your story, listening to your story analysis skills and see what you can learn from that. In terms of where to find me, you can find me across social media. You can find me on my website, which is, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, kind of all over the place. Most active on LinkedIn I think. And I’ve also got a TED Talk that should be available as of March 2022.

Douglas:  Awesome. And we’ll have links in the show notes so you can just click straight through. Definitely check this stuff out. It’s so good. Denise, it’s been such a pleasure chatting with you. Really, really great stuff.

Denise:  Well, thanks so much. I love talking about this stuff. If anybody has any questions, I really encourage them to reach out. I’m always happy to hear what people are doing. It’s a great learning experience for me to see how people are using their narrative intelligence and their natural ability to learn and solve problems with stories.

Douglas:  Awesome. Thanks again for joining the show.

Denise:  Thank you. Have a great day.

Douglas:  Thanks for joining me for another episode of Control the Room. Don’t forget to subscribe to receive updates when new episodes are released. And if you want more, head over to our blog where I post weekly articles and resources about working better together,

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All storytelling is about problem-solving

“Stories are like mental flight simulators; they allow us to rehearse problems and become better at dealing with them.” —Heath, Chip and Dan (2007). Made to Stick .

Context, problem, solution

All storytelling is about problem-solving.

All stories are context; problem; solution. That’s it. And they occur in that order.

This is true for anecdotes told in seconds and grand narrative multi-series TV dramas. Context, problem, solution. Repeat.

But there is more! Storytelling is not just about problem-solving, it is also our primary mental tool for solving problems.

In 1716, Christopher Bullock wrote, “‘Tis impossible to be sure of anything but death and taxes. ” That is true, but we can make a broader, more powerful statement. It’s impossible to be sure of anything except problems (of which death and taxes are just two of the many we face).

Problems are inevitable. And problems are solvable. 1

Facing and solving problems is a pretty good description of life and business.

good problem solving stories

When you understand the problem-solving nature of stories, it becomes obvious why we love them so much. And when you see how to use stories for problem-solving, you will have a secret code to solve any problem before you.

Problem-solving with story is an all-purpose, money-making, timesaving, status-building, enjoyment tool. It is a meta-skill!

When I graduated with an electrical and mechanical engineering degree back in the 1980s, my first job was running electrical survey instruments in oilwells, so the oil company could know whether they had discovered oil.

It’s a basic fact of the oil industry that oil is not found in touristic, pleasant locations. And so, I was stuck on rigs in the jungles of Sumatra, offshore East Malaysia, and on the frozen seas of Northern China.

If my survey instruments failed, as they often did, an oil rig and an impatient company man were waiting for me to fix them—at a waiting cost of one million dollars per day.

My job was continuous problem-solving. If you asked me what an engineer does, I would say, “An engineer solves problems.” But I did not think about or understand storytelling at that time.

With the perspective of hindsight, I now appreciate how I learned that complex, high-pressure job. I learnt from the stories of my colleagues.

Each time we returned to base from a rig, the engineers would get together and share stories of problems encountered and overcome. Each story was a mental simulation of how to overcome future problems. A simulation with mental playback—or play forward to other possible solutions.

They were not just technical stories, but stories of how to behave, how to manage people, how to succeed, and how to avoid failure. We loved those stories.

You might be thinking, ‘ It’s not that simple… ’ ; storytelling is not really about problem-solving, it’s about entertainment, human connection and emotions, or something else. Let me provide some examples.

A tornado rips through Kansas, and Dorothy and her dog, Toto, are whisked away in their house to the magical land of Oz [context]. Dorothy must find her way home [problem]. She meets three friends, has lots of adventures, and eventually finds her way home [solution]. The three friends have problems too (no brain; no heart; no courage), which they solve along the way—stories within a story.

Nelson Mandela grew up in South Africa while the country was racially divided by the system of apartheid [context]. He became an activist, seeking equal opportunities and rights for black South Africans [problem]. He was jailed for 27 years but inspired change through his writing and communication. In 1994, he became the first black prime minister of a united South Africa [solution].

In 1937, Benjamin Franklin was proposed to become Clerk of the General Assembly for Philadelphia [context]. An influential rival spoke out against his nomination  [problem]. Franklin knew it would be beneficial for him to become closer to this rival, so he sent him a note asking to borrow a rare book. The rival was surprised but agreed to send him the book. Franklin thanked him, and over time kept asking for other books, and the two built a comradeship [solution].

In contradiction to the title, I tell fifty stories in my book Seven Stories Every Salesperson Must Tell . Last night, I went through the story index in the book and found context, problem, and solution in each one. Every story in the book is a problem-solving story.

Sequence is crucial

Note that the sequence is crucial! If you miss the sequence, it is not a story , and you lose all the benefits.

In 1996, when I started as a salesman in Norway, I made the mistake of just telling my clients the solution. Solutions on their own, out of context, are merely claims that are difficult to process. Put the solution in a story, and magic happens.

With context , the listener can imagine themselves in the story. As a problem is described, they can guess at possible solutions and then delight in the final solution , as if they were the one that solved it.

Business applications

When you understand and appreciate that stories are about problem-solving, and you notice story’s problem-solving power, you can seek out examples for all types of business problems, such as:

  • How to build trust with another person;
  • How to inspire a team;
  • How to help a client change;
  • How to close a deal;
  • How to get the right behaviour from a team;
  • How to get new ideas;
  • How to grow a company;
  • How to implement a new strategy…

It goes on and on. Endless, solvable problems. Solvable with stories. Context, problem, solution.

It takes (enjoyable) practice to master storytelling, but the more you learn, the more you will realise how fundamental story is to business and life.

You will not only learn to tell stories, but also to seek out the stories of your clients, partners, and colleagues. Storytelling and story listening go together as a matched set.

Happy storytelling.

1 David Deutsch (2011). The Beginning of Infinity .

Mike Adams

Mike is an expert facilitator and story consultant who has helped numerous national and international companies, across many industries, to tap into story-powered sales. He is also the author of the international bestseller Seven Stories Every Salesperson Must Tell . Connect with Mike on:

Twitter  •  Linkedin  • 

good problem solving stories

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12 Best Problem Solving Books to Read in 2023

You found our list of top problem solving books .

Problem solving books are guides that improve critical thinking capability and the ability to resolve issues in the workplace. These works cover topics like bias and logical fallacies, problem prevention, and prioritizing. The purpose of these books is to help workers remain calm under pressure and come up with solutions more quickly.

These guides are similar to decision making books , negotiation books , and conflict resolution books . To improve competency in this area, one can also play problem solving games .

This list includes:

  • problem solving books for adults
  • creative problem solving books
  • business problem solving books
  • problem solving books for programmers

Here we go!

List of problem solving books

Here is a list of books to improve problem solving skills in the workplace.

1. Fixed: How to Perfect the Fine Art of Problem Solving by Amy E Herman

Fixed book cover

Fixed is one of the most useful new books on problem solving. The book calls for problem solvers to look beyond instinctual and obvious answers and provides a framework for more creative thinking. While most folks think about problem solving in terms of logic, reason, and disciplines like math and science, this book shows the role that art and imagination play in the process. Amy Herman consulted on leadership training with Silicon Valley companies and military organizations and brings this expertise into the text to train readers on how to adopt a more innovative critical thinking approach.

Notable Quote: “Working through problems is critical for productivity, profit, and peace. Our problem-solving skills, however, have been short-circuited by our complicated, technology-reliant world.”

Read Fixed .

2. Cracked it!: How to solve big problems and sell solutions like top strategy consultants by Bernard Garrette, Corey Phelps, and Olivier Sibony

Cracked It book cover

Cracked it! is one of the best creative problem solving books. Drawing inspiration from the tactics of consultants, this guide is a practical playbook for approaching business problems. The authors outline a “4S” method– State – Structure – Solve – Sell– to tackle obstacles and get support from stakeholders. While many problem solving books simply focus on how to think through issues, this guide also demonstrates how to gain approval for ideas and get others onboard with the solution. The book explains how to best use these techniques, and presents case studies that show the theories in action. Cracked it! is a handy reference for any professional that faces tough challenges on the regular.

Notable Quote: “If you want to know how a lion hunts, don’t go to a zoo. Go to the jungle.”

Read Cracked it!

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3. Upstream: The Quest to Solve Problems Before They Happen by Dan Heath

Upstream book cover

Upstream takes a proactive approach to problem solving. The book urges readers to not only be responsive to issues, but also try to prevent obstacles from occurring. The guide opens with an exploration of “problem blindness,” and the psychological factors that cause folks to be oblivious to issues, along with a reminder that many problems are more controllable and avoidable than first assumed. The pages that follow outline a series of questions leaders can ask to fine-tune the system and steer clear of major headaches, for instance, “How Will You Unite the Right People?” and “How Will You Avoid Doing Harm?” Upstream is full of real world examples of how minor tweaks achieved major results and allowed organizations to sidestep serious holdups.

Notable Quote: “The postmortem for a problem can be the preamble to a solution.”

Read Upstream .

4. Problem Solving 101: A Simple Book for Smart People by Ken Watanabe

book cover

Problem Solving 101 is one of the most fun problem solving books for adults. Written by Ken Watanabe, the guide draws on Japanese philosophy as well as the author’s experience as a consultant at McKinsey to help readers understand and approach problems in productive ways. The pages provide blueprints for problem-solving methods such as logic trees and matrixes, and include scenarios and illustrations that help readers visualize the process more clearly. Problem Solving 101 breaks down the problem solving procedure into the most basic parts and lays out step-by-step instructions for choosing the best action in any situation.

Notable Quote: “When you do take action, every result is an opportunity to reflect and learn valuable lessons. Even if what you take away from your assessment seems to be of small consequence, all of these small improvements taken together make a huge difference in the long term.”

Read Problem Solving 101 .

5. What’s Your Problem?: To Solve Your Toughest Problems, Change the Problems You Solve by Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg

What's your problem book cover

What’s Your Problem? insists that the most important step in the problem solving process is to start by honing in on the correct problem. The root of much frustration and wasted efforts is that professionals often pick the wrong points to focus on. This book teaches readers how to reframe and approach issues from a different perspective. The guide outlines a repeatable three step process “Frame, Reframe, and Move Forward” to ensure that workers prioritize effectively and stay on track to achieve desired results. What’s Your Problem? teaches professionals of all levels how to be less rigid and more results-focused and adopt a more agile approach to fixing issues.

Notable Quote: “The problems we’re trained on in school are often quite different from the ones we encounter in real life.”

Read What’s Your Problem?

6. Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days by Jake Knapp, John Zeratsky, et al

sprint book cover

Sprint is one of the best problem solving books for programmers. The authors are the creators of the five-day-process at Google. This guide describes best practices for conducting sprints and solving problems in limited timeframes. The book provides a day-by-day breakdown of tasks for each day of the workweek, with the final steps being designing a prototype and a plan for implementation. Though this idea originated in the tech world and is most widely used in the software industry, this problem-solving and product design approach can be useful for any position that needs to find fixes in a time crunch.

Notable Quote: “We’ve found that magic happens when we use big whiteboards to solve problems. As humans, our short-term memory is not all that good, but our spatial memory is awesome. A sprint room, plastered with notes, diagrams, printouts, and more, takes advantage of that spatial memory. The room itself becomes a sort of shared brain for the team.”

Read Sprint , and check out this guide to virtual hackathons and this list of product design books .

7. Think Like a Rocket Scientist: Simple Strategies You Can Use to Make Giant Leaps in Work and Life by Ozan Varol

Think like a rocket scientist book cover

Think Like a Rocket Scientist lays out formulas and instructions for thinking more strategically. The guide reveals common problem solving approaches used by rocket scientists when exploring the unknown and testing new technology. The book is split into three sections– launch, accelerate, and achieve– with deep dives into concepts such as moonshot thinking and overcoming failure. The anecdotes revolve around space exploration and rocket science yet the methods can be applied to more commonplace and less complex problems as well. Think Like a Rocket Scientist proves that one does not need to be a genius to be a genius problem solver and lets readers learn tricks from one of the most complex professions on the planet.

Notable Quote: “Critical thinking and creativity don’t come naturally to us. We’re hesitant to think big, reluctant to dance with uncertainty, and afraid of failure. These were necessary during the Paleolithic Period, keeping us safe from poisonous foods and predators. But here in the information age, they’re bugs.”

Read Think Like a Rocket Scientist .

8. Bulletproof Problem Solving: The One Skill That Changes Everything by Charles Conn and Robert McLean

Bulletproof problem solving book cover

Bulletproof Problem Solving is one of the best business problem solving books. This workbook-style-guide breaks down a “bulletproof” method of problem solving favored by consultants at McKinsey. The authors distill the process into seven simple steps–define the problem, disaggregate, prioritize, workplan, analyze, synthesize, and communicate– and give numerous examples of how to follow this cycle with different dilemmas. The chapters explore each stage in depth and outline the importance and finer points of each phase. The book also provides practical tools for readers to build skills, including an appendix with exercise worksheets.

Notable Quote: “Problem solving doesn’t stop at the point of reaching conclusions from individual analyses. Findings have to be assembled into a logical structure to test validity and then synthesized in a way that convinces others that you have a good solution. Great team processes are also important at this stage.”

Read Bulletproof Problem Solving .

9. Think Like a Programmer: An Introduction to Creative Problem Solving by by V. Anton Spraul

Think like a programmer book cover

Think Like a Programmer is one of the top problem solving books for programmers. The guide lays out methods for finding and fixing bugs and creating clean, workable code. The text emphasizes that programming is not merely a matter of being competent in the language, but also knowing how to troubleshoot and respond to unexpected occurrences. The chapters present examples of problems and puzzles and work through the answers to help strengthen professional competencies. The book provides an introductory crash course and practical toolkit for beginning coders, with a focus on C++. Yet since the text outlines general theory and approach, the book is also helpful for dealing with other programming languages, or for solving problems in non-tech industries as well. The point of the text is to provide a proper mindset and attitude for reacting to these developments, and the book can be a benefit for folks in any field.

Notable Quote: “Don’t Get Frustrated The final technique isn’t so much a technique, but a maxim: Don’t get frustrated. When you are frustrated, you won’t think as clearly, you won’t work as efficiently, and everything will take longer and seem harder. Even worse, frustration tends to feed on itself, so that what begins as mild irritation ends as outright anger.”

