What if? Asking the Right Creative Problem Solving Questions

A guide to using creative problem solving techniques by asking the right "what if" questions.


Creative problem solving is a vital skill in today’s fast-paced and complex world. It involves the ability to think outside the box, generate innovative solutions, and overcome obstacles in unique ways. Whether you are an entrepreneur, a student, a professional, or just someone trying to navigate the challenges of daily life, developing strong problem-solving abilities is essential.

One effective technique that can enhance your creative problem solving is asking “What if” questions. These questions encourage you to consider alternate perspectives, explore new possibilities, and challenge existing assumptions. By asking “What if,” you open up a world of potential solutions and spark the creativity needed to find innovative answers.

Defining the What If Technique

The “What if” technique is a simple yet powerful approach to problem solving. It involves asking hypothetical questions that challenge the status quo and stretch the limits of conventional thinking. By suspending judgment and exploring different scenarios, you can stimulate creative thought processes and uncover fresh ideas.

The main purpose of the “What if” technique is to break free from rigid patterns of thinking and encourage innovative solutions. It pushes you to step outside your comfort zone and consider unconventional approaches. By engaging in this type of thinking, you expand your problem-solving capacity and increase your ability to find unique and effective solutions.

Benefits of using the “What if” technique for problem-solving include:

  1. Enhanced creativity: By breaking free from traditional mindsets, the “What if” technique fosters creative thinking and encourages the exploration of new ideas.

  2. Increased flexibility: By challenging assumptions and considering alternative possibilities, you develop greater flexibility in your problem-solving approach. This flexibility allows you to adapt to changing circumstances and overcome obstacles more effectively.

  3. Improved problem identification: The “What if” technique helps you gain a deeper understanding of the problem at hand. By asking hypothetical questions, you can uncover hidden issues or potential solutions that may have been overlooked.

  4. Generation of innovative solutions: By asking “What if” questions, you generate a wide range of potential solutions. These solutions may be unconventional or even unrealistic at first glance, but they can inspire new ways of thinking and lead to breakthrough innovations.

  5. Enhanced critical thinking: The “What if” technique encourages analytical thinking by evaluating the feasibility, impact, and risks associated with each “What if” question. This critical evaluation helps refine ideas and select the most promising solutions.

In the following sections, we will explore a step-by-step process for applying the “What if” technique to creative problem solving. By following this process, you can harness the power of “What if” questions to tackle challenges, overcome obstacles, and find innovative solutions to a wide range of problems.

Defining the What If Technique

The “What if” technique is a powerful tool in the realm of creative problem solving. It involves asking oneself or a group of people a series of hypothetical questions to stimulate creative thinking and generate new ideas. These questions typically start with the phrase “What if” and aim to explore alternative perspectives, possibilities, and potential solutions.

The purpose of the “What if” technique is to break free from traditional or conventional approaches to problem solving. By encouraging individuals to think outside the box and challenge existing assumptions, it opens up new avenues of exploration and fosters innovation.

One of the main benefits of using the “What if” technique is that it helps to unlock creativity and overcome mental blocks. When faced with a problem, we often tend to think in a linear and logical manner, sticking to what we already know or have experienced before. However, by asking “What if” questions, we force ourselves to consider different scenarios and envision alternative outcomes. This helps to expand our mindset, challenge our assumptions, and explore unconventional ideas that may lead to breakthrough solutions.

Additionally, the “What if” technique can improve problem-solving effectiveness by promoting a more thorough and comprehensive examination of the problem at hand. By asking a wide range of “What if” questions, we explore various dimensions and factors related to the problem, which helps to uncover hidden insights and potential solutions that may not have been obvious initially.

Furthermore, the “What if” technique encourages a culture of curiosity and continuous learning. It instills a mindset of exploration and experimentation, where individuals are not afraid to question the status quo or challenge established norms. By constantly asking “What if” questions, we foster a spirit of innovation and adaptability, which is essential for success in today’s rapidly changing world.

