Problem Solving Made Easy

Faced with a big challenge? Not sure where to start? In this excerpt from How to Get Anyone to Do Anything, learn techniques to simplify problem solving.

The following is an excerpt from the book
How to Get Anyone to Do Anything

by R. Philip Hanes
Published by Ten Speed Press;
August 2005;$24.95US; 1-58008-667-5
Copyright © 2006 R. Philip Hanes
Buy this book from

So you’re faced with a challenge. Start solving it by giving it a positive name: call it an opportunity. Next, make it as simple as you can by breaking it into small pieces. Arrange the pieces in the order you wish to address them and then address them one at a time.

Often it helps to look at the situation in different ways:

  • Can you turn it upside down or inside out?
  • Can you diminish or enlarge it?
  • Could the sequence of its parts be reversed or reordered?
  • Can you brainstorm about the situation with others?

Embroidered on a pillow on the couch in my office is the title of a speech I once heard: “Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly.” If you have a dilemma or a challenge to work with, don’t wait around until boredom sets in and you put it aside or someone else takes away and runs with it. GET MOVING! No matter what, take that first step. And correct mistakes as you go along. If you had the whole solution before you started, you wouldn’t have the problem in the first place. A few setbacks along the way are insignificant compared to the total failure of not solving the problem itself.

The Japanese have a useful technique called kaizen — take one small step at a time, but keep moving forward. When obstacles appear, meet them head on or go over, under, or around them. There is usually a way.

Several years ago, a warehouse belonging to one of the largest manufacturers of blue jeans in the United States flooded, causing considerable damage to the color of the denim. Transforming disaster into opportunity, the manufacturer advertised their new item as “distressed denims.” And they’re still selling, although today the company has figured out how to replicate the mottled appearance without flooding their warehouses.

Look for what’s good about your problem.
Many years ago I read an article in Reader’s Digest about the history of American advertising. Included was an account of two salmon fishermen who built a cannery in Alaska so that they could earn a living while pursuing their favorite sport. But the local salmon species had white flesh, and the fishermen were having a tough time marketing it. Instead of giving up, they dealt with the problem head on and promoted their brand as “salmon that won’t turn pink in the can.” Of course, today such a claim would be illegal. Too bad! Folks today just can’t take a joke.

Try to make lemonade out of a lemon.
In 1978, when Winston-Salem’s Contributions Council (which sets the calendar for major civic fund-raising projects) rejected the bid of the North Carolina School of the Arts to raise $6 million for a performing arts center, I went to Washington D.C. and collected a little more than half that sum in federal grants, then got permission to complete the funding locally.

Find another route to your goal.
When various members of the Wilson family turned aside my efforts to purchase the 9,000-acre side of Mount Mitchell I went back year after year after year for twelve years, until I persuaded them to sell it to our trout fishing club.

In short, if you believe you have a good idea, go for it, don’t wait, move! Jump in as though it was meant to be, and then stick with it in spite of the obstacles. Certain projects that begin on an impulse may take years to complete.

â–  The most efficient committees consist of three people, two of whom are absent. â– 

For fifty years, I joined one committee after another, the aim of each being the attempted revitalization of downtown Winston-Salem. All my suggestions were ignored, so in 2000 I decided to go it alone and hired my able partner Chris Griffith. In a little over two and a half years, we have supported a bevy of new restaurants, cafés, bars, art galleries and performance spaces — sidewalk dining and a vibrant arts district — the perfect confluence of art and commerce. And we did it with only the assistance of money loaned at low interest to enterprises that no bank would even consider. Much of what we accomplished was based on my four-day experience in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district in 1968. This model demonstrated to me that it is young people — with dreams and determination and guts — that will renew a city. The old folks in expensive suits who head for the suburbs in expensive cars at 5 P.M. will not.

Believe in your intuition.

Reprinted with permission from How to Get Anyone to Do Anything. Copyright © 2006 by R. Philip Hanes, Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, CA.

Buy this book from

R. Philip Hanes was among the farsighted few who helped lunch the American arts council movement in the 1950s. This former CEO of Hanes Companies has served on the boards of more than fifty national, state, and local arts agencies. He has received three presidential appointments, three honorary university degrees, and twenty-four arts awards. Long before environmental activism became a fashionable cause, his love and respect for the outdoors led him to help found three national conservation organizations and to serve on the boards of nineteen others. Along the way he assembled one of the largest and most respected private collections of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century American fine art. He lives with his wife, Charlotte, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where they continue to serve their community and country.

Visit for more info.

Get started image

Ready to get started?

Get the expert support you need

Start Now

Related Articles

10 Tips to Get Your Business Letters Read

by Bill Lampton, Ph.D., on September 24, 2023

7 Easy Steps to Follow Up by Phone

by C.J. Hayden, MCC, on September 24, 2023

Book Excerpt: The Lazy Person’s Guide to Investing

by Paul B. Farrell, J.D., Ph.D., on July 11, 2023

How to Write an Elevator Pitch

By Janet Attard, on July 11, 2023

Sales Call Success Strategy

by Wendy Weiss, on September 24, 2023

The 7 Worst Communication Blunders of 2008

by Bill Lampton, Ph.D., on September 24, 2023

Start Your LLC Today