Read Think Like a Programmer .

10. The Founder’s Dilemmas: Anticipating and Avoiding the Pitfalls That Can Sink a Startup by by Noam Wasserman

The Founders Dilemmas Book Cover

The Founder’s Dilemmas lays out the most common problems entrepreneurs face and gives advice on how to avoid or solve these issues. The book tackles topics such as managing relationships, hiring, and rewarding or correcting employees. The chapters outline the mistakes inexperienced leaders often make and offer strategies for handling these tough situations with more smarts and skill. By reading this book, founders can learn from predecessors and avoid making obvious and avoidable errors in judgment. The Founder’s Dilemmas is a problem-solving resource for startup leaders and team members who lack more traditional guidance.

Notable Quote: “Ideas are cheap; execution is dear.”

Read The Founder’s Dilemmas , and check out more entrepreneurial books .

11. The Scout Mindset: Why Some People See Things Clearly and Others Don’t by Julia Galef

The scout mindset book cover

The Scout Mindset challenges readers to move beyond gut reactions and preconceptions and rethink problems. The book offers instructions for overcoming bias and central beliefs to gather more objective data. Julia Galef encourages readers to act more like scouts than soldiers and gather information without judging to make more informed decisions. The text outlines the common reasons folks jump to conclusions and offers advice on how to avoid incorrect assumptions and conduct level-headed analyses. The Scout Mindset is a call to action for objectivity and an instruction manual for breaking away from unhelpful mental patterns that can lead to poor choices.

Notable Quote: “Discovering you were wrong is an update, not a failure, and your worldview is a living document meant to be revised.”

Read The Scout Mindset .

12. Super Thinking: The Big Book of Mental Models by Gabriel Weinberg and Lauren McCann

Super Thinking book cover

Super Thinking is a comprehensive resource that explains various mental models for problem solving. The book identifies logical fallacies and shows readers how to avoid these pitfalls. The pages also lay out appropriate strategies, tools, techniques to use in different situations, such as matrices, pointed questions, and philosophies. The point of the guide is to teach readers how to evaluate information and make quick yet accurate judgements. The guide helps readers decide the best approach to use for each circumstance. Though packed with information, the pages also contain images and humor that prevent the material from getting too dry. Super Thinking is the ultimate cheat sheet for thinking rationally and acting with intention.

Notable Quote: “Unfortunately, people often make the mistake of doing way too much work before testing assumptions in the real world.”

Read Super Thinking .

Final Thoughts

Problem solving is one of the most essential skills for modern industry. With the breakneck pace at which the current business world changes, there is no shortage of new developments that professionals must contend with on a daily basis. Operating the same way for years at a time is impossible, and it is almost guaranteed that workers at every level will have issues to unravel at some point in their careers.

Books about problem solving help professionals predict, prevent, and overcome issues and find more viable and sustainable solutions. These guides not only provide skills, but also methods for survival in a highly competitive business landscape. These texts show workers that they are more capable than may first appear and that sometimes, seemingly insurmountable obstacles are beatable with a combination of creativity, teamwork, and proper process.

For more ways to beat the odds, check out this list of books on innovation and this list of books on business strategy .

We also have a list of the best communication books .

FAQ: Problem solving books

Here are answers to common questions about problem solving books.

What are problem solving books?

Problem solving books are guides that teach critical thinking skills and strategies for resolving issues. The purpose of these works is to help professionals be more creative and strategic in problem solving approaches.

What are some good problem solving books for work?

Some good problem solving books for work include Sprint by Jake Knapp, John Zeratsky, et al, Upstream by Dan Heath, and Think Like a Rocket Scientist by Ozan Varol.

Author avatar

Author: Angela Robinson

Marketing Coordinator at Team building content expert. Angela has a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and worked as a community manager with Yelp to plan events for businesses.

10 Best Problem-Solving Therapy Worksheets & Activities

Problem solving therapy

Cognitive science tells us that we regularly face not only well-defined problems but, importantly, many that are ill defined (Eysenck & Keane, 2015).

Sometimes, we find ourselves unable to overcome our daily problems or the inevitable (though hopefully infrequent) life traumas we face.

Problem-Solving Therapy aims to reduce the incidence and impact of mental health disorders and improve wellbeing by helping clients face life’s difficulties (Dobson, 2011).

This article introduces Problem-Solving Therapy and offers techniques, activities, and worksheets that mental health professionals can use with clients.

Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Positive Psychology Exercises for free . These science-based exercises explore fundamental aspects of positive psychology, including strengths, values, and self-compassion, and will give you the tools to enhance the wellbeing of your clients, students, or employees.

This Article Contains:

What is problem-solving therapy, 14 steps for problem-solving therapy, 3 best interventions and techniques, 7 activities and worksheets for your session, fascinating books on the topic, resources from, a take-home message.

Problem-Solving Therapy assumes that mental disorders arise in response to ineffective or maladaptive coping. By adopting a more realistic and optimistic view of coping, individuals can understand the role of emotions and develop actions to reduce distress and maintain mental wellbeing (Nezu & Nezu, 2009).

“Problem-solving therapy (PST) is a psychosocial intervention, generally considered to be under a cognitive-behavioral umbrella” (Nezu, Nezu, & D’Zurilla, 2013, p. ix). It aims to encourage the client to cope better with day-to-day problems and traumatic events and reduce their impact on mental and physical wellbeing.

Clinical research, counseling, and health psychology have shown PST to be highly effective in clients of all ages, ranging from children to the elderly, across multiple clinical settings, including schizophrenia, stress, and anxiety disorders (Dobson, 2011).

Can it help with depression?

PST appears particularly helpful in treating clients with depression. A recent analysis of 30 studies found that PST was an effective treatment with a similar degree of success as other successful therapies targeting depression (Cuijpers, Wit, Kleiboer, Karyotaki, & Ebert, 2020).

Other studies confirm the value of PST and its effectiveness at treating depression in multiple age groups and its capacity to combine with other therapies, including drug treatments (Dobson, 2011).

The major concepts

Effective coping varies depending on the situation, and treatment typically focuses on improving the environment and reducing emotional distress (Dobson, 2011).

PST is based on two overlapping models:

Social problem-solving model

This model focuses on solving the problem “as it occurs in the natural social environment,” combined with a general coping strategy and a method of self-control (Dobson, 2011, p. 198).

The model includes three central concepts:

  • Social problem-solving
  • The problem
  • The solution

The model is a “self-directed cognitive-behavioral process by which an individual, couple, or group attempts to identify or discover effective solutions for specific problems encountered in everyday living” (Dobson, 2011, p. 199).

Relational problem-solving model

The theory of PST is underpinned by a relational problem-solving model, whereby stress is viewed in terms of the relationships between three factors:

  • Stressful life events
  • Emotional distress and wellbeing
  • Problem-solving coping

Therefore, when a significant adverse life event occurs, it may require “sweeping readjustments in a person’s life” (Dobson, 2011, p. 202).

good problem solving stories

  • Enhance positive problem orientation
  • Decrease negative orientation
  • Foster ability to apply rational problem-solving skills
  • Reduce the tendency to avoid problem-solving
  • Minimize the tendency to be careless and impulsive

D’Zurilla’s and Nezu’s model includes (modified from Dobson, 2011):

  • Initial structuring Establish a positive therapeutic relationship that encourages optimism and explains the PST approach.
  • Assessment Formally and informally assess areas of stress in the client’s life and their problem-solving strengths and weaknesses.
  • Obstacles to effective problem-solving Explore typically human challenges to problem-solving, such as multitasking and the negative impact of stress. Introduce tools that can help, such as making lists, visualization, and breaking complex problems down.
  • Problem orientation – fostering self-efficacy Introduce the importance of a positive problem orientation, adopting tools, such as visualization, to promote self-efficacy.
  • Problem orientation – recognizing problems Help clients recognize issues as they occur and use problem checklists to ‘normalize’ the experience.
  • Problem orientation – seeing problems as challenges Encourage clients to break free of harmful and restricted ways of thinking while learning how to argue from another point of view.
  • Problem orientation – use and control emotions Help clients understand the role of emotions in problem-solving, including using feelings to inform the process and managing disruptive emotions (such as cognitive reframing and relaxation exercises).
  • Problem orientation – stop and think Teach clients how to reduce impulsive and avoidance tendencies (visualizing a stop sign or traffic light).
  • Problem definition and formulation Encourage an understanding of the nature of problems and set realistic goals and objectives.
  • Generation of alternatives Work with clients to help them recognize the wide range of potential solutions to each problem (for example, brainstorming).
  • Decision-making Encourage better decision-making through an improved understanding of the consequences of decisions and the value and likelihood of different outcomes.
  • Solution implementation and verification Foster the client’s ability to carry out a solution plan, monitor its outcome, evaluate its effectiveness, and use self-reinforcement to increase the chance of success.
  • Guided practice Encourage the application of problem-solving skills across multiple domains and future stressful problems.
  • Rapid problem-solving Teach clients how to apply problem-solving questions and guidelines quickly in any given situation.

Success in PST depends on the effectiveness of its implementation; using the right approach is crucial (Dobson, 2011).

Problem-solving therapy – Baycrest

The following interventions and techniques are helpful when implementing more effective problem-solving approaches in client’s lives.

First, it is essential to consider if PST is the best approach for the client, based on the problems they present.

Is PPT appropriate?

It is vital to consider whether PST is appropriate for the client’s situation. Therapists new to the approach may require additional guidance (Nezu et al., 2013).

Therapists should consider the following questions before beginning PST with a client (modified from Nezu et al., 2013):

  • Has PST proven effective in the past for the problem? For example, research has shown success with depression, generalized anxiety, back pain, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and supporting caregivers (Nezu et al., 2013).
  • Is PST acceptable to the client?
  • Is the individual experiencing a significant mental or physical health problem?

All affirmative answers suggest that PST would be a helpful technique to apply in this instance.

Five problem-solving steps

The following five steps are valuable when working with clients to help them cope with and manage their environment (modified from Dobson, 2011).

Ask the client to consider the following points (forming the acronym ADAPT) when confronted by a problem:

  • Attitude Aim to adopt a positive, optimistic attitude to the problem and problem-solving process.
  • Define Obtain all required facts and details of potential obstacles to define the problem.
  • Alternatives Identify various alternative solutions and actions to overcome the obstacle and achieve the problem-solving goal.
  • Predict Predict each alternative’s positive and negative outcomes and choose the one most likely to achieve the goal and maximize the benefits.
  • Try out Once selected, try out the solution and monitor its effectiveness while engaging in self-reinforcement.

If the client is not satisfied with their solution, they can return to step ‘A’ and find a more appropriate solution.

Positive self-statements

When dealing with clients facing negative self-beliefs, it can be helpful for them to use positive self-statements.

Use the following (or add new) self-statements to replace harmful, negative thinking (modified from Dobson, 2011):

  • I can solve this problem; I’ve tackled similar ones before.
  • I can cope with this.
  • I just need to take a breath and relax.
  • Once I start, it will be easier.
  • It’s okay to look out for myself.
  • I can get help if needed.
  • Other people feel the same way I do.
  • I’ll take one piece of the problem at a time.
  • I can keep my fears in check.
  • I don’t need to please everyone.

Worksheets for problem solving therapy

5 Worksheets and workbooks

Problem-solving self-monitoring form.

Answering the questions in the Problem-Solving Self-Monitoring Form provides the therapist with necessary information regarding the client’s overall and specific problem-solving approaches and reactions (Dobson, 2011).

Ask the client to complete the following:

  • Describe the problem you are facing.
  • What is your goal?
  • What have you tried so far to solve the problem?
  • What was the outcome?

Reactions to Stress

It can be helpful for the client to recognize their own experiences of stress. Do they react angrily, withdraw, or give up (Dobson, 2011)?

The Reactions to Stress worksheet can be given to the client as homework to capture stressful events and their reactions. By recording how they felt, behaved, and thought, they can recognize repeating patterns.

What Are Your Unique Triggers?

Helping clients capture triggers for their stressful reactions can encourage emotional regulation.

When clients can identify triggers that may lead to a negative response, they can stop the experience or slow down their emotional reaction (Dobson, 2011).

The What Are Your Unique Triggers ? worksheet helps the client identify their triggers (e.g., conflict, relationships, physical environment, etc.).

Problem-Solving worksheet

Imagining an existing or potential problem and working through how to resolve it can be a powerful exercise for the client.

Use the Problem-Solving worksheet to state a problem and goal and consider the obstacles in the way. Then explore options for achieving the goal, along with their pros and cons, to assess the best action plan.

Getting the Facts

Clients can become better equipped to tackle problems and choose the right course of action by recognizing facts versus assumptions and gathering all the necessary information (Dobson, 2011).

Use the Getting the Facts worksheet to answer the following questions clearly and unambiguously:

  • Who is involved?
  • What did or did not happen, and how did it bother you?
  • Where did it happen?
  • When did it happen?
  • Why did it happen?
  • How did you respond?

2 Helpful Group Activities

While therapists can use the worksheets above in group situations, the following two interventions work particularly well with more than one person.

Generating Alternative Solutions and Better Decision-Making

A group setting can provide an ideal opportunity to share a problem and identify potential solutions arising from multiple perspectives.

Use the Generating Alternative Solutions and Better Decision-Making worksheet and ask the client to explain the situation or problem to the group and the obstacles in the way.

Once the approaches are captured and reviewed, the individual can share their decision-making process with the group if they want further feedback.


Visualization can be performed with individuals or in a group setting to help clients solve problems in multiple ways, including (Dobson, 2011):

  • Clarifying the problem by looking at it from multiple perspectives
  • Rehearsing a solution in the mind to improve and get more practice
  • Visualizing a ‘safe place’ for relaxation, slowing down, and stress management

Guided imagery is particularly valuable for encouraging the group to take a ‘mental vacation’ and let go of stress.

Ask the group to begin with slow, deep breathing that fills the entire diaphragm. Then ask them to visualize a favorite scene (real or imagined) that makes them feel relaxed, perhaps beside a gently flowing river, a summer meadow, or at the beach.

The more the senses are engaged, the more real the experience. Ask the group to think about what they can hear, see, touch, smell, and even taste.

