Subscribe to Entrepreneur for $5

When Looking for a Solution, Stop Staring at the Problem

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

When it comes to losing your keys, or your phone, or your favorite pen, it’s true that the one place you’ll never look is right under your nose. But when it comes to problems, in life or business, what’s right under your nose is usually the only thing you can see. For most of us, that view often looks a lot like a brick wall.


You know the routine. You identify the problem, you define it, outline it, turn it over and over and inside out, and still, it looks like a problem. No solution in sight.

You bang your head against the wall a few times. Then a few more times just to be sure it’s a solid wall. No solution, but your headache suggests that wall might be for real.

Why banging your head doesn’t break down walls.

Finding a solution requires a different perspective than the one you used to define the problem. It also requires a different state. The creative problem-solving activity is a completely different brain function from the analytical problem-defining activity. The wall is not the problem. The real problem is your relationship to the wall. You aren’t likely to solve your problem with your nose pressed up against it.

Here are three ways you can move away from the wall and free your mind to identify and create solutions for even the most stubborn of problems.

Related: Creative Problem-Solving Strategies to Test Your Business Idea

Get your brain out of problem mode.

Our brains need us to push the reset button. In our office building we have a ping pong table and a quiet corner with a board. You might assume that the entrepreneurs whacking at little white balls or furrowing their brows while resting one finger on the bishop's hat aren’t as driven as those who are frantically pounding away at their keyboards, but you’d probably be wrong. Ping pong and chess both excite areas of the brain that aid in .

What activities free your creative mind? Is it physical exercise? The stimuli of the outdoors? Maybe you have a drum set you bang on or you play solitaire. Whatever it is, do that. Then take another look at your brick wall, you’ll likely see cracks or even big holes that weren’t apparent before.

Challenge your programming.

Our brains, much like our computing devices, work on a series of if-then statements. This programming is efficient at keeping the wheels turning when we’re barreling along life’s highway, but not so effective at navigating crossroads and detours.

What assumptions are you making that might not be true? Probably they were true at one time, maybe as recently as yesterday, but perhaps they aren’t true right now. Or maybe it’s true that the condition exists, but not true that it cannot be changed. Test everything you believe to be true about your problem and you’ll probably find that you are operating on at least one false premise. When you change the “if” the “then” will change as well.

Related: 3 Reasons Why You Are Failing at Problem Solving

Explore unknown territory.

Chances are, if you are having a problem someone else has experienced the same problem, or at least one similar enough that you can borrow a solution. But the solution may not be in your own backyard. Most innovative problem solvers have become masters of adapting a solution from another application to overcome “impossible” in their own business.

What other business or industry has similar problems? More to the point, what other industry depends on successfully solving that problem in order to survive? How can you adapt their solution to your situation?

Not only will you find inspiration by examining other industries, you’ll challenge your brain to connect new dots. By adding unusual elements to the equation you force your brain into creation mode and out of the analytical or overwhelm state you were probably in when you were nose-to-brick with that wall.

While none of these three suggestions will magically solve your problem, they will shift your brain into a state where the solution has a chance of getting through. Because the solution is there, you just have to be in the right brain state to see it.

Related: A Secret to Creative Problem Solving

Entrepreneur Editors' Picks