The Phoenix Checklist – A Thinking Tool

June 8, 2011

Problems or challenges often motivate leaders, but there are times when we come up dry or empty as we try to resolve an issue.  It just seems that our approach is not adequate to help us think through a situation thoroughly.  That is where Thinkertoys comes in.

Thinkertoys is one of my new favorite books.  It is chock full of thinking tools that will give you multiple creative options for problem solving.  One of these tools is the Phoenix Checklist which was originally developed by the CIA according to the author.

Thinkertoys has a “blueprint” section for each of the tools where the essentials are explained.  The blueprint for the Phoenix Checklist is:

Write your challenge – Isolate the challenge you want to think about and commit yourself to an answer, if not the answer, by a certain date.

Ask questions. Use the Phoenix Checklist to dissect the challenge into as many different ways as you can.

Record your answers. Information requests, requests, solutions, and ideas for evaluation and analysis.

That is the “blueprint” of this tool.  Following are a few examples of the questions on the checklist:

Why is it necessary to solve the problem?

What is the unknown?

What is it you don’t yet understand?

What isn’t the problem?

What are the boundaries of the problem?

What are the constants (things that can’t be changed) of the problem?

Have you seen this problem before in a slightly different form?

What are the best, worst, and most probable cases you can imagine?

There are many more questions on the checklists that are excellent.  Check it out – this is a great tool to add to your leadership toolbox.

Hope it is a great Wednesday for you!

BG