The first step of generating new ideas is to get to grips with the challenge, so that the need for and scope of the issue is clear. Only then can participants collaborate effectively. So a key step is to make sure that everyone involved is aligned on the same issue. The scope of the problem being addressed also needs to be kept in view because it is very easy to branch off down the wrong path and find solutions to another issue. If you are simply looking for new ideas to broaden your outlook and offering then this is not so much of a problem.

We will look at three techniques for helping to refine and understand and state the challenge:

  • Problem Restatement
  • Problem Division
  • Problem Stretching

We will use the same example with each so that you can see the different perspectives that arise.

Problem Restatement

Problem restatement does exactly that. We start with some expression of the problem, and usually these are somewhat broad and unfocussed. Often we only have a hazy idea of the problem and our expression of the problem is therefore also hazy. The goal here is to open up our horizons by broadening perspectives in a way that also helps us be more definitive, if that is needed, and so bring the challenge into focus.

  • First we write down our problem statement
  • Then we look at the key words and ideas in the statement and list what they might mean
  • Then we select from the lists and restate the problem.

Here is a simple example to illustrate:

A pastor feels that the people in his fellowship are not as effective in their service of God as could be the case. He states his problem as: “How can I release people to serve?”  He then examines this question. I’ve set out the results of his consideration in the following table:

Original Statement  Potential Meanings (Do I mean…..)
I Do I really mean me? or ..the ministry team? or the leadership? or Fred ( a specific elder)? …..
Release Release from what?From fear? From prison?. Do I mean equip them or motivate them?
People Which people do I mean?Is this everyone? Just specific people? The Ministry Team? Or …..
Serve? How or who are they to serve? – the church neighbours, the lonely, the elderly, the homeless?….What do I mean by serve?  Worship God? Tidy up the church? Evangelise? Show agape love? Be servant leaders? ….

From this one or more focused statements can be derived which state more clearly what needs to be done and which can be addressed. For example:

How can the Ministry Team encourage and enable the core members of the church to show God’s love to our neighbours?

Thinking back to the previous lesson Encouraging Vision and Leading Change with a Servant Heart This could also be restated as a vision. For example:

That as a group of God’s people, supported by the Ministry Team, we win the hearts of our neighbours by showing them God’s love.

Problem Division

The goal of this approach is to change our perspective by dividing the problem into parts and then recombining the parts in new ways. Thus we end up with a new way of looking at the problem.  This can be helpful when we find ourselves locked into a particular perspective.

The problem division can be along the natural ways the original problem might split or it can be forced down completely arbitrary and artificial lines. To use a metaphor, the first is like breaking a bar of chocolate into squares the other is like taking a knife to the bar and dividing it into triangles of different sizes which cut across one or more squares.

We will start with the same initial question as before: “How can I release people to serve?”

Then we will divide the problem into two to consider say:  the people and the idea of serving.

The first main divisions are:

  • People and Serve
  • People

Thinking about the people we need to divide them into two categories, they could be any categories, but we’ll choose to consider: Who? And Heart?

  • First: Who? – Which people. This we divide again into two classes of people:
    • Everyone in the church and;
    • Those who are already keen to serve.


  • Second: Heart for service. This we divide into:
    • Those who are already willing to serve
    • Those who would like to but are afraid.

The second main division is:

  • Serve
    Thinking about serving we can break this idea down into two quite different categories: First, the need to give time to serve and Second, the idea of serving people who are outside the church
  • The need to give time to serve breaks down further into:
    • Those who are busy and need to work out how to make time and;.
    • Those who have time because they are not working, e.g stay-at-home mums, retired people etc.


  • Considering people who are outside the church this we breakdown into:
    • The regulars who we know but who do not belong to the church implying that we work within our existing boundaries.
    • The people we don’t know yet, which implies the need to extend our boundaries.