Encourage them to experience the situation as fully as possible, immersing themselves and enjoying their place of safety.

Such feelings of relaxation may be able to help clients fall asleep, relieve stress, and become more ready to solve problems.

We have included three of our favorite books on the subject of Problem-Solving Therapy below.

1. Problem-Solving Therapy: A Treatment Manual – Arthur Nezu, Christine Maguth Nezu, and Thomas D’Zurilla

Problem-Solving Therapy

This is an incredibly valuable book for anyone wishing to understand the principles and practice behind PST.

Written by the co-developers of PST, the manual provides powerful toolkits to overcome cognitive overload, emotional dysregulation, and the barriers to practical problem-solving.

Find the book on Amazon .

2. Emotion-Centered Problem-Solving Therapy: Treatment Guidelines – Arthur Nezu and Christine Maguth Nezu

Emotion-Centered Problem-Solving Therapy

Another, more recent, book from the creators of PST, this text includes important advances in neuroscience underpinning the role of emotion in behavioral treatment.

Along with clinical examples, the book also includes crucial toolkits that form part of a stepped model for the application of PST.

3. Handbook of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapies – Keith Dobson and David Dozois

Handbook of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapies

This is the fourth edition of a hugely popular guide to Cognitive-Behavioral Therapies and includes a valuable and insightful section on Problem-Solving Therapy.

This is an important book for students and more experienced therapists wishing to form a high-level and in-depth understanding of the tools and techniques available to Cognitive-Behavioral Therapists.

For even more tools to help strengthen your clients’ problem-solving skills, check out the following free worksheets from our blog.

  • Case Formulation Worksheet This worksheet presents a four-step framework to help therapists and their clients come to a shared understanding of the client’s presenting problem.
  • Understanding Your Default Problem-Solving Approach This worksheet poses a series of questions helping clients reflect on their typical cognitive, emotional, and behavioral responses to problems.
  • Social Problem Solving: Step by Step This worksheet presents a streamlined template to help clients define a problem, generate possible courses of action, and evaluate the effectiveness of an implemented solution.
  • 17 Positive Psychology Exercises If you’re looking for more science-based ways to help others enhance their wellbeing, check out this signature collection of 17 validated positive psychology tools for practitioners . Use them to help others flourish and thrive.

While we are born problem-solvers, facing an incredibly diverse set of challenges daily, we sometimes need support.

Problem-Solving Therapy aims to reduce stress and associated mental health disorders and improve wellbeing by improving our ability to cope. PST is valuable in diverse clinical settings, ranging from depression to schizophrenia, with research suggesting it as a highly effective treatment for teaching coping strategies and reducing emotional distress.

Many PST techniques are available to help improve clients’ positive outlook on obstacles while reducing avoidance of problem situations and the tendency to be careless and impulsive.

The PST model typically assesses the client’s strengths, weaknesses, and coping strategies when facing problems before encouraging a healthy experience of and relationship with problem-solving.

Why not use this article to explore the theory behind PST and try out some of our powerful tools and interventions with your clients to help them with their decision-making, coping, and problem-solving?

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Positive Psychology Exercises for free .

  • Cuijpers, P., Wit, L., Kleiboer, A., Karyotaki, E., & Ebert, D. (2020). Problem-solving therapy for adult depression: An updated meta-analysis. European P sychiatry ,  48 (1), 27–37.
  • Dobson, K. S. (2011). Handbook of cognitive-behavioral therapies (3rd ed.). Guilford Press.
  • Dobson, K. S., & Dozois, D. J. A. (2021). Handbook of cognitive-behavioral therapies  (4th ed.). Guilford Press.
  • Eysenck, M. W., & Keane, M. T. (2015). Cognitive psychology: A student’s handbook . Psychology Press.
  • Nezu, A. M., & Nezu, C. M. (2009). Problem-solving therapy DVD . Retrieved September 13, 2021, from
  • Nezu, A. M., & Nezu, C. M. (2018). Emotion-centered problem-solving therapy: Treatment guidelines. Springer.
  • Nezu, A. M., Nezu, C. M., & D’Zurilla, T. J. (2013). Problem-solving therapy: A treatment manual . Springer.

good problem solving stories

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39 Best Problem-Solving Examples

problem-solving examples and definition, explained below

Problem-solving is a process where you’re tasked with identifying an issue and coming up with the most practical and effective solution.

This indispensable skill is necessary in several aspects of life, from personal relationships to education to business decisions.

Problem-solving aptitude boosts rational thinking, creativity, and the ability to cooperate with others. It’s also considered essential in 21st Century workplaces.

If explaining your problem-solving skills in an interview, remember that the employer is trying to determine your ability to handle difficulties. Focus on explaining exactly how you solve problems, including by introducing your thoughts on some of the following frameworks and how you’ve applied them in the past.

Problem-Solving Examples

1. divergent thinking.

Divergent thinking refers to the process of coming up with multiple different answers to a single problem. It’s the opposite of convergent thinking, which would involve coming up with a singular answer .

The benefit of a divergent thinking approach is that it can help us achieve blue skies thinking – it lets us generate several possible solutions that we can then critique and analyze .

In the realm of problem-solving, divergent thinking acts as the initial spark. You’re working to create an array of potential solutions, even those that seem outwardly unrelated or unconventional, to get your brain turning and unlock out-of-the-box ideas.

This process paves the way for the decision-making stage, where the most promising ideas are selected and refined.

Go Deeper: Divervent Thinking Examples

2. Convergent Thinking

Next comes convergent thinking, the process of narrowing down multiple possibilities to arrive at a single solution.

This involves using your analytical skills to identify the best, most practical, or most economical solution from the pool of ideas that you generated in the divergent thinking stage.

In a way, convergent thinking shapes the “roadmap” to solve a problem after divergent thinking has supplied the “destinations.”

Have a think about which of these problem-solving skills you’re more adept at: divergent or convergent thinking?

Go Deeper: Convergent Thinking Examples

3. Brainstorming

Brainstorming is a group activity designed to generate a multitude of ideas regarding a specific problem. It’s divergent thinking as a group , which helps unlock even more possibilities.

A typical brainstorming session involves uninhibited and spontaneous ideation, encouraging participants to voice any possible solutions, no matter how unconventional they might appear.

It’s important in a brainstorming session to suspend judgment and be as inclusive as possible, allowing all participants to get involved.

By widening the scope of potential solutions, brainstorming allows better problem definition, more creative solutions, and helps to avoid thinking “traps” that might limit your perspective.

Go Deeper: Brainstorming Examples

4. Thinking Outside the Box

The concept of “thinking outside the box” encourages a shift in perspective, urging you to approach problems from an entirely new angle.

Rather than sticking to traditional methods and processes, it involves breaking away from conventional norms to cultivate unique solutions.

In problem-solving, this mindset can bypass established hurdles and bring you to fresh ideas that might otherwise remain undiscovered.

Think of it as going off the beaten track when regular routes present roadblocks to effective resolution.

5. Case Study Analysis

Analyzing case studies involves a detailed examination of real-life situations that bear relevance to the current problem at hand.

For example, if you’re facing a problem, you could go to another environment that has faced a similar problem and examine how they solved it. You’d then bring the insights from that case study back to your own problem.

This approach provides a practical backdrop against which theories and assumptions can be tested, offering valuable insights into how similar problems have been approached and resolved in the past.

See a Broader Range of Analysis Examples Here

6. Action Research

Action research involves a repetitive process of identifying a problem, formulating a plan to address it, implementing the plan, and then analyzing the results. It’s common in educational research contexts.

The objective is to promote continuous learning and improvement through reflection and action. You conduct research into your problem, attempt to apply a solution, then assess how well the solution worked. This becomes an iterative process of continual improvement over time.

For problem-solving, this method offers a way to test solutions in real-time and allows for changes and refinements along the way, based on feedback or observed outcomes. It’s a form of active problem-solving that integrates lessons learned into the next cycle of action.

Go Deeper: Action Research Examples

7. Information Gathering

Fundamental to solving any problem is the process of information gathering.

This involves collecting relevant data , facts, and details about the issue at hand, significantly aiding in the understanding and conceptualization of the problem.

In problem-solving, information gathering underpins every decision you make.

This process ensures your actions are based on concrete information and evidence, allowing for an informed approach to tackle the problem effectively.

8. Seeking Advice

Seeking advice implies turning to knowledgeable and experienced individuals or entities to gain insights on problem-solving.

It could include mentors, industry experts, peers, or even specialized literature.

The value in this process lies in leveraging different perspectives and proven strategies when dealing with a problem. Moreover, it aids you in avoiding pitfalls, saving time, and learning from others’ experiences.

9. Creative Thinking

Creative thinking refers to the ability to perceive a problem in a new way, identify unconventional patterns, or produce original solutions.

It encourages innovation and uniqueness, often leading to the most effective results.

When applied to problem-solving, creative thinking can help you break free from traditional constraints, ideal for potentially complex or unusual problems.

Go Deeper: Creative Thinking Examples

10. Conflict Resolution

Conflict resolution is a strategy developed to resolve disagreements and arguments, often involving communication, negotiation, and compromise.

When employed as a problem-solving technique, it can diffuse tension, clear bottlenecks, and create a collaborative environment.

Effective conflict resolution ensures that differing views or disagreements do not become roadblocks in the process of problem-solving.

Go Deeper: Conflict Resolution Examples

11. Addressing Bottlenecks

Bottlenecks refer to obstacles or hindrances that slow down or even halt a process.

In problem-solving, addressing bottlenecks involves identifying these impediments and finding ways to eliminate them.

This effort not only smooths the path to resolution but also enhances the overall efficiency of the problem-solving process.

For example, if your workflow is not working well, you’d go to the bottleneck – that one point that is most time consuming – and focus on that. Once you ‘break’ this bottleneck, the entire process will run more smoothly.

12. Market Research

Market research involves gathering and analyzing information about target markets, consumers, and competitors.

In sales and marketing, this is one of the most effective problem-solving methods. The research collected from your market (e.g. from consumer surveys) generates data that can help identify market trends, customer preferences, and competitor strategies.

In this sense, it allows a company to make informed decisions, solve existing problems, and even predict and prevent future ones.

13. Root Cause Analysis

Root cause analysis is a method used to identify the origin or the fundamental reason for a problem.

Once the root cause is determined, you can implement corrective actions to prevent the problem from recurring.

As a problem-solving procedure, root cause analysis helps you to tackle the problem at its source, rather than dealing with its surface symptoms.

Go Deeper: Root Cause Analysis Examples

14. Mind Mapping

Mind mapping is a visual tool used to structure information, helping you better analyze, comprehend and generate new ideas.

By laying out your thoughts visually, it can lead you to solutions that might not have been apparent with linear thinking.

In problem-solving, mind mapping helps in organizing ideas and identifying connections between them, providing a holistic view of the situation and potential solutions.

15. Trial and Error

The trial and error method involves attempting various solutions until you find one that resolves the problem.

It’s an empirical technique that relies on practical actions instead of theories or rules.

In the context of problem-solving, trial and error allows you the flexibility to test different strategies in real situations, gaining insights about what works and what doesn’t.

16. SWOT Analysis

SWOT is an acronym standing for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats.

It’s an analytic framework used to evaluate these aspects in relation to a particular objective or problem.

In problem-solving, SWOT Analysis helps you to identify favorable and unfavorable internal and external factors. It helps to craft strategies that make best use of your strengths and opportunities, whilst addressing weaknesses and threats.

Go Deeper: SWOT Analysis Examples

17. Scenario Planning

Scenario planning is a strategic planning method used to make flexible long-term plans.

It involves imagining, and then planning for, multiple likely future scenarios.

By forecasting various directions a problem could take, scenario planning helps manage uncertainty and is an effective tool for problem-solving in volatile conditions.

18. Six Thinking Hats

The Six Thinking Hats is a concept devised by Edward de Bono that proposes six different directions or modes of thinking, symbolized by six different hat colors.

Each hat signifies a different perspective, encouraging you to switch ‘thinking modes’ as you switch hats. This method can help remove bias and broaden perspectives when dealing with a problem.

19. Decision Matrix Analysis

Decision Matrix Analysis is a technique that allows you to weigh different factors when faced with several possible solutions.

After listing down the options and determining the factors of importance, each option is scored based on each factor.

Revealing a clear winner that both serves your objectives and reflects your values, Decision Matrix Analysis grounds your problem-solving process in objectivity and comprehensiveness.

20. Pareto Analysis

Also known as the 80/20 rule, Pareto Analysis is a decision-making technique.

It’s based on the principle that 80% of problems are typically caused by 20% of the causes, making it a handy tool for identifying the most significant issues in a situation.

Using this analysis, you’re likely to direct your problem-solving efforts more effectively, tackling the root causes producing most of the problem’s impact.

21. Critical Thinking

Critical thinking refers to the ability to analyze facts to form a judgment objectively.

It involves logical, disciplined thinking that is clear, rational, open-minded, and informed by evidence.

For problem-solving, critical thinking helps evaluate options and decide the most effective solution. It ensures your decisions are grounded in reason and facts, and not biased or irrational assumptions.

Go Deeper: Critical Thinking Examples

22. Hypothesis Testing

Hypothesis testing usually involves formulating a claim, testing it against actual data, and deciding whether to accept or reject the claim based on the results.

In problem-solving, hypotheses often represent potential solutions. Hypothesis testing provides verification, giving a statistical basis for decision-making and problem resolution.

Usually, this will require research methods and a scientific approach to see whether the hypothesis stands up or not.

Go Deeper: Types of Hypothesis Testing

23. Cost-Benefit Analysis

A cost-benefit analysis (CBA) is a systematic process of weighing the pros and cons of different solutions in terms of their potential costs and benefits.

It allows you to measure the positive effects against the negatives and informs your problem-solving strategy.

By using CBA, you can identify which solution offers the greatest benefit for the least cost, significantly improving efficacy and efficiency in your problem-solving process.

Go Deeper: Cost-Benefit Analysis Examples

24. Simulation and Modeling

Simulations and models allow you to create a simplified replica of real-world systems to test outcomes under controlled conditions.

In problem-solving, you can broadly understand potential repercussions of different solutions before implementation.