In summary, the “What if” technique is a valuable tool for creative problem solving. By asking hypothetical questions and exploring alternative possibilities, it stimulates creative thinking, breaks through mental blocks, and generates new ideas. By incorporating this technique into our problem-solving process, we can unlock innovation, broaden our perspectives, and find unique and effective solutions to the challenges we face.

Step 1: Defining the Problem

Before diving into the “What if” technique, it is crucial to clearly define the problem at hand. Without a proper understanding of the problem, it becomes challenging to generate relevant and effective “What if” questions. In this step, we will explore the importance of defining the problem accurately and techniques to help us identify and understand it.

The Importance of Defining the Problem

Defining the problem is the foundation of any problem-solving process. It sets the direction and scope of our problem-solving efforts. Without a clear problem statement, we may find ourselves wasting valuable time and resources on ineffective solutions. Additionally, a poorly defined problem can lead to confusion and miscommunication among team members, hindering the overall problem-solving process.

To define the problem accurately, we can use the following techniques:

1. Problem Analysis:

Analyzing the problem involves dissecting it into its key components and understanding the underlying causes and effects. This technique helps us gain a comprehensive view of the problem and its implications, enabling us to identify the root cause more precisely.

2. Gathering Stakeholder Inputs:

Engaging with stakeholders who are affected by or have expertise in the problem can provide valuable insights. By soliciting their inputs, we can gain different perspectives and better understand the problem’s nuances, making the definition more robust.

3. Asking the Five Whys:

The Five Whys technique involves asking “Why?” multiple times to get to the core of the problem. By repeatedly asking why a particular problem exists, we can uncover deeper issues and identify the underlying causes that need to be addressed.

4. Developing Problem Statements:

Crafting a clear problem statement helps us focus our attention on the specific issue at hand. A well-defined problem statement is concise, specific, and measurable. It should accurately reflect the problem’s nature and provide a guiding framework for generating “What if” questions.

Techniques for Accurately Identifying and Understanding the Problem

To accurately identify and understand the problem, we can use the following techniques:

1. Research and Data Gathering:

Conducting research and gathering relevant data allows us to gather facts and evidence related to the problem. This information helps us better comprehend the problem’s context and enables us to make more informed decisions during the problem-solving process.

2. Generating Problem Clusters:

Grouping related problems into clusters helps us see patterns and connections between different issues. By identifying common themes or recurring problems, we can gain a deeper understanding of the broader problem landscape.

3. Conducting Root Cause Analysis:

Root cause analysis involves digging deeper into the problem to identify its underlying causes. This technique helps us move beyond superficial symptoms and address the root issues that contribute to the problem’s existence.

4. Seeking External Perspectives:

Engaging external sources, such as subject matter experts or consultants, can provide fresh perspectives and insights into the problem. Their expertise and experience can challenge our assumptions and broaden our understanding, leading to a more comprehensive problem definition.

By leveraging these techniques, we can accurately define the problem, setting the stage for effective utilization of the “What if” technique. Taking the time to define the problem upfront ensures that our subsequent efforts in generating “What if” questions and exploring potential solutions are focused, targeted, and aligned with the core problem.

Step 2: Brainstorming “What if” Questions

Brainstorming “What if” questions is a crucial step in the creative problem-solving process. This step allows us to explore different possibilities, challenge assumptions, and think outside the box. Here are some techniques to encourage creative thinking and generate a range of “What if” questions:

1. Divergent Thinking

Divergent thinking is a valuable technique during this stage. It involves generating as many ideas as possible without judgment or criticism. The goal is to produce a wide range of “What if” questions, no matter how far-fetched or unconventional they may seem. Quantity is key at this stage, as it allows us to push beyond our initial assumptions and explore unexpected possibilities.

2. Reverse Thinking

Reverse thinking is a powerful approach for generating “What if” questions. Instead of looking for solutions, we consider the opposite scenario. For example, if the problem is reducing costs, we can ask, “What if we doubled our budget?” or “What if we focused on maximizing value instead of minimizing expenses?” Reverse thinking helps to challenge our assumptions and provide fresh perspectives on the problem.

