When you find yourself in front of a problem, decision or a system, you can ask yourself these prompt questions. They will point you to the right tool for you.
|Am I only thinking of ideal solutions?||Inversion|
|Can I break this problem down?||Issue trees|
|Do I need an innovative solution to a complex problem?||First principles|
|Am I solving the right problem?||Abstraction laddering|
|How do I come up with a creative solution?||Productive Thinking model|
|What kind of decision am I making?||Hard choice model|
|Which option from these is the best one?||Decision matrix|
|What would be the long-term consequences of this decision?||Second-order thinking|
|Am I jumping to conclusions?||Ladder of inference|
|How should I respond to this situation?||Cynefin framework|
|What should I be working on right now?||Eisenhower matrix|
|How does this system work?||Connection circles|
|Why is X happening?||Iceberg model|
Avoid worst scenarios
If you're working on a high-stakes problem, you might want to focus on specifically avoiding bad solutions.
Inversion is a tool to make you see the problem from a different angle and avoid possible mistakes or bad outcomes.
Break the problem down
It often helps to break big and complex problems into smaller, more manageable ones.
Issue trees allow you to do this in a systematic way. It's great to tackle the problem in a "divide and conquer fashion".
Then there are first principles which focus on identifying the fundamental principles underlying a given problem. You can then build an original solution from these principles rather than from the initial problem statement.
Frame the problem differently
Abstraction laddering will help you find alternative and innovative solutions by defining a the right problem (of which your initial problem might only be a subset of). You can get a worksheet to get started with this tool.
Come up with creative solutions
Productive thinking model gives you a six-step framework that will help you find creative solutions to the problems you're solving. It does that thanks to structured, critical thinking.
Figure out what kind of a decision you're making
Hard choice model is for you seeing the type of decision in front of you so that you can move forward with it more efficiently. If it's a no-brainer, you'll know to make the decision quickly rather than correctly. For hard or big decisions, you might need to dig deeper (tools below will help you).
Choose the best option
Decision matrix is great for weighing up different factors and identifying the best option. If you're looking for picking a clear winner based on various factors, this tool is for you.
Analyze before you commit
Second-order thinking will help you consider a specific option and what the deeper or long-term consequences of choosing it might be.
Ladder of inference is another tool to help you see if there's a gap in your thinking before you commit to a decision. With this tool, you'll avoid jumping to conclusions too early and make decisions based on reality.
There are worksheets for both of these tools.
Understand the situation before choosing a response
Sometimes, you need a little time to assess the situation so that you can choose the best response. Cynefin framework is an excellent tool for that.
It helps you to categorize a situation and point you to the most appropriate response.
This is really a subset of decision-making: "What should I be working on right now?"
Understand a system
To learn more about a system, I recommend starting with the Connection circles.
It's a great tool to map different elements of a system or a story and the relationships between them. You can get started with a Connection circles worksheet.
The key benefit of connection circles is that they expose feedback loops (both balancing and reinforcing loops). You can then move on to learning about those loops to really understand what's going on in the system.
Uncover causes of events
If you're looking to uncover the root causes of some event, use the Iceberg model.
It's a four-level model that allows you to see beyond what's obvious and think about the patterns, structures and mental-models that really drive the surface-level events. There's also a handy Iceberg model worksheet to help you.