It offers a cost-effective way to predict the impacts of your decisions, minimizing potential risks associated with various solutions.

25. Delphi Method

The Delphi Method is a structured communication technique used to gather expert opinions.

The method involves a group of experts who respond to questionnaires about a problem. The responses are aggregated and shared with the group, and the process repeats until a consensus is reached.

This method of problem solving can provide a diverse range of insights and solutions, shaped by the wisdom of a collective expert group.

26. Cross-functional Team Collaboration

Cross-functional team collaboration involves individuals from different departments or areas of expertise coming together to solve a common problem or achieve a shared goal.

When you bring diverse skills, knowledge, and perspectives to a problem, it can lead to a more comprehensive and innovative solution.

In problem-solving, this promotes communal thinking and ensures that solutions are inclusive and holistic, with various aspects of the problem being addressed.

27. Benchmarking

Benchmarking involves comparing one’s business processes and performance metrics to the best practices from other companies or industries.

In problem-solving, it allows you to identify gaps in your own processes, determine how others have solved similar problems, and apply those solutions that have proven to be successful.

It also allows you to compare yourself to the best (the benchmark) and assess where you’re not as good.

28. Pros-Cons Lists

A pro-con analysis aids in problem-solving by weighing the advantages (pros) and disadvantages (cons) of various possible solutions.

This simple but powerful tool helps in making a balanced, informed decision.

When confronted with a problem, a pro-con analysis can guide you through the decision-making process, ensuring all possible outcomes and implications are scrutinized before arriving at the optimal solution. Thus, it helps to make the problem-solving process both methodical and comprehensive.

29. 5 Whys Analysis

The 5 Whys Analysis involves repeatedly asking the question ‘why’ (around five times) to peel away the layers of an issue and discover the root cause of a problem.

As a problem-solving technique, it enables you to delve into details that you might otherwise overlook and offers a simple, yet powerful, approach to uncover the origin of a problem.

For example, if your task is to find out why a product isn’t selling your first answer might be: “because customers don’t want it”, then you ask why again – “they don’t want it because it doesn’t solve their problem”, then why again – “because the product is missing a certain feature” … and so on, until you get to the root “why”.

30. Gap Analysis

Gap analysis entails comparing current performance with potential or desired performance.

You’re identifying the ‘gaps’, or the differences, between where you are and where you want to be.

In terms of problem-solving, a Gap Analysis can help identify key areas for improvement and design a roadmap of how to get from the current state to the desired one.

31. Design Thinking

Design thinking is a problem-solving approach that involves empathy, experimentation, and iteration.

The process focuses on understanding user needs, challenging assumptions , and redefining problems from a user-centric perspective.

In problem-solving, design thinking uncovers innovative solutions that may not have been initially apparent and ensures the solution is tailored to the needs of those affected by the issue.

32. Analogical Thinking

Analogical thinking involves the transfer of information from a particular subject (the analogue or source) to another particular subject (the target).

In problem-solving, you’re drawing parallels between similar situations and applying the problem-solving techniques used in one situation to the other.

Thus, it allows you to apply proven strategies to new, but related problems.

33. Lateral Thinking

Lateral thinking requires looking at a situation or problem from a unique, sometimes abstract, often non-sequential viewpoint.

Unlike traditional logical thinking methods, lateral thinking encourages you to employ creative and out-of-the-box techniques.

In solving problems, this type of thinking boosts ingenuity and drives innovation, often leading to novel and effective solutions.

Go Deeper: Lateral Thinking Examples

34. Flowcharting

Flowcharting is the process of visually mapping a process or procedure.

This form of diagram can show every step of a system, process, or workflow, enabling an easy tracking of the progress.

As a problem-solving tool, flowcharts help identify bottlenecks or inefficiencies in a process, guiding improved strategies and providing clarity on task ownership and process outcomes.

35. Multivoting

Multivoting, or N/3 voting, is a method where participants reduce a large list of ideas to a prioritized shortlist by casting multiple votes.

This voting system elevates the most preferred options for further consideration and decision-making.

As a problem-solving technique, multivoting allows a group to narrow options and focus on the most promising solutions, ensuring more effective and democratic decision-making.

36. Force Field Analysis

Force Field Analysis is a decision-making technique that identifies the forces for and against change when contemplating a decision.

The ‘forces’ represent the differing factors that can drive or hinder change.

In problem-solving, Force Field Analysis allows you to understand the entirety of the context, favoring a balanced view over a one-sided perspective. A comprehensive view of all the forces at play can lead to better-informed problem-solving decisions.

TRIZ, which stands for “The Theory of Inventive Problem Solving,” is a problem-solving, analysis, and forecasting methodology.

It focuses on finding contradictions inherent in a scenario. Then, you work toward eliminating the contraditions through finding innovative solutions.

So, when you’re tackling a problem, TRIZ provides a disciplined, systematic approach that aims for ideal solutions and not just acceptable ones. Using TRIZ, you can leverage patterns of problem-solving that have proven effective in different cases, pivoting them to solve the problem at hand.

38. A3 Problem Solving

A3 Problem Solving, derived from Lean Management, is a structured method that uses a single sheet of A3-sized paper to document knowledge from a problem-solving process.

Named after the international paper size standard of A3 (or 11-inch by 17-inch paper), it succinctly records all key details of the problem-solving process from problem description to the root cause and corrective actions.

Used in problem-solving, this provides a straightforward and logical structure for addressing the problem, facilitating communication between team members, ensuring all critical details are included, and providing a record of decisions made.

39. Scenario Analysis

Scenario Analysis is all about predicting different possible future events depending upon your decision.

To do this, you look at each course of action and try to identify the most likely outcomes or scenarios down the track if you take that course of action.

This technique helps forecast the impacts of various strategies, playing each out to their (logical or potential) end. It’s a good strategy for project managers who need to keep a firm eye on the horizon at all times.

When solving problems, Scenario Analysis assists in preparing for uncertainties, making sure your solution remains viable, regardless of changes in circumstances.

How to Answer “Demonstrate Problem-Solving Skills” in an Interview

When asked to demonstrate your problem-solving skills in an interview, the STAR method often proves useful. STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, and Result.

Situation: Begin by describing a specific circumstance or challenge you encountered. Make sure to provide enough detail to allow the interviewer a clear understanding. You should select an event that adequately showcases your problem-solving abilities.

For instance, “In my previous role as a project manager, we faced a significant issue when our key supplier abruptly went out of business.”

Task: Explain what your responsibilities were in that situation. This serves to provide context, allowing the interviewer to understand your role and the expectations placed upon you.

For instance, “It was my task to ensure the project remained on track despite this setback. Alternative suppliers needed to be found without sacrificing quality or significantly increasing costs.”

Action: Describe the steps you took to manage the problem. Highlight your problem-solving process. Mention any creative approaches or techniques that you used.

For instance, “I conducted thorough research to identify potential new suppliers. After creating a shortlist, I initiated contact, negotiated terms, assessed samples for quality and made a selection. I also worked closely with the team to re-adjust the project timeline.”

Result: Share the outcomes of your actions. How did the situation end? Did your actions lead to success? It’s particularly effective if you can quantify these results.

For instance, “As a result of my active problem solving, we were able to secure a new supplier whose costs were actually 10% cheaper and whose quality was comparable. We adjusted the project plan and managed to complete the project just two weeks later than originally planned, despite the major vendor setback.”

Remember, when you’re explaining your problem-solving skills to an interviewer, what they’re really interested in is your approach to handling difficulties, your creativity and persistence in seeking a resolution, and your ability to carry your solution through to fruition. Tailoring your story to highlight these aspects will help exemplify your problem-solving prowess.

Go Deeper: STAR Interview Method Examples

Benefits of Problem-Solving

Problem-solving is beneficial for the following reasons (among others):

  • It can help you to overcome challenges, roadblocks, and bottlenecks in your life.
  • It can save a company money.
  • It can help you to achieve clarity in your thinking.
  • It can make procedures more efficient and save time.
  • It can strengthen your decision-making capacities.
  • It can lead to better risk management.

Whether for a job interview or school, problem-solving helps you to become a better thinking, solve your problems more effectively, and achieve your goals. Build up your problem-solving frameworks (I presented over 40 in this piece for you!) and work on applying them in real-life situations.


Chris Drew (PhD)

Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]

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good problem solving stories

11 Books That Help Empower Little Kids to Solve Big Problems

by Meghan Fitzgerald


Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts

Mindset: There are problems to solve all around us.

The only thing better than Beatty’s masterful rhymes are her marvelous characters. In Ada Twist, Scientist , she nails the curiosity and inquiry that drives a true problem seeker and solver. Our kids love this one, and we hope it inspires them to take on the mindset that there are problems to solve all around us. As parents, we love how this book both acknowledges some of the lumpier parts that come along with supporting genuine problem solving in our kids and reminds us that it’s so worth it in the end.


Stuck by Oliver Jeffers, 

Mindset: Problem solving can be fun (or at least quite silly).

Although we would never advocate throwing objects into trees, we cannot help but love this book. This whimsical tale shows a young boy, Floyd, as he attempts to solve an all too familiar problem—his kite is stuck in a tree! Floyd’s approach makes kids of all ages smirk and squeal with delight. When we read this, we enjoy acting amazed as the situation grows more and more outrageous. The book gets our kids talking, too. Even our youngest has ideas about why Floyd’s plan is not ideal and can share how she’d go about getting that kite un-stuck. 

good problem solving stories

What Do You Do With a Problem? by Kobi Yamada, illustrated by Mae Besom

Mindset: I have the resources to solve problems.

Even though our goal is for problem solving to be joyful , sometimes real problems are daunting, especially to kids who may not yet realize that they have the capacity to solve them. This beautiful follow up to Yamada and Besom's What Do You Do with an Idea helps kids see a child really wrestle with a problem and gives everyone a way to talk about the opportunity available in every problem, even the ones that seem hard.

good problem solving stories

Cat and Bunny by Mary Lundquist 

Mindset: Sometimes the key to solving a problem is teamwork and inclusion.

When a new friend asks to join Cat and Bunny’s tight-knit two-friend circle, Bunny says yes, but Cat’s not so sure. The changing dynamics of friendship can be tough for kids to navigate, and flexibility solves a lot of tricky issues. 

good problem solving stories

Going Places by Paul A. Reynolds, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds

Mindset: Every problem has many different solutions.

Talk about thinking outside the box: Some kids love to follow directions. Others prefer to let their imaginations take them from challenge to solution. This book about a go-cart race that takes flight celebrates both sets of strategies.

good problem solving stories

Papa’s Mechanical Fish by Candace Fleming, illustrated by Boris Kulikov

Mindset: Creative thinking is at the heart of problem solving.

We love that this fanciful story about a dad inspired by his child’s question (“have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a fish?”) to invent the submarine is based on a real-life inventor! This story gets school-aged kids’ imaginations whirring. 

good problem solving stories

The Boy and the Airplane by Mark Pett

Mindset: Problem solving is joyful.

A little boy’s beloved toy airplane gets stuck on a roof. Through the beautiful illustrations in this wordless book, kids can work through the problem with the protagonist, and wonder how they’d go about solving it themselves. 

good problem solving stories

To the Sea by Cale Atkinson

Mindset: I have the capacity to solve any problem.

“I see you” are the magic words that kick off an epic adventure. When Tim meets a big blue whale no one else can see (no one else can see Tim, it seems to him sometimes), he’s tasked with helping his new friend find his way back to the sea. Kids will love discovering Tim’s process as he methodically sketches solutions for this massive problem. The winning strategy is a sweet surprise.

good problem solving stories

Solutions for Cold Feet (and Other Little Problems) by Carrie Sookocheff

Mindset: There are problems to solve everywhere.

Solutions abound for many of life’s little problems, as illustrated by a little girl and her dog. What if you’re caught in the rain? Faced with a boring day? Eating a fast-melting ice cream cone? Strategies range from clear to creative.

good problem solving stories

Beautiful Oops! by Barney Saltzberg  

Mindset: I have experience that I can use to solve new problems.

Kids’ problem-solving comes with lots and lots of mistakes along the way, which is the most wonderful thing about the process. This interactive book celebrates mistakes as an opportunity for new discoveries. Read it together and then make “Beautiful Oops” a family catch-phrase for turning problems into launching pads for progress.

good problem solving stories

Journey by Aaron Becker  

A girl yearning for adventure in this Caldecott Honor book makes it herself with a swipe of her red crayon. That single tool takes her on a magical trip and it’s what she uses to draw her way out of each dilemma. 


Meghan Fitzgerald

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Top 10 Problem Solving Books

Gus's Garage

Whenever my son encounters a problem—be it building block pieces that won't fit together the way he wants them to, a door he can't open, or a bucket on the playground his friend won't share—my mom heart immediately leaps to help him. I want to solve his problems for him, to help him be happy and make life easy . . . but the truth I know deep down is that if I always help him, I'm not helping him at all. By allowing him opportunities to problem solve himself when a problem of appropriate difficulty arises, while it may be painful for both of us at the moment, I know he's developing crucial problem-solving skills, and problem-solving is one of those essential skills that, once developed, will serve children their entire lifetime. To help showcase different techniques for problem-solving, and hone metacognition for kids, we've collected here on this list the very best books for teaching problem solving through children's literature! Reading these problem-solving books with your child provides an unparalleled opportunity to have shared references to help you as a team through a learning moment when it arises, plus you'll get to enjoy the bonding moment of reading together! Some books are absolute classics, such as "The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry and the Big Hungry Bear," that take a more humorous approach to problem-solving; others are popular titles you may be familiar with that take a more direct approach to flexible thinking techniques, such as New York Times Bestseller "What To Do With a Problem"; and some are hidden gems you may be discovering for the first time. There are books that teach social problem solving, highlight out-of-the-box thinking in innovation, speak to the role of teamwork in overcoming obstacles, and address the very real possibility that problem-solving may be needed to cope with failure at many stages of the process. Because problem solving is important in all of life's stages, this list includes board, picture and chapter books. Board books are best for infants and toddlers. Picture books are excellent for toddlers and also include stories for kindergarten and early elementary students (although we think picture books are great for all ages!). Chapter books are great for elementary- and middle school-age readers. If you know your target age group, feel free to filter to a single category, or just browse the entire list. Without further ado, enjoy this problem-solving list, and let us know what titles you would include!