3. Unconventional Perspectives

Consider perspectives that are unusual or outside the norm to stimulate creative thinking. This can include taking on the viewpoint of different stakeholders, imagining the problem in a different context, or even adopting a fictional character’s perspective. By shifting our perspective, we can generate unique “What if” questions that may lead to innovative solutions.

4. Combination and Modification

Combine different ideas or modify existing solutions to generate “What if” questions. Look for ways to merge unrelated concepts or adapt successful strategies from other industries or domains. This technique encourages cross-pollination of ideas and can lead to breakthrough insights.

5. Challenging Assumptions

Identify and question the assumptions underlying the problem to uncover new possibilities. Ask, “What if our assumptions were wrong?” or “What if we turned our assumptions upside down?” Challenging assumptions helps us break free from limiting beliefs and opens up new avenues for exploration.

6. Provocative Questions

Pose provocative or challenging questions to stimulate creative thinking. These questions often start with “What if” and challenge the status quo. They can be thought-provoking and push us to consider unconventional solutions. For example, “What if failure was not an option?” or “What if we had unlimited resources?”

Remember, during this brainstorming phase, there are no wrong answers. Encourage everyone involved to contribute without fear of judgment or criticism. The goal is to generate a large quantity of “What if” questions to explore various possibilities and diverse perspectives.

In the next step, we will discuss how to analyze and evaluate these “What if” questions to identify the most promising solutions.

Step 3: Analyzing and Evaluating “What if” Questions

Once you have generated a range of “What if” questions through the brainstorming process, it is vital to analyze and evaluate each question to determine their potential outcomes. This step helps you assess the feasibility, impact, and risks associated with each question, enabling you to make informed decisions about which solutions to pursue.

1. Analyzing the Potential Outcomes

When analyzing the potential outcomes of each “What if” question, consider the following aspects:

  • Feasibility: Evaluate whether the proposed solution is technically possible and can be implemented with the available resources. Assess if there are any constraints or limitations that may hinder its execution.

  • Impact: Determine the potential positive and negative consequences of implementing the solution. Consider the short-term and long-term effects on various stakeholders, such as customers, employees, and the overall organization.

  • Cost-effectiveness: Evaluate the cost of implementing the solution and compare it with the expected benefits and returns. Consider any financial implications and assess if the solution provides value for money.

2. Evaluating the Risks

During the evaluation process, it is crucial to assess the risks associated with each “What if” question. Consider the potential obstacles, challenges, and uncertainties that may arise during implementation. Evaluate the level of risk and determine whether it can be mitigated or managed effectively.

  • Risk analysis: Identify and assess the risks associated with implementing each solution. Consider the probability of occurrence, potential impact, and the ability to control or mitigate the risks. This analysis helps prioritize solutions based on their risk levels.

  • Contingency plans: Develop contingency plans for managing potential risks. Consider alternative approaches or backup solutions that can be implemented if the selected solution encounters unforeseen difficulties or obstacles.

3. Prioritizing and Selecting Solutions

After analyzing and evaluating the potential outcomes and risks of each “What if” question, you can prioritize and select the most promising solutions based on various criteria.

  • Viability: Consider the feasibility and practicality of implementing each solution. Focus on solutions that can be realistically executed within the available resources, time, and capabilities.

  • Effectiveness: Assess how well each solution addresses the identified problem. Evaluate the potential for positive outcomes and the extent to which the solution can contribute to achieving the desired goals.

  • Alignment with goals: Determine if each solution aligns with the overall objectives and strategies of the organization. Evaluate how well the proposed solution supports the mission, vision, and values of the organization.

4. Iterative Approach

It is important to remember that the analysis and evaluation process is not a one-time task. Creative problem solving often requires an iterative approach, where solutions are refined and improved as new information and insights emerge.

