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Several years ago while on vacation, I felt really bored, uninspired, and burdened by the administrative load of my role as the area director of a local ministry. Looking for something to read that might give me some perspective, I found a little book called, Leading on the Creative Edge: Gaining Competitive Advantage Through the Power of Creative Problem Solving by Roger Firestien. Looking back, some of the leadership ideas generated from that book have helped me crystallize vision and solve problems over and over again in a myriad of leadership settings.

One of the creative problem solving processes Firestien presents is called the “Why, Why Else” method. What I present below proves once again that the simplest ideas are often the best ones when it comes to solving problems. The basic principle this creative problem solving process will demonstrate is what Dewey once said:

A problem properly stated is half solved.

Here is a snapshot of this idea generating process.

Why, Why Else?

  1. First, write down a problem statement (any problem or “obstacle” you face in your organization, church, etc.)
  2. Second, ask why you want to (insert your problem statement here)
  3. Third, ask why else you want to (insert your problem statement here)
  4. Fourth, attempt to state the problem in a more specific way now that you’ve thought a little more about it…

Here is an Example of How the Process Might Go for the Hypothetical Problem Statement Listed Below:

  1. PROBLEM STATEMENT: How can we get more high school kids to our youth group’s summer outreach camp?
  2. ASK WHY: Why do you want more high school kids to go to your summer outreach camp?  Answer: So more kids at the local high school will hear the good news of Jesus Christ…
  3. ASK WHY ELSE: Why else do you want more high school kids in your community to go to your summer outreach camp? 

Possible Answers:

  • So more high school kids can experience the benefits of being part of a church where they can learn more about what it means to know God…
  • Summer camp gives youth leaders a large amount of time to spend time getting to know the young people they brought to camp.
  • Summer camp gives kids a chance to get out of their normal routine to consider the claims of Jesus in the context of adventure, Creation, and meaningful friendships.
  • The summer camp setting can give kids a picture of what authentic Christian community can look like.


How might we develop opportunities (throughout the calendar the year) for young people to get away from their normal routine to spend time with their leaders in order to gain a picture of authentic Christian community and have a chance to encounter Jesus through the beauty and adventure of his Creation?

Do You See How the Original Problem Statement Isn’t the Actual Problem?

What this process can show you is that the original problem you started with might not (and is usually not) the real problem. By going through this process of generating more leadership ideas, you’ve actually been able to break the problem down into four specific objectives:

  • Getting young people away from their normal routine…
  • Facilitating experiences for leaders to spend quality time with the kids they are investing in…
  • Giving young people an authentic picture of Christian community…
  • Creating opportunities for introducing young people to Jesus in the context of adventure and the beauty of God’s creation.

Visionary Leadership Alert! Do You See the Significance of What this Process Revealed?

If you blink now you might miss the major discovery that this process has revealed. The real “problem” is not how you can get “more kids to go to your youth group’s summer camp.” To be a visionary leader you must mine down deeper than what is on the surface. This process has helped you do that. Now instead of beating your head against the wall (like non-visionary leaders regularly do) in an effort to “get more kids to camp”, you can think more big picture, more creatively and more systematically about your whole youth ministry program and cast a vision that will probably produce better results.

Now with arrows in your quiver, you can bring some closure to the process and cast a compelling vision for your ministry team.  Here is how you might do that:

  1. Set up a brainstorm session with your key leaders (probably 90 minutes)
  2. Ask them to help you come up with as many ideas as possible for how to achieve the following objectives:
  • List all of the creative ways we can get young people away from their normal routine to capture their attention…
  • List all of the ideas you can imagine for ways that you can facilitate a variety of experiences for your volunteer youth leaders to spend quality time with kids they are investing in throughout the year…
  • List every conceivable idea for how your leadership team might create an environment that will give young people an authentic picture of Christian community
  • Brainstorm tons of ways that you could potentially create opportunities this year to introduce young people to Jesus in the context of adventure and the beauty of God’s creation.
  • Choose the best ideas and create action steps…

Visionary Leaders Know that the Initial Stated Problem is Rarely the Real Problem

If you actually go to the trouble of going through a process like this, you’ll discover that, “Getting more kids to go to our summer camp” is a good idea, but it is one of potentially hundreds of other great leadership ideas and goals. Visionary leaders know something about the nature of problems so they rarely jump at the first suggestion or get bogged down with the squeakiest wheel.

For example, if I had just jumped at the first suggestion and started pushing my volunteers to “get more kids to summer camp,” I might be able to get 50 kids to camp. But if I lead my team with vision and we structure our whole year of ministry around the four objectives listed above, we have the potential of impacting hundreds of kids in a variety of ways throughout the year AND getting 50+ kids to go to summer camp. That could increase your ministry’s fruitfulness a hundred fold!

The Gems are Below the Surface

Visionary leaders are always looking below the surface of the apparent problems to find the “gems” (the more valuable problems, that if addressed will bring more fruit). Jesus did this all the time by speaking in parables that few understood in their first hearing. Visionary leaders are bullish about doing the necessary work to engage a process that will help uncover the real objectives underlying the initial problem.

Visionary leaders know that what they see on the surface, is rarely the real problem. Now it’s your turn, just brainstorm any problem you are facing as a leader and start with a good problem statement. Then go through this “Why, Why Else” process, and see what leadership ideas come out in the wash.


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