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good problem solving stories


good problem solving stories

  • November 28, 2021

Teaching Problem and Solution with Picture Books

Teaching problem and solution gets a little easier with these picture books. Each book has problem and solution scenarios built into the plot, some more obvious than others.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase anything through them, I will get a small referral fee and you will be supporting me and my blog at no extra cost to you, so thank you! You can find more information here .

Why Use Picture Books for Teaching Problem and Solution?

Understanding problem and solution helps your students develop problem-solving and creative thinking skills. Exploring picture books with problem and solution plots helps them see a problem being introduced, how the character(s) try to solve it and how they finally resolve the issue.

In picture books with problem and solution scenarios, your students will see characters who:

  • use knowledge to solve problems independently
  • predict outcomes
  • think things through
  • make good decisions
  • try new ways to solve problems
  • make mistakes and try again
  • recognize breakthroughs
  • use trial and error to find a solution

Discussion Questions For Teaching Problem and Solution

  • Describe the different ways the characters were effective problem-solvers.
  • How did [character] solve the problem? What strategies did they use?
  • Why do you think [character] was an effective problem solver?
  • Why did [character’s] idea work in the end? Did they think about how their decisions would affect the outcome and other characters?
  • Did [character] make good decisions? Is there anything they could have done differently?
  • Think of possible solutions for [character’s] problem.
  • Did [character] work independently to solve the problem or did they work collaboratively? Was this the best strategy?
  • Does a thinker have to be brave, a risk-taker….?
  • Did their decision making surprise you? Why or why not?
  • Was [character] creative in their thinking? Explain your answer.
  • How did [character’s] way of thinking impact the outcome of the story?

good problem solving stories

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Picture Books for Teaching Problem and Solution

Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty

Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty

Ada Twist scientific curiosity propels her to question, hypothesize, experiment, and unravel the world's mysteries, including one close to home. Ada Twist, Scientist fuels discussions around the power of curiosity, the spirit of inquiry, the pursuit of knowledge, and the importance of creative thinking.

Ada's Violin: The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay by Susan Hood

Ada's Violin: The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay by Susan Hood

Ada Río dreams of playing the violin, but her financial circumstances prevent her from pursuing this aspiration. This changes with the arrival of an innovative music teacher who creates instruments from discarded rubbish. 

Paraguay's inspiring world-renowned Recycled Orchestra highlights the power of music, ingenuity, and the human spirit.

After the Fall (How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again) by Dan Santat

After the Fall by Dan Santat

A fresh retelling of the classic Humpty Dumpty story told from the egg's perspective. Humpty Dumpty bravely faces his fear of heights, teaching us about courage, overcoming adversity, and the importance of self-esteem.

After the Fall promotes discussions around character traits, perspectives, and a growth mindset. It encourages students to understand and embrace their fears, foster adaptability, and celebrate resilience.

A Bad Case of Stripes by David Shannon

A Bad Case of the Stripes by David Shannon

Camilla Cream loves lima beans but won't eat them because her friends hate them. A mysterious illness causes her to become what others think she should be. Only when she embraces her true self does she recover.

A Bad Case of the Stripes serves as a reminder that individuality should be celebrated and that personal growth stems from self-acceptance and the courage to resist societal pressures.

Black Dog by Levi Pinfold

Black Dog by Levi Pinfold

Black Dog takes us to a family home where a large black dog grows in size and menace, causing fear among the family members. Yet, the smallest one shows immense courage and open-mindedness to discover the truth about the dog.

Engage your students in discussions about overcoming fears, taking risks, and not letting fear control our perception. Encourage them to conquer their fears and take on challenges bravely.

A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams

A Chair For My Mother by Vera B. Williams

A Chair for My Mother illuminates the power of love, family, and community even in the most challenging times. Rosa, her mother, and her grandmother lose their home to a devastating fire.

The book gives us a glimpse into poverty, the importance of saving money, the impact of community kindness and generosity, and the power of perseverance, even in the face of adversity.

Chalk by Bill Thomson​

Chalk by Bill Thomson

Three friends find a bag of magical chalk at the park on a rainy day – whatever they draw becomes real. A sun clears clouds, butterflies fly, and dinosaurs leap from the 2D realm. When a child's drawn dinosaur chases them, they must creatively resolve the problem.

Chalk promotes creativity, problem-solving, the power of imagination and consequences, teaching children that every action can have effects they must deal with.

Click, Clack, Moo Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin

Click, Clack, Moo Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin

When Farmer Brown's cows stumble upon a typewriter, they start typing letters demanding electric blankets. Things escalate quickly as the cows strike, and Duck is the mediator. But the peace doesn't last long when the ducks have their own demands!

Click, Clack, Moo story promotes dialogue about fair negotiations' importance, communication's power, and the essence of compromise.

Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin​

Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin

Dragons may love tacos but hate spicy salsa. A boy discovers this peculiarity and hosts a taco party for his dragon friends. The party takes an unexpected turn when the salsa, much to the dragons' dismay, turns out to be spicy, leading to a chaotic and fiery mess.

Dragons Love Tacos offers opportunities to discuss the concepts of problem-solving, cause and effect, and the importance of careful planning and reading labels!

Enemy Pie by Derek Munson

Enemy Pie by Derek Munson

When Jeremy Ross moves to town, a boy’s life changes for the worse. He is Jeremy’s enemy. Dad advises making an enemy pie, but it will only work if he spends the whole day with his enemy. They end up having so much fun the boy doesn’t need the pie. Use to discuss kindness, conflict resolution, bullying, and problem-solving.

Ernest, the Moose Who Doesn't Fit by Catherine Rayner

Ernest, the Moose Who Doesn't Fit by Catherine Rayner

Ernest the moose is so LARGE he can’t fit inside the book. Determined, he shimmies, shifts, and shuffles his body but he just won’t fit. With a bit of thought his friend, chipmunk, comes up with a solution. Reinforces themes of determination, problem-solving and creative thinking.

Fossil by Bill Thomson

Fossil by Bill Thomson

This is the second of two picture books with a problem and solution by Bill Thomson. A young boy and his dog stumble upon a fossil which springs to life when touched! The boy excitedly cracks open more rocks, revealing more living fossils. But the excitement quickly turns into terror when he discovers a pterodactyl, which swoops down and flies off with his dog.

Fossil encourages discussions on curiosity, discovery, the unexpected consequences of our actions and problem and solution. 

How the Ladies Stopped the Wind by Bruce McMillan

How the Ladies Stopped the Wind by Bruce McMillan

The wind in Iceland is so strong a group of women decide to fix the problem. They plant trees to limit its effects and overcome problems through problem-solving, cooperation and persistence.

Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall

Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall

Jabari resolves to jump off the diving board for the first time. Despite his determination, fear and uncertainty hold him back. But with his father's gentle encouragement, Jabari finds the courage to make the leap.

Jabari Jumps explores a growth mindset, courage, risk-taking, determination, and overcoming fears. It is also great for your students to make connections to Jabari's fear of trying something new.

Journey by Aaron Becker

Journey by Aaron Becker

A lonely girl discovers a magic red marker and creates a door that transports her into an enchanting world filled with wondrous landscapes and adventure. She witnesses an evil emperor capture a majestic bird. She outsmarts the emperor's army to free the bird. 

The girl's journey inspires courage in facing challenges, persistence in pursuing goals, and thinking outside the box to overcome obstacles.

King Bidgood's in the Bathtub by Audrey Wood

King Bidgood's in the Bathtub by Audrey Wood

This is the first of two picture books with a problem and solution by Audrey Wood. King Bidgood enjoys having a bath so much he won’t get out. His page calls upon the court for help. Nothing works, so while everyone is despairing of what to do the page plugs the plug! Use to teach sequencing, creative thinking, problem & solution and prediction.

Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes

Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes

Lilly adores her school, teacher, and purple plastic purse. Her enthusiasm for her purse leads her on an unexpected journey of self-discovery, teaching her important lessons about self-management, forgiveness, integrity, and self-reflection.

Through Lilly's experiences, readers learn the value of controlling their impulses and honesty. Lilly's experiences teach the importance of second chances, making amends, and learning from our actions.

The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear

The Little Mouse, The Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear by Audrey Wood

This is the second of two picture books with a problem and solution by Audrey Wood. The narrator attempts to convince a little mouse to share a recently picked succulent strawberry. Worried about a big, hungry bear, the mouse employs various strategies, including disguising and locking away the fruit, to keep it safe.

The Little Mouse, The Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear promotes discussions on sharing, problem-solving, creative thinking and cause and effect.

The Lumberjack’s Beard by Duncan Beedie

The Lumberjack’s Beard by Duncan Beedie

Jim chops down trees in the forest without considering the repercussions. His actions make many animals homeless, so Jim allows them to reside in his huge beard. He replants the trees and waits for them to grow so the animals can return to their natural habitats.

The Lumberjack's Beard encourages discussions about environmental conservation, cause and effect, and problem-solving and highlights how people can rectify mistakes.

The Marvellous Moon Map by Teresa Heapy

The Marvellous Moon Map by Teresa Heapy

Mouse wants to find the moon with his own moon map. His friend, Bear thinks it would be better to plan and organise the trip. Mouse heads off alone but ends up lost with his map that can’t help him. Luckily, Bear helps him out him and they discover something better than the moon. Reinforces themes of friendship, organisation, creative thinking and problem-solving.

Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters by John Steptoe

Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters by John Steptoe

Mufaro's two daughters react differently to the King's search for a wife – one is aggressive and selfish, the other kind and dignified. The king disguises himself to learn the true nature of both girls and chooses Nyasha, the kind and generous daughter, to be the queen. This African folktale promotes themes of jealousy, vanity and kindness.

Our Little Inventor by Sher Rill Ng

Our Little Inventor by Sher Rill Ng

Nell has an ingenious invention to solve the pollution problem in the Big City. She sets off on a journey to the city, far from where she lives. She finds the pollution is much worse than she expected. Nell is dismayed when city leaders mock her. With unexpected help and Nell’s determination, she shows her machine to the city. Promotes girls in STEM, pollution, determination, perseverance, critical thinking and problem-solving.

Outfoxed by Claudia Boldt

Outfoxed by Claudia Boldt

Harold, a fox, is challenged by his father to catch a chicken. He decides to follow his heart and helps the chicken escape. Reinforces themes of empathy, independence, problem-solving and creative thinking.

The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch

The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch

Princess Elizabeth is a resourceful young girl who must outsmart a dragon to save her prince while dressed in a humble paper bag. The Paper Bag Princess invites discussions about empowerment, courage, independence, and challenging traditional gender roles by illustrating the strength of character over appearance. It emphasises that real heroines can save the day with their wit and courage, regardless of appearance.

Phileas's Fortune: A Story about Self-Expression by Agnes de Lestrade

Phileas's Fortune: A Story about Self-Expression by Agnes de Lestrade

Large factories churn out beautiful, ugly and funny words. People purchase, then swallow the words to communicate. Not all words are equal and the cost of each word varies. Phileas catches three discarded, random words to express his love for Cybele. Reinforces themes of communication, perseverance, problem-solving, risk-taking and creative thinking.

Rainbow Weaver by Linda Elovitz Marshall

Rainbow Weaver by Linda Elovitz Marshall

Ixchel, a young Mayan girl, is passionate about continuing her community's weaving tradition. Unable to use traditional materials, she innovatively uses colourful plastic bags, transforming waste into a woven rainbow fabric.

Rainbow Weaver sparks discussions on sustainability and recycling, empowering indigenous female characters, persistence and creative problem-solving.

Ralf by Jean Jullien

Ralf by Jean Jullien

Ralf is always getting under everyones feet no matter what hr does. One night he smells smoke and stretches his body around the house trying to wake the family. After being saved, the family accept Ralf for who he is even if he still gets in the way. Reinforces themes of acceptance, caring, courage and problem & solution.

Star in the Jar by Sam Hay

Star in the Jar by Sam Hay

A little boy finds a star and keeps it in a jar. He makes the decision to help the sad star get home., but wonders how to do this. He makes a star shape in the garden and the stars lift their little friend home.

Stuck by Oliver Jeffers

Stuck by Oliver Jeffers

This is the first of two picture books with a problem and solution by Oliver Jeffers. When Floyd's kite gets stuck in a tree, he throws his shoes in an attempt to free it. However, when that doesn't work, Floyd resorts to increasingly outrageous objects (even people!) to dislodge the kite.

Stuck ignites discussions on cause and effect, creative problem-solving strategies, persistence in the face of obstacles, resourcefulness and initiative and adaptability in new situations.

Swimmy by Leo Lionni

Swimmy by Leo Lionni

After almost being eaten by a big fish, Swimmy works together with a school of fish to frighten off the big tuna. Use to promote problem & solution, cooperation, courage and overcoming fear.

This Moose Belongs to Me by Oliver Jeffers

This Moose Belongs to Me by Oliver Jeffers

This is the second of two picture books with a problem and solution by Oliver Jeffers. Wilfred is an organised boy who lives his life by rules. He claims a wandering moose as his new pet and names him Marcel. The moose is not keen on Wilfred’s rules and meets an old lady who claims him as her own. Wilfred recognises Marcel’s independence and learns how to compromise.

Wangari Maathai by Franck Prevot

Wangari Maathai by Franck Prevot

The late Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai sparked a revolutionary movement in Africa to challenge deforestation. In a bold move, she championed African women to plant trees, ultimately helping cultivate lush farms and thriving communities. Maathai also provided seedlings to men, school children, and even soldiers, spurring further reforestation efforts and making a lasting impact.

When the Rain Comes by Alma Fullerton

When the Rain Comes by Alma Fullerton

In rural Sri Lanka, Malini helps plant the rice crop for the first time. The ox-cart arrives full of seedlings and the driver asks her to care for the ox. The skies darken and the monsoon rain falls, separating Malini from everyone. Rather than running for safety, she saves all the seeds from ruin. Use to teach responsibility, courage and problem & solution.

What are your favourite picture books for teaching problem and solution in the your classroom?

