- Scott H Young - https://www.scotthyoung.com/blog -

Solve Tough Problems by Using Lenses

Whenever I get stuck in a tough problem, I like to look at the issue through different lenses. Lenses are different perspectives that ask different questions in order to create a solution. It is easy to pick a particular method of problem solving and apply it to every challenge you face. But tough problems often require completely new lenses in order to solve.

You can spend hours trying to logically derive whether it would be better to stay in a relationship based on pros and cons and never come to a decision. But by adopting a different lens that asks what you feel intuitively or reexamines your values you may get an answer immediately. Instead of asking other people who don’t understand the problem what they think, take some time to ask yourself from a different perspective.

Here are some of my favorite lenses to use when approaching problems:


Ask yourself what the relevant scarcity is to your success. You can’t spend more money on a problem that requires more time. Investing more in marketing won’t work if the product is a dud. Dieting more may stop short if it’s exercise you need. Use the 80/20 rule to prioritize.


Use your logic to come to a conclusion about big problems. I frequently put on the philosopher lens to try and solve problems without distorting them with my emotional bias. If you hate your job, you could use the philosopher lens to logically explore alternatives. You might decide that quitting would be best because even if a new career doesn’t pay as well, you will draw more meaning and satisfaction until you can build up the new income.


Religion has many different potential lenses. From a general perspective, it might ask you what your moral code is that you shouldn’t violate. Religion might also focus on service to others and charity as a higher goal than self. Within specific religions, you find a more detailed moral code that you should follow. Even if you aren’t a religious person, examining problems through the lenses religion offers can give you different perspectives on a problem.


From this perspective you should empirically test the different options to discover what is best. If you aren’t sure what diet to choose, you should test each of them and weigh out the difference in results. I frequently use a scientific perspective when there are two or more choices where I have little experience to make premature conclusions about which would be better.


The programmer lens offers many new perspectives. It might get you to focus on how you can reuse previously implemented solutions to save time. It could ask you how the process could be made more efficient or elegant. Programming perspectives often try to understand the system from which the problem is created. Try debugging your health or finances.


An artistic perspective might try to understand the problem through metaphor or interpretation. An artistic lens could also ask you for what the most beautiful or interesting solution is opposed to the most efficient or effective. It might ask you what solution would inspire the right emotions as opposed to the right results.


A sales perspective might get you to focus on the human elements involved in the problem. How could you use persuasion and charisma to create a solution? It might also get you to understand the other people involved in a problem. A sales perspective could get you to see the perspective of an audience before giving a speech rather than just your own.

Lenses are About Questions Not Answers

The benefit of using a lens isn’t the answers you get but the questions you ask. All big problems are usually solved by asking a series of smaller questions before arriving at a conclusion. But when you are stuck in one perspective you keep asking the same question which doesn’t create results.

If you are stuck in a programmers perspective you may keep trying to find the most optimized solution to a problem. Shifting to an artistic perspective might get you to ask completely different questions. Instead of asking, “What’s most efficient?” you might ask, “What creates the best emotions?”

I’ve only offered seven different lenses, but there are hundreds. You can use character lenses asking yourself how Einstein, Machiavelli or Captain Kirk would look at your problem. You can use value lenses asking yourself how someone who was relationship centered would look at the problem or how someone who was business centered would look at the problem. You can even use historical perspectives asking yourself how the 10, 30 and 80 year old versions of yourself would look at the problem.

There is No “Right” Perspective

There isn’t a correct lens for the problem. You can’t evaluated a perspective as being more or less valid than the others. Each asks different questions and yields different answers. An artistic perspective may seem careless or even superstitious to a scientific perspective, while a scientific perspective may seem too unemotional from an artistic viewpoint.

The next time you have a problem where the solution isn’t immediately obvious, you probably aren’t asking the right questions. Adopting different lenses won’t make overcoming tough life problems easy, but it will give you a much larger understanding of the scope of the problem.

Image courtesy of flickr [1].