The Four Ds of Problem Solving

Whether you’re dealing with Earth shattering matters that need your response ASAP, or a nagging family problem, The 4 Ds of Problem Solving is the framework you need for getting to the solution.


  • DEFINE your problem. Thoroughly consider the situation or issue. Don’t assume you know what the problem really is. Drill down to the root cause by repeatedly asking yourself or stakeholders for explicit explanations as to why things are done the way they are. Then clearly articulate the problem by writing it out. Do NOT keep it in your head. Write it out.


  • DECIDE whether this is the most important and urgent problem for you to spend your energy on, and decide on what potential solutions will create the greatest positive impact. You don’t have to have the fully formed solution yet, just general notions of the best routes forward. Remember that the answers to problems are often found in numbers, which can also help keep things objective.


  • DESIGN the best possible solution to the problem. Be creative and novel, but make sure the solution and the design are also relevant. In problem solving, form must always serve function. Don’t get locked into old thought and common perceptions. Design like an innovator.


  • DEPLOY the solution. Make it happen by being prudent and savvy. Prudence dictates caution and consideration for others. Don’t let your excitement overpower you, causing you to rush in before you’re ready, sabotaging all you efforts. Savvy is how you get buy-in. Even if you seemingly hold all the cards, make sure you get other people to believe in your ideas and feel the excitement you feel about the solution. Savvy isn’t about selling people on an idea. Savvy is about synergy and forging mutual respect.

The Four Imperatives of Awareness

Leadership is a Means Not an End

True LeaderYou will find more true leaders—self-leaders—among teachers, nurses, and community organizers than you will among CEOs, politicians, and celebrities. It is the former who lead for the purpose of effecting positive change—change that has far-reaching and often immeasurable impact.  Their motive for leadership is not a hunger for power.  True leadership come from a desire to use your knowledge and ability in a way that has the greatest positive impact.  True leadership is about contributing to the greater good.  It is not self-serving.  Yes, it is necessary to empower yourself to lead, but that is a means to a far greater end.

We must not confuse leadership with power. Leaders always have some measure of power, rooted in their capacity to persuade, but many people with power are without leadership gifts. Their power derives from money, or from the capacity to inflict harm, or from control of some piece of institutional machinery, or from access to the media. A military dictator has power. The thug who sticks a gun in your ribs has power. Leadership is something else.

—John Gardner

Fix the Leak

Sailing the BoatDon’t allow yourself to become obsessed with bailing water from the bottom of a leaky boat.  With your head down and your focus on getting rid of that threatening water, you’re missing the point.  You’re not there to bail the water.  The boat is there to get you where you need to be—that place in the sun where your actions are meaningful and your life has real purpose.  Fix the leak and then worry about getting rid of the water so you can stay the course.  It may be scary taking on extra water while you’re fixing the leak, but the alternative is that you never get where you need to be.

The Privilege of Certain Knowledge

Blue CollarPeople born into privilege are often born into certain knowledge as well. At an early age, they learn how to work efficiently, manage their time, and otherwise maximize control over their lives. Most people, however, have not received this kind of knowledge, this ability to deal with challenges, realize goals, control what we have the ability to control. They are left floundering, assuming that they aren’t good enough, that their lives are too difficult, that they just can’t keep up.

For the benefit of everyone on this planet, there must be a democratization of these self-leadership skills.  Somehow we must break through the cacophony of Internet memes, digital gunfire, and bad T.V. to teach people the immeasurable reward of living with honor, compassion, and the ability to make a difference.  If we never learn the importance of contributing to the world around us, and how we can best go about doing that, it is a tragic loss.

Human potential is our greatest renewable resource and we have achieved marvels with it, yet we still have much to do.  Our future great achievements will come from the masses not the elite.