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Teaching Problem and Solution with Picture Books

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by James Bonnet

Taken individually all great stories are about problem solving. Taken altogether, as they are on The Storywheel, all great stories are about transformation. What is the link between problem solving and transformation? Great stories show us how to transform the negative energy that created the problem into higher consciousness.

Stealing Fire From the Gods

In the previous story course article, I talked about  the Subject of the story  – which is what your story is really about, and which, when taken to the quintessential, has a surprising and enormous potential power. In this article, I will talk about the  Problem  of the story, which is another essential element that has enormous potential power.

In real life, a problem is anything that is contrary to the way you want things to be. In a great story the problem is the central, unifying event that holds the story together. In  Harry Potter , Voldemort is trying to take possession of the Wizard World. That is the problem that brings about the change of fortune and that is the problem that has to be resolved. In  The Lord of the Rings , an almost identical story, Sauron is trying to take control of Middle-earth. In  The Hunger Games,  to return to her home and family, a young girl has to be the last one standing in a fight to the death with twenty-three other well-armed young killers. In a  Faithful Place,  to solve the murder of his fiancé, a Dublin detective has to unravel the mystery of his own dysfunctional family. In  Hugo , a once famous pioneer filmmaker has been completely forgotten, and a young boy has to solve that problem in order to recover the family he has lost. In  The King’s Speech,  a soon-to-be king, with many important speech-making duties, has a serious stuttering problem. In  Toy Story 3 , Lotso, a once lovable bear, has become a tyrant terrorizing the toys at a day care center. In  The Sixth Sense , the spirits of dead people are haunting a little boy’s mind. In  Ordinary People , a young boy is suicidal. In  The Silence Of The Lambs , a serial killer is on the loose. In  Jaws , a shark is devouring bathers at the height of the tourist season. In  Hamlet , Hamlet’s uncle, Claudius, has murdered Hamlet’s father, the king, and taken possession of his kingdom and his queen. In  The Lion King,  another almost identical story, Simba’s uncle, Scar, murders Simba’s father, the king, and takes possession of his kingdom and his queen. In Groundhog Day,  an arrogant boor is reliving the worst day of his life over and over and over again.

Each of these stories and hundreds of other great stories I could name revolve around a problem that has to be resolved. And these are the central events that are holding these stories together and giving them power. And, when these problems are finally solved, it brings the story to a satisfactory conclusion and we know it is over.

The reason great stories are about problems, and what this important pattern is telling us about ourselves, is that life is all about problems. Despite their prevalence, I’m not sure that most people realize how much our lives are dominated and controlled by problems. We are bombarded daily by all sorts of big and little problems. They come at us by phone, via email and the news – everything from finding our lost keys and having nothing to wear to a stolen wallet or a flooded basement. On top of that there are emotional problems, financial problems, health problems – threats to our lives and our well-being, threats to our families, threats to our communities, threats to our country and the world. All of the professions, in fact – doctor, lawyer, accountant, plumber, psychologist, therapist, auto mechanic, teacher, soldier, policeman, fireman, etc. are built around problem solving. They make their living solving problems for other people. Doctors make their living helping people solve medical problems, lawyers make their living helping people solve legal problems, plumbers make their living helping people solve plumbing problems, and so on.

What problems do storymakers solve? Well, great storymakers help people solve the most serious problem of all, the problem of ignorance – ignorance concerning who we really are and who we were really meant to be.

Be that as it may, story has gotten its most significant story structures from the problem solving structures we encounter in real life – from real serial killers, real diseases, real wars and disasters. Everything significant about the problem-solving structures of a great story can be traced back to the structures of problems and problem solving in real life. The only difference is that the problem solving structures in a great story have been artistically treated. The great mission of story is to show us how to analyze, cope with, and solve the problems that stand between us and the values we are pursuing, between us and our dreams, between us and our full potential. And revealing how that problem was created and how it can be resolved is at the very heart of a great story – and at the very heart of who we are and the predicaments we face during our relatively brief visit to this sometimes scary, often delightful, but always incredible planet called Earth.

To find the problem of your story, if you don’t already know what it is, probe the original fascination or the subject, seeking council from the source of your creativity and ultimate creative partner,  the creative unconscious self . Anything you need to know about any particular problem is stored somewhere in the DNA, and the creative unconscious self can access that information. You just have to ask your self the right direct questions then play midwife to the new ideas as they come to life in your imagination. In any event, play with a lot of different possibilities until you discover a problem that really intrigues you. Then, if you want to make that problem more fascinating, take it to the quintessential – make your story a definitive revelation of that problem and you will make that story extremely relevant and powerful.

* * * * * * *

In the next story course article I will talk about the  Threat , which is the cause of the problem,  and another essential element without which there would be no story. The threat is, in fact, the very thing that brings the story into being and creates all of the other essential elements – which makes it something worth knowing about and something worth thinking about.

If you have any questions about any of the ideas in these story course articles, I’d be happy to answer them. Better yet come to my  intensive weekend story seminar  on October 20-21 and we can talk about them there.

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Develop Good Habits

17 Fun Problem Solving Activities for Kids

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As a child, I would spend hours putting together puzzles… whether it was 3-D puzzles or figuring out a crossword. I also loved it when teachers would give the class an open-ended question and we had to work in groups to figure out the answer in our own way.

Even something as simple as playing checkers with my brothers gave me the chance to use strategy as a way to win the game. I honestly believe that it’s so important for kids to solve problems at a young age, as it helps them think critically and outside the box.

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So, Why Is It Important To Teach Kids Problem Solving?

I think these kinds of activities are so important for kids to do because it helps them learn how to think analytically and solve problems on their own. It's a great way to get kids to use their imaginations and be creative.

Rote memorization simply does not have the same effect. This type of learning is great for learning facts like historical dates, but it’s not going to help kids figure out how events in history happened and the results.

We take these problem-solving skills into college, the workforce, and travel . My ability to problem solve since childhood has certainly got me through many sticky situations while in a new city or country.

Additionally, problem-solving helps children learn how to find creative solutions to challenges they may face both in and out of the classroom . These activities can also be fun and used in cohesion with school or playtime.

17 Fun Problem-Solving Activities for Kids

1. marble mazes.

This activity was selected because it requires them to think spatially. Spatial learning will benefit kids when they start driving, riding a bike, playing sports,etc.

To do this activity in its simplest form, you will need a piece of paper, a pencil, and some marbles. First, draw a maze on a piece of paper using a pencil.

Make sure to create a start and finish point. Then, place the marbles at the start of the maze. The goal is to get the marbles from the start to the finish by tilting the paper and using gravity to guide the marbles through the maze.

Another example of a marble maze can involve using toilet paper rolls taped together to create a three-dimensional maze. The larger the maze, the harder you can make it.

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If you are not into the DIY method, you can always buy a toy maze on Amazon. A good 48 piece puzzle is the Melissa & Doug Underwater Ocean Floor puzzle.

2. The Tower Challenge

Building a tower gives kids the chance to think about gravity, structure, and balance.

To do this activity, you will need some building materials like legos, blocks, or even toilet paper rolls. The challenge is to see how high they can stack the materials without the tower toppling over.

This can be done individually or in teams. An activity like this is good for younger kids and is the building block to learning about harder topics like engineering.

3. The Egg Drop Challenge

The egg drop challenge helps kids learn how to engineer a solution that prevents something from breaking. It requires them to think critically about which materials will best protect something fragile like an egg when dropped from a height.

To do this activity, you will need some eggs and various materials such as straws, cotton balls, bubble wrap, etc. The goal is to construct a device that will protect an egg from breaking upon impact.

This can be done individually or in teams . Teams can even have a competition for the best egg drop device.

As children begin handling, shopping for, and cooking their own food, activities like this will help them understand how to handle breakable items like bottles, eggs, delicate fruit,.etc. Ideally, this is best for age groups 8 and up.

4. The Penny Drop Challenge

This activity was selected because it requires kids to think about physics and how different materials affect sound.

To do this activity, you will need a penny ( or another coin), a cup, and various materials such as paper towels, cotton balls, etc.

The goal is to drop the penny into the cup without making any noise. Begin by placing different materials into the cup and then drop the penny into it. The children should also drop the penny from different heights into the same material to see if/how the impact from a higher drop affects sound.

Group kids into teams or let them try it on their own.

Kids should make note of what type of sounds are made when the penny hits different materials. This is a great activity for kids who are interested in science and physics.

5. The Balloon Race Challenge

This activity was selected because it helps kids learn about aerodynamics and Bernoulli’s principle . It also requires them to think creatively about how to design a balloon-powered vehicle.

To do this activity, you will need balloons, straws, masking tape, and markers. The goal is to design a balloon-powered vehicle that can travel a distance of at least 10 feet. Kids can begin this activity by sketching out their designs on paper.

After they have a basic design, they can begin building their vehicle from various materials. Then kids can explain why they think the balloon traveled or did not travel as far as it did.

6. The Marshmallow Challenge

Marshmallows are not only delicious, but they are also soft and malleable. So kids can have fun using it for some construction projects.

This activity was selected because it requires kids to think creatively about how to build a structure using limited materials. It also helps them learn about engineering and work as a team.

To do this activity, you will need marshmallows and spaghetti noodles. The goal is to build the tallest free-standing structure possible using only marshmallows and spaghetti noodles. If you don't have spaghetti noodles, use something similar like pretzel sticks.

You may even want to establish certain rules like each team can only use a certain number of marshmallows or noodles. A time limit can also make it more fun and challenging.

For more fun activities, check out our post on problem solving exercises for team building .

7. The Balloon Pop Challenge

If you remember your childhood, you probably remember popping balloons for fun at times. But this activity is different because it requires kids to use strategy and critical thinking.

This activity was selected because it helps kids learn about patterns and problem-solving. It is also a lot of fun for kids who like popping balloons. The goal is to create a device that will allow them to pop a balloon without using their hands.

To do this activity, you will need balloons and various materials such as straws, string, paper clips, etc.

8. Picture Pieces Puzzle Game

As mentioned earlier, puzzles are a great pastime – especially in childhood. Kids must think critically about how to put the pieces together to create a certain picture. It also helps them learn about shapes, colors, and other concepts.

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You can take a medium to large picture and cut it into pieces. If you have younger kids, you may want to make the pieces larger. However, if you have kids closer to the 8-11 age range, you should be able to provide a challenge and make the pieces smaller.

9. Copy the Block Model

For this challenge, you can build a model out of blocks for the kids to copy. Put kids into groups and make sure each group has the same number of blocks you used for your model.

Make your model block as simple or complex as needed for your child's age group.

Set a time limit and make sure each group starts at the same time.

10. Team Scavenger Hunt

A scavenger hunt is great for kids because they have to search for items and use investigative skills. It is also a lot of fun and can be done both indoors and outdoors .

To do this activity, you will need to create a list of items for the kids to find. The items can be anything from common household items to things you would find outside.

These types of activities can also revolve around a theme like a holiday, movie, or book. For example, if the kids are fans of “Harry Potter” you can make a list of items to find that are related to the movie.

11. Obstacle Course

This activity requires kids to think creatively about how to get from one point to another while maneuvering around obstacles. If you have outdoor space, this can be done with common objects such as hula hoops, cones, etc.

If you don't have access to an outdoor space, you can use common household items to create an indoor obstacle course. For example, you can use chairs, blankets, pillows, etc.

Begin by setting up the course and then timing each child as they complete it. You can also have them race against each other to make it more fun.

Obstacle courses are also great because kids get to be physically active while they are thinking critically.

12. Reading Storybooks

There are many great benefits for kids that read storybooks.  One of the excellent benefits is the ability to problem-solve.  When they read the stories in the books, they see scenarios that cause them to be attached to the various characters they read about. 

So, when they encounter a real-life problem, it is often productive to ask a child how their favorite character would solve that problem.  Your kids can also be encouraged to come up with various options and possible outcomes for some of the situations they may encounter. 

This not only helps kids solve various problems but become more independent as well. 

13. Ask Them Open-Ended Questions

A good way to improve a child's ability to think critically and creatively and improve their ability to solve problems is by asking open-ended questions.  It also helps them to develop healthy personalities .

There are no right or wrong answers to these questions.  In addition, the solution requires more than a simple “yes” or “no” answer.  Furthermore, it allows kids to put some extra thought into their responses. 

Here are some examples of open-ended questions you may want to ask. 

  • What did this experience teach you?
  • Was this easy?  What was easy about it?
  • What this difficult?  What is complicated about it?
  • What may happen next in this situation?
  • How did you come to this solution?
  • What, if anything, would you do differently next time?
  • What can we do to make things more fun next time?

14. Build Various Structures with Toys

Whether wooden blocks, LEGO blocks, or engineering blocks… giving your kid blocks to build whatever their minds can dream up is fun.  In addition, it requires them to think about how they will make a structure, put the pieces together, and creatively ensure the building's function and design. 

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You may also want to challenge them to build something more complicated and watch them use their brain power to make it happen. 

15. Acting Out Skits

Impromptu activities like acting out skits help kids identify problems, develop solutions, and execute them.  This process works with multiple kids being divided into teams. 

First, you will want to write down different situations, such as resolving a disagreement between siblings or dealing with bullying on the playground on a piece of paper.  Second, you will fold the paper and place it in a hat or bowl.  

Third, each team will pick a scenario out of the hat.  Finally, you can give the kids a few minutes to discuss their solution and act out. 

16. Solving Moral Dilemmas   

In this simple game, you will help your kids solve simple dilemmas they may find themselves in.  You could write down a situation your child may find themselves in and help them learn the moral way to solve the problem.   

For instance, “The cashier gave them an additional $5 change back on my purchase.  What should they do?”  Another scenario could be, “I saw my friend cheating on a test.  Should I tell on them or let it go?”  A third one could be, “I caught my friends stealing some gum from the store.  What should I do?” 

After writing down the dilemmas and placing them in a bowl, get each child to select one and read it aloud.  Finally, you will help them devise morally correct solutions to the moral dilemma. 

17. Animal Pairing Game  

This is a fun and creative game to help your kids with focus, critical thinking, and team building skills .  In addition, this activity requires an even number of players to participate (4, 6, 8, etc.) 

Before starting the game, you will want to write the names of different animals twice, each on a separate slip of paper.  Then pass out the slips of paper to each individual or team member, instructing them not to share with anyone the name of the animal they received. 

