The art of strategic problem solving: knowing a problem through its solution


As Einstein argued: “It takes a new way of thinking to solve the problems produced by the old way of thinking”.

During the Middle Ages, a master of the art of Chinese warfare traveled through Europe; guest of a prince he found himself attending a knightly tournament. At that time the champions of different kingdoms and principalities clashed in knightly tournaments, allowing to avoid wars, or deciding who should marry the ruler's daughter. Before the start of the knightly clashes, the master asked his guests to clarify the functioning of the tournament and they explained that the tournament was based on the clash of the three best champions of the two principalities, that is: first the first two knights would have clashed, then the two second horsemen, finally two third horsemen. The team with the most victories would have won. At this point, the Chinese war master asked to be able to give a suggestion and therefore proposed to his prince: “Have your third champion fight with his first, your first with his second, your second with his third. You will win twice out of three even if you have lost the first duel. And so it was.

This story helps us introduce the Advanced Strategic Problem Solving, that is the art of using tricks to solve problems, obtaining the maximum result with the minimum effort.

The famous epistemologist Karl Popper (1972) indicated that the process of scientific research and the steps leading to its discoveries are as follows:

  • you stumble upon a problem;
  • all attempts made as solutions are studied;
  • alternative solutions are sought;
  • they apply;
  • the effects are measured;
  • the strategy is adjusted until it is effective.

We can consider this iter the foundation of any process of Problem Solving, a rigorous method for finding solutions to problems, according to the phases that are followed within the scientific research processes. While science has the task of giving explanations to the phenomena it studies, Problem Solving represents the "technology to find solutions", that is the methods that allow to reach specific objectives.

Il strategic problem solver it is therefore concerned with seeking the solution and not the explanation. In other words: it is the solutions that explain the problems and not vice versa. Detecting and studying what did not work and still does not give results, as well as what worked and could still be effective, means that the attention is focused on the present dynamics of persistence and change of the problem, rather than on the past causes. related to its training.

Precisely through actions and interventions in the clinical, managerial, artistic and sports fields, Professor Giorgio Nardone has developed an apparently very simple method: advanced strategic problem solving.

To better describe the art of strategic problem solving, we summarize the main steps below.

  1. "Leave later to arrive earlier", ancient Chinese wisdom: define the problem

The first step of strategic problem solving is the define the problem carefully and pragmatically, investigating what the person means when he talks about the problem, how it manifests itself, who it involves. Defining the problem nails us to a rigorous procedure, which saves us from the nefarious influence of our previous ideas and from misleading interpretations.

  1. "There is no favorable wind for the sailor who does not know where to go", Seneca: agree on the goal

After having defined the problem in the most descriptive and concrete way, we proceed with the definition of the goal to be achieved, or what would be the concrete changes that, once made, would make it clear that the problem has been solved.

  1. "It is with the best of intentions that most of the time you get the worst effects" Oscar Wilde: evaluate the attempted solutions

Following are identified both the solutions that have been successful and the failed solutions put in place to solve the problem in question: the attempted dysfunctional solutions that feed the problem. The attempted solutions can be conscious strategies or unconscious actions / reactions, ways of communicating, actions, thoughts and must be analyzed and revealed in their mechanism of maintenance and feeding of the problem. Most people continue to maintain and nurture the problem by implementing the same strategies they have successfully applied in the past. Precisely because the human being tends to establish balances and maintain them, he also supports what has allowed us to be successful in the past, even if it is no longer functional. Investigating everything that has not been successful allows us to be focused on the concrete dynamic that maintains a problem or that, vice versa, can change it.

  1. "If you want to straighten something, first learn all the ways to twist it harder" ancient Chinese wisdom: the "technique of how to get worse"

The “how to get worse” technique facilitates the analysis of attempted dysfunctional solutions and allows us to identify all the ways to get worse, generating a contradictory and / or paradoxical effect. The mind creates a spontaneous aversive reaction, a spontaneous avoidance of pejorative behaviors; moreover, usually, the more one pushes the mind in that direction, the more alternative solutions come to mind.

It is worth remembering that this strategic question was used by the greatest inventors: Archimedes, Leonardo da Vinci, Edison. When Edison was asked: "But it is true that you have failed 2000 times in the attempt to create the light bulb" he replied: "no, I have been successful in deliberately failing 2000 times to be successful next time". This technique is applied both with patients, with athletes, and with top managers in the company because it also allows us to highlight what the person has done and could do to feed the problem even more. It is therefore a way to bypass resistance, unlock resources and activate creativity.

  1. "Don't wait for the right moment: create it" GB Shaw: the "scenario technique beyond the problem":

The technique of the scenario beyond the problem allows to define all the characteristics of the ideal situation after having carried out the strategic change; it is a way to concretely detect the characteristics of the "ideal reality", of the goal to be achieved, it allows us to identify the small acts to be performed to overcome the problem, promoting the shift of the subject's attention "from the problematic present" to the "future , no problem".

  1. "Every journey of a thousand miles begins with one small step" Lao Tse: the "climber's technique"

The climber's technique gets its name from what experienced mountain guides do to plan a mountain climb. Instead of starting from the base of the mountain, in studying the path to follow, they start from the summit until reaching, backwards, the smallest step to take.

When you have a complex problem to solve, in order to build an efficient as well as effective strategy, it is useful to start from the goal to reach to get to the starting point, dividing the goal into a series of micro-goals.


To conclude, we can say that advanced strategic problem solving is a method that allows us to have a rigorous but creative guideline for solving complex problems. This procedure goes beyond the rational idea of ​​"knowing in order to change", replacing it with "changing in order to know". We move from the search for the causes to the definition of the functioning of the problem. It is not the explanations of phenomena that lead to solutions but the solutions that work that lead us back to the explanations.

As Kurt Lewin tells us: “If you want to know how something works, try to change how it works”.


Dr. Veronica Aloisio

Psychotherapist, Coach, Official Researcher and Professor of the Strategic Therapy Center






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