  • Feedback loop: Seek feedback from stakeholders and experts throughout the analysis and evaluation process. Incorporate their perspectives and ideas to refine and enhance the proposed solutions.

  • Iterative refinement: Continuously refine and modify the solutions based on the evaluation results and feedback received. Improve upon the initial ideas and consider alternative approaches to further enhance the potential outcomes.

By carefully analyzing and evaluating each “What if” question, you can identify the most promising solutions for further development and implementation. Remember, this step is a critical part of the creative problem-solving process that allows you to assess the feasibility, impact, and risks associated with each solution, leading to innovative and effective problem-solving outcomes.

Step 4: Selecting the Most Promising Solutions

Once you have generated a range of “What if” questions and explored the potential outcomes of each, the next step is to analyze and evaluate these questions to select the most promising solutions. This step requires careful consideration and objective judgment to determine which solutions are most viable, effective, and aligned with your goals.

Criteria for Selecting Solutions

When evaluating the solutions generated through “What if” questions, it is important to establish criteria to guide your decision-making process. Consider the following factors when selecting the most promising solutions:

  1. Viability: Assess the feasibility of each solution. Consider the resources, skills, and time required to implement the solution. It is crucial to determine whether the solution is realistically achievable within your constraints.

  2. Effectiveness: Evaluate the potential impact of each solution. Consider how well each solution addresses the problem, can lead to desired outcomes, and resolve the underlying issues. Look for solutions that have the potential to make a significant positive difference.

  3. Alignment with Goals: Ensure that the solutions align with your goals and objectives. Consider how each solution fits within your overall strategy and contributes to your long-term vision. Select solutions that support your mission and help you achieve your desired outcomes.

Consider Multiple Perspectives

To ensure that you have thoroughly evaluated the potential of each solution, it is beneficial to explore multiple perspectives. This can be done through collaboration and seeking input from diverse stakeholders, including team members, experts, and those affected by the problem. By considering different viewpoints, you can gain valuable insights and identify potential strengths and weaknesses of each solution.

Evaluate Risks and Trade-Offs

As you evaluate each solution, be sure to assess the risks and potential trade-offs associated with its implementation. Consider the potential challenges, uncertainties, and potential negative consequences. It is important to identify and mitigate any risks to ensure the successful implementation of the selected solutions.

Prioritize and Select

After thoroughly evaluating the potential solutions based on the criteria and input from multiple perspectives, prioritize and select the solutions that appear most promising. It is important to remember that selecting the most promising solutions does not mean discarding all other ideas. Some solutions may be more suitable for immediate implementation, while others may be kept for future consideration.

Flexibility and Iteration

Problem-solving is an iterative process, and it is essential to remain flexible and open to refining and adjusting your chosen solutions as needed. As you implement the selected solutions, monitor their effectiveness and make necessary adjustments along the way. Remember that your initial selection is not set in stone and may need modification based on real-world feedback and outcomes.

By carefully selecting the most promising solutions, taking into account various factors, and remaining adaptable, you increase the likelihood of finding innovative and effective solutions to the problem at hand. This careful evaluation process is essential in ensuring that your chosen solutions have the best chance of success and can truly make a positive impact.

Step 5: Implementing and Iterating

Once you have selected the most promising solutions generated through the “What if” questions, the next step is to implement them. Implementation is the process of putting the chosen solutions into action to address the problem at hand. Here are some strategies to consider during this step:

1. Create an Action Plan

Develop a detailed action plan that outlines the steps required to implement the chosen solutions. This plan should clearly define who will be responsible for each task, the resources needed, and the timeline for completion. By having a well-defined plan, you ensure that everyone involved understands their role and the steps required for successful implementation.

2. Start Small and Iterate

Instead of trying to implement all the chosen solutions at once, it is often beneficial to start with a pilot or small-scale implementation. This allows you to test the viability and effectiveness of the solution in a controlled environment. By starting small, you can identify any potential challenges or adjustments needed before scaling up the implementation. Remember, the goal is to learn and iterate as you go.