Then the children will perform activities the animals might do without talking or making sounds.  Some of these activities might include:

  • The way the animal cleans or grooms itself
  • The way the animal sleeps
  • The way the animal fights
  • The way the animal eats or drinks
  • The way the animal walks or runs

The goal is for each child to successfully pair up with the other child who has selected the same animal.

How Problem Solving in Childhood Helps in Adulthood

Children are not born with problem-solving skills. It is something that needs to be learned and developed over time .

From babies who learn how to communicate their needs to toddlers who figure out how to get what they want, to children who are starting to understand the consequences of their actions – problem-solving is a process that begins in childhood and continues into adulthood.

Some of the benefits of teaching problem-solving skills to children include:

  • Improved critical thinking skills
  • Better decision-making skills
  • Enhanced creativity
  • Improved communication and collaboration skills
  • Increased confidence

There are many ways to teach problem-solving skills to children. The activities mentioned above are just a few examples. It is important to find activities that are appropriate for the age and abilities of the child.

With practice, children will develop these skills and be better prepared to face challenges in both childhood and adulthood.

Final Thoughts About Fun Problem Solving Activities For Kids

These are just a few ideas to get you started on teaching your child crucial problem solving skills. Perhaps they’ve inspired to come with some of your own, or seek out others? The important thing is to make sure the activity is age-appropriate and challenging enough to engage the kids.

Problem-solving skills are important for kids to learn because they can be applied to various situations in life. These skills also promote critical thinking, which is an important life skill.

There are many other problem-solving activities for kids out there. In time, you’ll find the ones that work best for your child.  And be sure not to forget about your own needs and self-improvement, both of which will make you a better parent and mentor. Here are some useful activities for adults to get your started.

Finally, if you want to level up your parenting skills, then check out this resource that will show you how to get your kids to listen WITHOUT yelling, nagging, or losing control .

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Title Teaching Kids Problem Solving Skills and an illustration of a kid with a magnifying glass

25 Fun Problem Solving Activities for Kids

Problem-solving activities for kids : Explore 24 fun problem-solving games and activities, and learn effective tips and strategies to teach kids problem-solving skills. If you want to explore problem-solving strategies more in-depth, you can also grab our workbook “ Problem-Solving for Kids ” (printable resource).

Problem-solving is the cognitive process of finding solutions to challenges or complex situations.

A systematic approach to problem-solving tends to include defining the problem, gathering information and data, generating potential solutions, evaluating the pros and cons of each solution, making a decision, and implementing the chosen solution.

Effective problem-solving often requires critical thinking, a good dose of creativity, and the ability to consider multiple perspectives. It may also involve identifying patterns, breaking down a problem into manageable chunks, and applying our logic to develop solutions.

Problem-solving is present in everyday situations and across all fields: business, science, personal life, and education. There is not one single aspect in our lives where we don’t need to apply our problem-solving skills.

Table of Contents

  • Problem-solving steps
  • Development of problem-solving in childhood
  • Benefits of developing problem-solving skills
  • 10 Tips to teach kids problem-solving skills
  • 10 Examples of problem-solving strategies
  • 25 Problem-solving activities and games for kids

Problem-Solving Steps

Some key components of problem-solving include:

good problem solving stories

  • Identifying the problem Recognizing and defining the issue or challenge that needs to be addressed.
  • Analyzing the problem Investigating and understanding the underlying causes, factors, and relationships related to the problem.
  • Generating solutions Generating potential solutions or strategies to address the problem.
  • Evaluating all possible solutions (Pros and Cons Analysis) Assessing the feasibility, effectiveness, and potential consequences of each solution. Considering the positive and negative aspects of each solution.
  • Decision-making Selecting the best solution based on our analysis and judgment.
  • Implementing the best solution Actioning our chosen solution
  • Monitoring progress and results
  • Reflecting on the outcomes Reviewing and evaluating the outcomes of the implemented solution, learning from the experience, and making adjustments if necessary.

Development of Problem-Solving Skills in Childhood

Children begin to develop problem-solving skills from a very early age, and these skills continue to develop and refine throughout childhood and adolescence.

Babies soon learn about action and reaction. And, as early as eight months, they begin to acquire an understanding of cause and effect (they shake a rattle, it makes a sound; they push a toy, it falls)

Between 13 and 24 months, they start solving simple problems through trial and error and engage in symbolic play using their imagination.

As children progress into middle childhood (ages 7-11), they develop more advanced problem-solving skills. They become capable of understanding multiple perspectives and can consider multiple factors when solving problems. They start using logic and reasoning to solve increasingly complex problems.

During adolescence (ages 12 and up), problem-solving skills continue to develop. Teenagers can generate and test hypotheses and use deductive and inductive reasoning to arrive at solutions.

Each child will develop their problem-solving skills at their own pace. Some children may show advanced problem-solving abilities at an earlier age. Others may require more time and experience to develop these skills fully.

Benefits of Developing Problem-Solving Skills in Children

Problem-solving skills in children are crucial for children’s cognitive, social, and emotional development. It equips them to approach challenges, think critically, make informed decisions, and find creative solutions. 

The benefits of good problem-solving skills in children include:

  • Positive impact on self-esteem and confidence Identifying, analyzing, and solving their problems contributes to our kids’ sense of competence .
  • Fosters Independence and Autonomy When our kids are able to problem-solve on their own, they take one more step toward independence
  • Academic Success Problem-solving skills contribute to academic achievement, as they help students analyze and solve complex problems across various subjects.
  • Cognitive Development Problem-solving fosters cognitive skills such as logical reasoning, analytical thinking, and abstract reasoning.
  • Critical Thinking Problem-solving enhances critical thinking abilities, enabling children to evaluate information, identify biases, and make informed judgments.
  • Creativity Problem-solving promotes creativity by encouraging children to think outside the box, generate innovative ideas, and explore multiple solutions.
  • Emotional Resilience Problem-solving skills enhance emotional resilience by enabling children to manage and cope with challenges effectively, reducing stress and promoting well-being.
  • Improved Social Interactions/Relationships Problem-solving abilities contribute to better social interactions, conflict resolution , and peer collaboration, promoting healthy relationships.
  • Future career success Problem-solving skills are highly valued in the workplace and can positively influence future career success.

10+ Helpful Tips to Teach Kids Problem-Solving Skills

Teaching problem-solving skills to kids is an important part of their cognitive development. It helps them develop critical thinking, creativity, and resilience.

But how can we help our kids and students to develop this essential skill?

We can help our kids and students develop and improve their problem-solving skills in many ways.  These are some helpful tips that you could consider:

  • Model problem-solving behavior When you see yourself in a problem-solving situation, verbalize your thought process: “I wonder how I should address this issue. I guess my alternatives could be… They all have positives and negatives….”
  • Let them participate in the problem-solving situation “Could you help me solve this puzzle?”
  • Provide real-life problem-solving situations Real-life scenarios make problem-solving more meaningful for kids. For example, discuss how to resolve a conflict with a sibling or how to make the morning routine smoother.
  • Teach them how to break down problems Show them how to break down complex problems into manageable sub-problems.
  • Practice brainstorming Create brainstorming situations where all the family (or the classroom) can contribute to solving a problem
  • Teach the value of perseverance Sometimes, we must stick to a situation and persevere before finding a solution. Encourage kids to persevere through challenges and setbacks, emphasizing that mistakes and failures are opportunities for learning.
  • Encourage critical thinking Encourage kids to analyze situations, consider different perspectives, and evaluate possible outcomes.
  • How could we make your school lunch healthier but still yummy?
  • How could we reuse/recycle all this paper?
  • What could we do to help you remember all the steps in your night routine?
  • Encourage reflection When they can find a solution for a problem, don’t jump to solve it for them. Encourage them to reflect on the problem and find and evaluate alternatives. And after a problem is solved, think about the whole process and the learnings. “How did this work?” “What did you learn” “Do you need to change anything?”
  • Foster creativity Provide them with opportunities for imaginative play, creative projects, and brainstorming sessions.
  • Teach the value of teamwork Teach kids the importance of working together to solve problems. Engage them in group activities or projects that require teamwork and collaboration. This helps kids learn the value of different perspectives and work together towards an objective while they practice their communication skills.
  • Teach decision-making skills Teach kids how to approach problems systematically by going through the steps we have mentioned in our first section.
  • Encourage both structured and free play. Structured play can help you create good problem-solving situations, while free play will foster creativity.

Developing problem-solving skills is an ongoing process that will also continue in adulthood. Provide your kids with guidance and support, and celebrate their efforts and achievements along the way.

Examples of worksheet for kids on problem-solving strategies

10 Examples of Problem-Solving Strategies

There are different strategies that can help us solve a wide range of problems. Here are some commonly recognized problem-solving strategies:

1 . Trial and Error : This is the first problem strategy that we ever learn. We start using trial and error strategies in infancy, and it continues serving its purpose in many situations. This strategy involves trying different solutions or approaches and learning from the errors or failures until a successful solution is found.

2. Algorithm: An algorithm is a step-by-step procedure or a set of rules that guarantees a solution to a specific problem. It is a systematic approach to problem-solving that follows a predetermined set of instructions.

3. Heuristics: Heuristics are mental shortcuts or rules of thumb that help simplify problem-solving by providing quick and efficient strategies. While heuristics can be effective in many situations, they may also lead to biases and errors.

4. Divide and Conquer: This strategy involves breaking down a complex problem into smaller, more manageable chunks or steps that make the overall problem easier to tackle.

5. Working Backwards: This strategy involves starting from the desired outcome and working backward to determine the steps or actions needed to reach that outcome. We often use this problem-solving strategy when we set goals.

6. Analogical Reasoning: Analogical reasoning involves drawing parallels between the current problem and a similar problem that has been solved in the past. By applying the solution from the previous problem to the current one, individuals can find a solution more efficiently.

7. Brainstorming: Brainstorming gets lots of brains working on the same problem. It is a great collaborative problem-solving strategy that can bring different perspectives and experiences to the table and may result in lots of creative ideas and solutions. 

8. Decision Matrix: A decision matrix is a systematic approach to evaluating and comparing different options or solutions. It involves creating a matrix that lists alternatives and the criteria for evaluation. It assigns weights or scores to each criterion to come up with the optimal alternative.

9. Root Cause Analysis: Sometimes, we need to understand what is causing a problem before we can attempt to solve it, as different causes may require different approaches (for example, when you are sick, your doctor may need to understand what is causing the problem before prescribing a medicine)

10. Simulation and Modeling: Simulation involves creating a simplified representation or model of a problem situation to gain insights and test different scenarios.

Our choice of strategy will depend on the problem, available resources, and our own personal preferences and circumstances. We may also need to combine strategies or apply different ones to different aspects of a complex problem.

Workbook for kids on Problem solving strategies

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Best Problem-Solving Activities for Kids

Play-based activities are centered around play and are designed to engage children in active learning and exploration. And fun problem-solving activities are a great way to develop children’s critical thinking, creativity, and decision-making skills.

In this section, we will review some problem-solving games and activities that will engage your kids’ critical-thinking skills and creativity.

1. Puzzle Games Puzzles are a fun activity for children of all ages. Young children will enjoy simple puzzles, while older children (and adults!) can have fun with more complex ones. Encourage them to use logical thinking and problem-solving strategies to complete the puzzles.

2. Crosswords A crossword is another fun type of puzzle and a good source of mental stimulation.

3. Sudoku Sudoku is a popular logic-based puzzle that involves filling a grid with numbers.

It can be extremely easy or very challenging, adaptable even for young learners.

Let’s go now for a couple of building challenges!

4. Build the Tallest Tower Give the child a set of materials (Legos, building blocks, wooden blocks, or other construction materials) and ask them to build the tallest tower they can. This simple game will encourage them to problem-solve as they build and figure out how to make the tower stable.

5. Build Towers with Different Materials Ask your child to build three different towers with different materials. Then assess how stable they are and how much weight they can hold. Analyze the pros and cons of using each type of material.

6. Treasure Hunt Set up a treasure hunt with clues leading to hidden objects or rewards. Children will have to follow the clues and solve puzzles to find the ultimate prize. This activity encourages problem-solving, critical thinking, and teamwork.

7. Scavenger Hunt Playing Scavenger Hunt can be a fun way for our kids to put their creative problem-solving skills to good use. Provide them with clues and puzzles that they must solve in order to find the next clue.

8. Mystery Bag Fill a bag with random objects and ask children to come up with creative uses for each item. Encourage them to think outside the box and find innovative solutions.

9. Memory Game While memory games primarily focus on memory retention and recall, they can indirectly contribute to problem-solving skills by developing cognitive abilities such as attention, information processing, and adjusting their strategies.

10. Role-Playing Scenarios Create role-playing scenarios where children have to solve a problem or make decisions. For example, pretend to be stranded on a desert island and ask them to decide what items they will take and how they will survive.

11. Role-Play Social Situations Work in developing social skills with social problem-solving situations.

12. Brainstorming Sessions Choose a topic or problem and hold brainstorming sessions where children can generate as many ideas as possible. Encourage them not to limit themselves (even if alternatives feel unfeasible!)

13. Team Building Activities and Games Engage children in team-building games like building a balloon tower. Each team member will need to collaborate, communicate, and problem-solve together to complete the project.

14. Escape Rooms An escape room is a super fun team problem-solving activity.

In an escape room, participants are locked inside a themed room and must work together to solve puzzles, find clues, and accomplish tasks within a given time limit in order to “escape” from the room.

15. Science Experiments Conduct simple science experiments that involve problem-solving. For example, in the classic “sink or float” experiment, children predict and test which objects will sink or float in water.

Problem-Solving Board Games

There are many board games that will test our kids problems solving activities. These are just a few examples:

16. Cluedo Players must solve a murder mystery by deducing the murderer, the weapon used, and the location of the crime. Players collect and examine clues to eliminate possibilities and make logical deductions.

17. Codenames Another classic game where players are split into two teams and must guess words based on clues from their teammates.

There are many codenames games available, including themes like Disney or Harry Potter.

18. Mastermind Game In this strategy game players take turns setting and solving secret codes

19. Scrabble Scrabble is a classic word game where players form words on a game board using letter tiles.

Kids must use their problem-solving skills to analyze the available letters, consider the best word combination and strategically place those words to score the highest points.