The division is arbitrary, there are many more ways that the problem could be divided but the discipline of this approach is to just choose two at each step. As with all these techniques it should be approached prayerfully. If your choices do not work you can always do it again making a different selection. (There are two other obvious options for the first division:  release/people and release/serve)

Now we choose the points that we want to focus on:  The keen people who are afraid to engage in service, particularly those who are otherwise not working and we will serve the unknown people beyond our existing boundaries.

Now we workout our challenge statement which becomes:

How can we release into service those of our people who are keen to serve and have time because they are not working, but are afraid to do so, that they might reach out to people we don’t yet know?

Notice how we started with the same basic question but we have ended up with quite different perspectives. It is quite possible that the restatement approach could have ended up with the same perspective as the problem division technique. But the fact it is that it didn’t. This is because the two techniques we have used have forced us to think in different ways about the question at hand and so different trains of thought developed.

Problem Stretching

Problem stretching takes a different approach to the previous two techniques. They were about refining the question by providing focus.  Problem stretching, as its name implies, is about opening up the problem statement while driving down to the root issue.

A frequent issue people have is stating a problem in terms of an anticipated solution. For instance “We need a new cooker” when the issue is that part of the cooker is not working and it needs repair. The way we state the problem will be affected by how we perceive the problem and all those patterns we make in our mind. Our minds run down their tracks and end up with a perspective which is limited in scope, may not be helpful and which is likely not to lead to a solution for the real problem.

The approach is quite simple. You start with your initial problem statement, whatever it is, and ask why? (It’s just like being a child again.)

You ask “Why do I want to do this?” Your answer is along the lines of “Because I want to…..” You then repeat the process on this second question. Do this a few times until you end up at the root issue. You shouldn’t need more than seven iterations.

The result is that you have identified the root issue so you can really address it. The other answers you derived in the process give insight into some ways in which you can address the root issue.

Let’s look at a simple example using the same starting question: How can I release people to serve?

Set out in the table in the left column we have the initial question and the issues that emerge and which are subsequently questioned. In the right hand column we have the “Why?” questions which probe the issues. The right hand column also includes the declaration of the root issues.

Issue Question and Observation
How can I release people to serve? Why do I want to release people to serve?
Because as a pastor I am called to disciple Christians and help them to grow in their faith. Two dimensions:

  • How do I disciple people? (a possible root issue)
  • A second question is:
    Why do I  want to help people grow in their faith?
Because if people grow in their faith they will become more Christ like and they will be attractive to others Why do I want people to be attractive to others?
Because then they will have the opportunity to share the gospel more effectively. Why do you want them to share the gospel more effectively?
Because people will be saved. Why do you want to see people saved?
Besides the fact that they need salvation our church will grow. Why do I want our church to grow?
Because our church is small and if it doesn’t grow it will die.  (Root issue) with a pertinent question: What is stopping our church from growing?


Note how this has arrived at the root concern: “What is stopping the church from growing?”

And we have added some intermediate issues which go some way to addressing the root issue, and when resolved will contribute to answering that root issue:

  • How do I help our people grow in their faith?
  • How do I help our people become more Christ like?
  • How do I help our people become more attractive to those outside the church?
  • How can we share the gospel more effectively?
  • How can we help our church grow?

So we have both homed in on the root issues and at the same time widened the scope of the issue (stretched the problem) with other insights. These lead to questions which will contribute to addressing the root issues. The root issues can then be further examined or used as they are to initiate the generation of solutions.


We have taken the same problem statement and looked at three different ways of changing our perspective concerning them, that we might be better able to resolve the issue. All three methods have given different results but each result is a way of answering the initial question.

At this point, given the nature of the examples, it’s worth remembering that we are looking for God’s perspective through his wisdom, insight and direction. So, it must be conducted with care and with prayer, listening to God.

Take a Moment

  • Identify some problem, challenge or opportunity that you would like to address and write down your initial problem statement. (It doesn’t have to be real issue)
  • Apply each of the following techniques to it:
    • Problem Restatement
    • Problem Division
    • Problem Stretching
  • What observations have you about the techniques?
  • What have you learned?

(It doesn’t have to be real issue but it would be interesting to take a real issue to see how you can begin to address it.)