3. Monitor and Evaluate Progress

Regularly monitor and evaluate the progress of the implementation. This involves tracking key metrics and gathering feedback from stakeholders. By continuously assessing the progress, you can identify any issues or bottlenecks early on and make necessary adjustments. Monitoring and evaluating also allows you to gather valuable insights that can inform future iterations or refinements of the solution.

4. Communicate and Collaborate

Effective communication and collaboration are vital during the implementation phase. Keep all stakeholders informed about the progress, challenges, and successes of the implementation. This helps create a shared understanding and encourages collaboration and support from all parties. Regularly communicate any updates or changes to the action plan, and ensure that everyone is aligned and on the same page.

5. Be Flexible and Open to Iteration

Remember that the implementation process is rarely linear or straightforward. It might involve unexpected challenges, unforeseen opportunities, or changes in circumstances. It is crucial to be flexible and open to iteration. If a particular solution is not delivering the expected results, be willing to pivot or modify the approach. Adaptability and willingness to iterate are essential for finding the most effective and successful solutions.

6. Learn from the Implementation

Throughout the implementation process, emphasize learning and knowledge sharing. Encourage the team to reflect on the experience, gather feedback, and capture lessons learned. This information can be invaluable for future problem-solving efforts. By continuously learning from each implementation, you can build a repository of knowledge and strategies to inform future iterations and improvements.


Implementing and iterating on the chosen solutions is an integral part of the problem-solving process. It is through action and refinement that you turn ideas into tangible outcomes. By following the strategies outlined in this step, you set yourself up for successful implementation and pave the way for continuous improvement. Remember, problem-solving is an ongoing process, and each iteration brings you closer to innovative and effective solutions.


In today’s fast-paced and ever-changing world, creative problem solving has become an essential skill for individuals and organizations alike. The ability to think outside the box, come up with innovative solutions, and adapt to new circumstances is critical for success in any endeavor. One powerful technique that can enhance our problem-solving abilities is asking “What if” questions.

The “What if” technique is a creative thinking approach that allows us to explore new possibilities and generate fresh ideas. It encourages us to challenge assumptions, break away from traditional thinking patterns, and consider alternative perspectives. By asking “What if” questions, we open ourselves up to a world of possibilities and unlock our creative potential.

Throughout the process of using the “What if” technique, there are several key steps to follow. First and foremost, it is crucial to clearly define the problem at hand. A well-defined problem provides a solid foundation for the subsequent steps and ensures that we stay focused on finding relevant solutions.

The next step involves brainstorming a wide range of “What if” questions. Quantity is emphasized over quality during this step, as the goal is to generate as many ideas as possible. By thinking broadly and exploring different angles, we increase the likelihood of uncovering unique and innovative solutions.

Once we have a list of “What if” questions, the next step is to analyze and evaluate each one. We consider the feasibility, potential impact, and associated risks of each question. By conducting a thorough analysis, we can distinguish between viable and impractical solutions and prioritize those with the highest potential for success.

Based on the evaluation, we then select the most promising solutions. Criteria such as viability, effectiveness, and alignment with goals are considered during this step. It is important to take a holistic view and consider various factors before choosing the solutions that are most likely to yield positive results.

After selecting the solutions, the next step is implementation. It is crucial to have a well-thought-out plan and a flexible approach to execution. Problem-solving is rarely a linear process, and adjustments and iterations may be necessary along the way. By embracing a continuous improvement mindset, we can refine our solutions and achieve better outcomes.

In conclusion, the “What if” technique is a powerful tool for enhancing creative problem-solving abilities. By asking the right questions and challenging the status quo, we can unlock new possibilities and find innovative solutions. It is important to practice and utilize this technique in various problem-solving scenarios, as it can lead to breakthrough ideas and ultimately contribute to personal and organizational success. So, embrace the power of “What if” and let your imagination soar to new heights!