Learning Problem-Solving with Card Games

Card games provide opportunities for kids to develop problem-solving skills such as strategy, memory, pattern recognition, decision-making, and observation.

Just a couple of examples:

20. Uno Uno is a classic card game where kids match cards based on color or number. They need to assess their cards, strategize and make decisions about which cards to play to get rid of their cards while also considering the cards in their opponents’ hands.

21. Go Fish Go Fish is a classic card game where players try to collect sets of cards by asking other players if they have specific cards. Players need to remember which cards they have and make decisions about who to ask and what sets to pursue.

22. Coding Challenges Introduce children to coding activities using platforms like Scratch (or ScratchJr for younger kids),, or Tynker. Coding involves problem-solving and logical thinking, and children can create interactive stories, games, or animations.

23. Outdoor Problem Solving Take children outside and present them with challenges that require problem-solving, such as building a shelter using natural materials or finding their way through an obstacle course.

24. Problem-Solving Worksheets Help your child follow a systematic approach to problem-solving with these helpful worksheets

25. Goal-Setting Activities for Kids Learning to set goals and make plans to achieve them is also a problem-solving activity. I have several resources to teach kids about goal-setting that I will list below:

  • Goal-Setting Activities for Kids
  • SMART Goals for Kids
  • Goal Tracker Thermometer

Remember to provide guidance and support during these activities while encouraging children to think independently and come up with their own solutions.

Problem-Solving Worksheets

Problem Solving Strategies_Workbook for Kids

Looking for kid-friendly examples of problem-solving strategies ?

This workbook explores the following  problem-solving strategies  (with child-friendly examples and activities):

  • Trial and Error
  • Heuristics (Clever shortcuts)
  • Divide and Conquer
  • Working Backwards
  • Brainstorming
  • Decision Matrix
  • Root Cause Analysis
  • Systematic problem-solving

Kid in a bubble that represents personal space and title "Personal Space Activities for Kids"

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Teaching Resources

Read Alouds for Problem and Solution, Cause and Effect

susanjones November 28, 2016 1 Comment

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I wanted to share some of my favorite read alouds for both skills. First up, problem and solution:

Enemy Pie by Derek Munson:

This book has a very clear problem, but the solution is the fun one here! With a twist at the end, your students will be interested to see what happens in this story to fix the problem. This book is also a wonderful character education read aloud to help students who may be having trouble with friends (or “enemies”).

Crazy Hair Day by Barney Saltzberg:

In this story, Stanley accidentally celebrates crazy hair day one day early and arrives to school feeling quite embarrassed. There are many ways this problem could be solved, but his classmates choose a heartwarming way to make Stanley feel included!

A Chair for My Mother by Vera Williams:

In this story a family spends a long time saving up money for a new chair. The problem presented here requires a long, dedicated solution, with many lessons to be taught to your young students along the way.

The Rain Came Down by David Shannon:

This text highlights cause and effect very clearly. Each character does something that causes another character to react. On each page your students will be able to readily identify a cause and effect going on in the text.

Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parish:

Good ole Amelia Bedelia always has my kids laughing as she constantly mistakes the meanings of words without using context clues. We always have a lively debate at the end of the story about whether or not Amelia Bedelia should’ve lost her job.

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst:

In this classic, we talk about how the way Alexander is feeling and acting effects what happens in the story. We love to discuss ways we could’ve changed his day to help Alexander have a better, happier day and how those causes and effects might occur in the context of the story.

I have also made read aloud lessons and response sheets for ALL the above books and more that you can find by clicking the image below if you are interested:

good problem solving stories

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November 30, 2016 at 4:05 am

Those are great stories! One of my favorite problem solution books is King Bidgood's In the Bathtub by Audrey Wood. Most students have NEVER read it and I LOVE the illustrations. The Small Group Room

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Hello friends.

Welcome to Susan Jones Teaching. When it comes to the primary grades, learning *All Things* in the K-2 world has been my passion for many years! I just finished my M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction and love sharing all the latest and greatest strategies I learn with you through this blog and my YouTube channel! I hope you'll enjoy learning along with me :)

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Opinion Joe Biden: The U.S. won’t back down from the challenge of Putin and Hamas

Joe Biden is president of the United States.

Today, the world faces an inflection point, where the choices we make — including in the crises in Europe and the Middle East — will determine the direction of our future for generations to come.

What will our world look like on the other side of these conflicts?

Will we deny Hamas the ability to carry out pure, unadulterated evil? Will Israelis and Palestinians one day live side by side in peace, with two states for two peoples?

Will we hold Vladimir Putin accountable for his aggression, so the people of Ukraine can live free and Europe remains an anchor for global peace and security?

And the overarching question: Will we relentlessly pursue our positive vision for the future, or will we allow those who do not share our values to drag the world to a more dangerous and divided place?

Read this op-ed in Arabic.

Both Putin and Hamas are fighting to wipe a neighboring democracy off the map. And both Putin and Hamas hope to collapse broader regional stability and integration and take advantage of the ensuing disorder. America cannot, and will not, let that happen. For our own national security interests — and for the good of the entire world.

The United States is the essential nation. We rally allies and partners to stand up to aggressors and make progress toward a brighter, more peaceful future. The world looks to us to solve the problems of our time. That is the duty of leadership, and America will lead. For if we walk away from the challenges of today, the risk of conflict could spread, and the costs to address them will only rise. We will not let that happen.

That conviction is at the root of my approach to supporting the people of Ukraine as they continue to defend their freedom against Putin’s brutal war.

We know from two world wars in the past century that when aggression in Europe goes unanswered, the crisis does not burn itself out. It draws America in directly. That’s why our commitment to Ukraine today is an investment in our own security. It prevents a broader conflict tomorrow.

We are keeping American troops out of this war by supporting the brave Ukrainians defending their freedom and homeland. We are providing them with weapons and economic assistance to stop Putin’s drive for conquest, before the conflict spreads farther.

The United States is not doing this alone. More than 50 nations have joined us to ensure that Ukraine has what it needs to defend itself. Our partners are shouldering much of the economic responsibility for supporting Ukraine. We have also built a stronger and more united NATO , which enhances our security through the strength of our allies, while making clear that we will defend every inch of NATO territory to deter further Russian aggression. Our allies in Asia are standing with us as well to support Ukraine and hold Putin accountable, because they understand that stability in Europe and in the Indo-Pacific are inherently connected.

We have also seen throughout history how conflicts in the Middle East can unleash consequences around the globe.

We stand firmly with the Israeli people as they defend themselves against the murderous nihilism of Hamas. On Oct. 7, Hamas slaughtered 1,200 people, including 35 American citizens, in the worst atrocity committed against the Jewish people in a single day since the Holocaust. Infants and toddlers, mothers and fathers, grandparents, people with disabilities, even Holocaust survivors were maimed and murdered. Entire families were massacred in their homes . Young people were gunned down at a music festival. Bodies riddled with bullets and burned beyond recognition . And for over a month, the families of more than 200 hostages taken by Hamas, including babies and Americans, have been living in hell , anxiously waiting to discover whether their loved ones are alive or dead. At the time of this writing, my team and I are working hour by hour, doing everything we can to get the hostages released.

And while Israelis are still in shock and suffering the trauma of this attack , Hamas has promised that it will relentlessly try to repeat Oct. 7 . It has said very clearly that it will not stop.

The Palestinian people deserve a state of their own and a future free from Hamas. I, too, am heartbroken by the images out of Gaza and the deaths of many thousands of civilians, including children. Palestinian children are crying for lost parents. Parents are writing their child’s name on their hand or leg so they can be identified if the worst happens. Palestinian nurses and doctors are trying desperately to save every precious life they possibly can, with little to no resources. Every innocent Palestinian life lost is a tragedy that rips apart families and communities.

Our goal should not be simply to stop the war for today — it should be to end the war forever, break the cycle of unceasing violence , and build something stronger in Gaza and across the Middle East so that history does not keep repeating itself.

Just weeks before Oct. 7, I met in New York with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu . The main subject of that conversation was a set of substantial commitments that would help both Israel and the Palestinian territories better integrate into the broader Middle East. That is also the idea behind the innovative economic corridor that will connect India to Europe through the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Israel, which I announced together with partners at the Group of 20 summit in India in early September. Stronger integration between countries creates predictable markets and draws greater investment. Better regional connection — including physical and economic infrastructure — supports higher employment and more opportunities for young people. That’s what we have been working to realize in the Middle East. It is a future that has no place for Hamas’s violence and hate, and I believe that attempting to destroy the hope for that future is one reason that Hamas instigated this crisis.

This much is clear: A two-state solution is the only way to ensure the long-term security of both the Israeli and Palestinian people. Though right now it may seem like that future has never been further away, this crisis has made it more imperative than ever.

A two-state solution — two peoples living side by side with equal measures of freedom, opportunity and dignity — is where the road to peace must lead. Reaching it will take commitments from Israelis and Palestinians, as well as from the United States and our allies and partners. That work must start now.

To that end, the United States has proposed basic principles for how to move forward from this crisis, to give the world a foundation on which to build.

To start, Gaza must never again be used as a platform for terrorism . There must be no forcible displacement of Palestinians from Gaza, no reoccupation, no siege or blockade, and no reduction in territory. And after this war is over, the voices of Palestinian people and their aspirations must be at the center of post-crisis governance in Gaza.

As we strive for peace, Gaza and the West Bank should be reunited under a single governance structure, ultimately under a revitalized Palestinian Authority, as we all work toward a two-state solution. I have been emphatic with Israel’s leaders that extremist violence against Palestinians in the West Bank must stop and that those committing the violence must be held accountable. The United States is prepared to take our own steps, including issuing visa bans against extremists attacking civilians in the West Bank.

The international community must commit resources to support the people of Gaza in the immediate aftermath of this crisis, including interim security measures, and establish a reconstruction mechanism to sustainably meet Gaza’s long-term needs. And it is imperative that no terrorist threats ever again emanate from Gaza or the West Bank.

If we can agree on these first steps, and take them together, we can begin to imagine a different future. In the months ahead, the United States will redouble our efforts to establish a more peaceful, integrated and prosperous Middle East — a region where a day like Oct. 7 is unthinkable.

In the meantime, we will continue working to prevent this conflict from spreading and escalating further. I ordered two U.S. carrier groups to the region to enhance deterrence. We are going after Hamas and those who finance and facilitate its terrorism, levying multiple rounds of sanctions to degrade Hamas’s financial structure, cutting it off from outside funding and blocking access to new funding channels, including via social media. I have also been clear that the United States will do what is necessary to defend U.S. troops and personnel stationed across the Middle East — and we have responded multiple times to the strikes against us.

I also immediately traveled to Israel — the first American president to do so during wartime — to show solidarity with the Israeli people and reaffirm to the world that the United States has Israel’s back. Israel must defend itself. That is its right. And while in Tel Aviv, I also counseled Israelis against letting their hurt and rage mislead them into making mistakes we ourselves have made in the past.

From the very beginning, my administration has called for respecting international humanitarian law, minimizing the loss of innocent lives and prioritizing the protection of civilians. Following Hamas’s attack on Israel, aid to Gaza was cut off, and food, water and medicine reserves dwindled rapidly. As part of my travel to Israel, I worked closely with the leaders of Israel and Egypt to reach an agreement to restart the delivery of essential humanitarian assistance to Gazans. Within days, trucks with supplies again began to cross the border. Today, nearly 100 aid trucks enter Gaza from Egypt each day, and we continue working to increase the flow of assistance manyfold. I’ve also advocated for humanitarian pauses in the conflict to permit civilians to depart areas of active fighting and to help ensure that aid reaches those in need. Israel took the additional step to create two humanitarian corridors and implement daily four-hour pauses in the fighting in northern Gaza to allow Palestinian civilians to flee to safer areas in the south.

This stands in stark opposition to Hamas’s terrorist strategy: hide among Palestinian civilians. Use children and innocents as human shields. Position terrorist tunnels beneath hospitals, schools, mosques and residential buildings. Maximize the death and suffering of innocent people — Israeli and Palestinian. If Hamas cared at all for Palestinian lives, it would release all the hostages, give up arms, and surrender the leaders and those responsible for Oct. 7.

As long as Hamas clings to its ideology of destruction, a cease-fire is not peace. To Hamas’s members, every cease-fire is time they exploit to rebuild their stockpile of rockets, reposition fighters and restart the killing by attacking innocents again. An outcome that leaves Hamas in control of Gaza would once more perpetuate its hate and deny Palestinian civilians the chance to build something better for themselves.

And here at home, in moments when fear and suspicion, anger and rage run hard, we have to work even harder to hold on to the values that make us who we are. We’re a nation of religious freedom and freedom of expression. We all have a right to debate and disagree and peacefully protest, but without fear of being targeted at schools or workplaces or elsewhere in our communities.

In recent years, too much hate has been given too much oxygen, fueling racism and an alarming rise in antisemitism in America. That has intensified in the wake of the Oct. 7 attacks. Jewish families worry about being targeted in school, while wearing symbols of their faith on the street or otherwise going about their daily lives. At the same time, too many Muslim Americans, Arab Americans and Palestinian Americans, and so many other communities, are outraged and hurting, fearing the resurgence of the Islamophobia and distrust we saw after 9/11.

We can’t stand by when hate rears its head. We must, without equivocation, denounce antisemitism, Islamophobia, and other forms of hate and bias. We must renounce violence and vitriol and see each other not as enemies but as fellow Americans.

In a moment of so much violence and suffering — in Ukraine, Israel, Gaza and so many other places — it can be difficult to imagine that something different is possible. But we must never forget the lesson learned time and again throughout our history: Out of great tragedy and upheaval, enormous progress can come. More hope. More freedom. Less rage. Less grievance. Less war. We must not lose our resolve to pursue those goals, because now is when clear vision, big ideas and political courage are needed most. That is the strategy that my administration will continue to lead — in the Middle East, Europe and around the globe. Every step we take toward that future is progress that makes the world safer and the United States of America more secure.

About guest opinion submissions

The Washington Post accepts opinion articles on any topic. We welcome submissions on local, national and international issues. We publish work that varies in length and format, including multimedia. Submit a guest opinion or read our guide to writing an opinion article .

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