Wilson Steiner Briefing | Creative Technique Pages  | June, 2017


Examining the limits of a problem.

A technique that redefines the problems statement in order to generate ideas. 

Examining The Limits

Examining the limits of a problem will make it easier to create potential solutions by applying sideways thinking. In stating a problem (or defining any creative project) you are inevitably making assumptions about that problem. For example you will be deciding what are the key features of the problem: what viewpoint you are going to take: what assumptions you are going to make. Examination of the limits of a problem will not only clarify how and where sideways thinking should be applied, but will also begin to generate possible approaches to the problem.


Steps to follow: –

  1. Write down an initial statement about your problem.
  2. Underline key words and phrases and examine them for any hidden assumptions.
  3. Identify any important implications these key words and suggestions carry.
  4. Consider alternative words or phrases that change the limits, emphasis or assumptions that the problem statement encompasses.
  5. Write down any new problem statement or definitions suggested from this technique.
  6. Repeat this process if you have not reached a starting point that feels or looks right.


Remember: – 

There are no right or wrong answers at this stage in the process. Sideways thinking is about generating possibilities. In generating possibilities you provide yourself with the means ‘glancing sideways’ – that is taking a sideways step and moving off in a different direction. Generate the possibilities and examine the possibilities; and only after having done that should you begin to apply the criteria of what constitutes a good solution for you. Creative ideas are precious – so don’t throw them away until you are sure that they contain no value for you.


Simple example:  –

Initial problem statement in the IWWM form:
In what ways might I improve the quality of my life?

Highlight the limits of the problem statement:
In what ways might I improve the quality of my life?

Alternative words or phrases:
In what ways might I (revise – cultivate – enhance – change – purify – mend – enlarge- challenge) the (nature – mood – feeling – atmosphere – aspect) of my (home – work – spirit – essence – excitement – energy – movement – occupation – maturity).


Potential new problem statements:-

  1. How can I change my mood at the end of the week?
  2. How can I cultivate a better atmosphere in my home?
  3. In what ways could I challenge myself to make changes in my daily routine?
  4. How do I ensure that, in five years time, I feel much better about how I used that five years to make myself feel fulfilled and successful?

Repeat the process: –

  1. Define successful?
  2. What does fulfilled look like?