How to look at a challenge from different angles

thinking from different angles

Questions are the key to opening the mind

Last night, I was browsing Planet of the Apes movie download excellent and I started reading the ,which I found very insightful. I found some more gems in the comments, so I added my 2 cents and got a great response and thought I should post it here.

When presented with a challenge, knowing what to ask is the difference between doing more of the same and doing something extraordinary. The Phoenix Checklist  of questions was developed by the CIA to encourage agents to look at a challenge from different angles.

Using Phoenix is like holding your challenge in your hand

You can turn it, look at it from underneath, see it from one view, hold it up to a different position and imagine solutions. Keeping a checklist of questions close to you (Moleskine notebook, Evernote) comes in very handy when you need some creative firepower and the Phoenix is a great base on which to build on.

It’s very easy to get started, I’ve found this process very useful:

  1. Write your challenge Rush Hour 2 trailer . Isolate the challenge you’re thinking about and commit yourself to an answer by a certain date
  2. Ask questions. Use the Phoenix checklist to dissect the challenge into as many different ways as you can.
  3. Record your answers. Information requests, solutions and ideas for evaluation and analysis


– Why is it necessary to solve the problem?
– What benefits will you gain by solving the problem?
– What is the unknown?
– What is it you don’t understand?
– What is the information you have?
– What isn’t the problem?
– Is the information sufficient? or is it insufficient? or redundant? or contradictory?
– Should you draw a diagram of the problem?
– Where are the boundaries of the problem?
– Can you separate the various parts of the problem? can you write them down? what are the relationships of the parts of the problem?
– What are the constants (things that can’t be changed) of the problem?
– Have you seen this problem before?
– Have you seen this problem in a slightly different form?
– Do you know a related problem?
– Try to think of a familiar problem having the same or similar unknown
– Suppose you find a problem related to yours that has already been solved. can you see it? can you use it’s method?
– Can you restate your problem? how many different ways can you restated it? more general? more specific? can the rules be changed?
– What are the best, worst and most probable cases can you imagine?


– Can you solve the whole problem? part of the problem?
– What would you like the resolution to be? can you picture it?
– How much of the unknown can you determine?
– Can you derive something useful from the information you have?
– Have you used all the information?
– Have you taken into account all essential notions in the problem?
– Can you separate the steps in the problem solving process? can you determine the correctness of each step?
– What creative thinking techniques can you use to generate ideas? how many?
– Can you see the result? how many different kinds of results can you see?
– How many different ways have you tried to solve the problem?
– What have others done?
– Can you intuit the solution? can you check the result?
– What should be done? how should it be done?
– Where should it be done?
– When should it be done?
– Who should do it?
– What do you need to do at this time?
– Who will be responsible for what?
– Can you use this problem to solve some other problem?
– What is the unique set of qualities that makes this problem what it is and none other?
– What milestones can best mark your progress?
– How will you know when you are successful?

That’s it! Now all you have to do is take note of good questions when you hear them, and keep adding them to your checklist…with the right questions you can solve any challenge in unlimited ways.

For more questions check out the 100 Whats of Creativity eBook wrtitten by Dan the Idea Guy.

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