Make The Problem Bigger

A Critical Doer Is Committed To Thinking And Doing


If you look at the definition of the word “problem” it seems odd that you’d want to make it bigger.  Ironically, that’s exactly what Gen Dwight Eisenhower did when he was faced with a challenge and was trying to figure out what to do.  “The Eisenhower Principle” as it is commonly called, is a great way for a critical doer to gain perspective and solutions that will allow action to begin.

Russ Linden wrote a great post in about how the city of Clearwater used this approach in figuring out how to keep the Philadelphia Phillies coming there for spring training.  According to Linden, the Phillies wanted a new, more modern training facility and they wanted it partially financed with public money from the city.  The article describes the initial negative reaction to investing public money in a facility that would be used only two months per year.

This is the point where the city officials, according to the article, applied the Eisenhower principle. They actually employed a critical doer technique of reframing the question (see previous Critical Doer post “And The Winner Is…Both Of Us”) to enlarge the problem as well as enlarge the opportunities for solutions.  Linden points out that in making the problem a community facility that could support the Phillies rather than a Phillies’ facility that happened to be in the community, they found partners and events that made the facility economically feasible and kept the Phillies coming to Clearwater.

This vignette clearly demonstrates the Eisenhower principle is a great system of critical thinking when you are trying to figure out what to do.  There was not a path to action until the problem was made big enough to provide context and connections that ultimately led to solutions.  Making the problem bigger opens three critical doors:

  1. Bigger opportunities. Enlarging a problem can reveal a wider array of opportunities to maximize profit, increase sales, diversify a portfolio, or gain acceptance of an idea.
  2. Bigger teams. Author Ken Blanchard famously wrote “none of us is as smart as all of us.”  Enlarging a problem can add more critical thinkers, more partners, more diversity of thought that can generate solutions, and more doers.
  3. Bigger Future. Opportunities and teams are the portal to the future.  The more inclusive your team and the harder you work to generate opportunities, the more likely you are to find solutions where decisive action can create a very bright future.

If you are treading water on a problem and haven’t been able to figure out what to do, fight your instinct to shrink the problem and try making it larger.  In doing so, you can gain a broader perspective, find new opportunities, add partners, and reach the point where the thinking is sufficient to start doing.  It’s what a critical doer would…do!


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Updated: February 9, 2015 — 10:07 am


  1. Recently, I was engaged with a co-worker on an issue. His focus was quite narrow. After back ing away from the problem a bit, he began to view it from a completely different perspective.

    “Can’t see the forest for the trees?” Back out and gain perspective.

    Also learn to look at the problem like the boss two or three levels up would. What is he thinking? Why? How can I tell him what is important and make it relevant in his perspective???

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