How to Become A Better Problem Solver with the Be Helpful Arch

Solving difficult problems is like building an arch. It takes planning, a clear comprehension of how things connect, and when done right, it provides great strength to whatever it supports.

Here’s what I mean:

You start by preparing the foundation for the arch, that’s how you approach solving problems, by thinking and acting differently.

In the foundation sits the first and most important block, the cornerstone, or how you treat your team and clients: ethical influence.

The cornerstone supports the blocks and mortar, which are your curiosity and the results you deliver, when you ask the right questions.

To finish, all the blocks that make up the arch are locked together by the keystone habit of influential behaviours you perform daily so you can repeatedly solve problems.

Annotated line drawing of an arch showing foundation, cornerstone, blocks, and keystone
The Be Helpful Arch:
#1 Create a Solid Foundation (Think & Act Differently);
#2 Place the Cornerstone (Use Ethical Influence);
#3 Lay the Blocks & Mortar (Ask the Right Questions and Follow Through on the Answers);
#4 Set the Keystone (Develop the Be Helpful Keystone Habit)

This article shares how to solve difficult problems through four powerful behaviours, explains how the behaviours work together like an arch, and provides links to dive deeper into each behaviour.

Become a Better Problem Solver Table of Contents

    How to Solve Problems with the Be Helpful Arch

    Here’s how it works. The Be Helpful Arch is based on four behaviours:

    1. Thinking and acting differently.
    2. Using ethical influence.
    3. Asking the right questions and following through on promises made.
    4. Developing the Be Helpful keystone habit.

    When you consistently display all four behaviours, you:

    • Get to the heart of a problem.
    • Define the right solution.
    • Deliver the solution when promised.
    • Get people excited for it so they actually use the solution and get the benefits from it.

    The result is people want to work with you because you get things done and care about everyone involved. And because you solve problems and have a reputation for collaboration not confrontation, you stand out from your peers and take another step towards becoming your organization’s unicorn employee.

    The Be Helpful Arch Explained – In a Handy Visual

    Annotated line drawing of an arch showing foundation, cornerstone, blocks, and keystone
    The Be Helpful Arch:
    #1 Create a Solid Foundation (Think & Act Differently);
    #2 Place the Cornerstone (Use Ethical Influence);
    #3 Lay the Blocks & Mortar (Ask the Right Questions and Follow Through on the Answers);
    #4 Set the Keystone (Develop the Be Helpful Keystone Habit)
    Post's featured image - Person wearing one red trainer and one yellow trainer

    Step 1: Create a Solid Foundation – Think & Act Differently

    It all starts with the ground upon which the Be Helpful Arch stands, or the environment in which your problem exists.

    Think & Act Differently is our foundation because if we don’t take a different perspective and change, we won’t solve the problem. All we do is continue to make the same mistakes.


    • Take a different perspective
    • Put people first and good things happen in return
    • Have an open mind

    Dig deeper into thinking and acting differently and learn how to do so with four tips.

    Scrabble pieces on white background that spells out "trust"

    Step 2: Place the Cornerstone – Use Ethical Influence

    The foundation is prepared – that’s you – now it’s time to place the cornerstone. The cornerstone is the first stone laid in the foundation of a masonry construction.

    When it comes to problem solving, our cornerstone is how you treat people: your team, your colleagues, your clients.


    • Lead by example
    • Follow through on promises made
    • Care about the people you work with and the work you do
    • Understand it is behaviours that make the difference between success and failure

    All this means you lead with ethical influence – you influence those around you through your own positive behaviours – and do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do.

    Learn why ethical leadership is the cornerstone of problem solving and 5 ways you can build trust.

    Tan coloured dog sitting on her haunches with a paw in the air as if to ask a question

    Step 3: Lay the Blocks & Mortar – Ask the Right Questions and Follow Through on the Answers

    The next part of the arch are the blocks and mortar.

    The blocks add height and distance while the mortar provides strength, which means you’re moving closer towards your goal and are making the right decisions with each step.

    The mortar is the powerful strategy and action questions:

    • How can I encourage people to… insert desired behaviour?
    • What barriers do I need to remove for this to happen?

    The blocks in the arch are the behaviours you develop and the results you deliver as you follow through on the answers to those questions.

    This is where your curiosity to learn and understand the problem and your actions to define and deliver the right solution have the largest impact. All by asking the questions and following through on the answers.

    Learn how the encourage and remove barrier questions are so powerful with practical examples.

    Step 4: Set the Keystone – Develop the Be Helpful Keystone Habit

    The last and most important part of the Be Helpful arch is the keystone. This is the angled block at the very top of the arch that locks everything together and gives the structure its strength and durability.

    Without it, the arch cannot be completed and will fail.

    In the same way, the Be Helpful keystone habit locks your positive behaviours together.

    Being helpful means you are someone others want to work with because you understand their problems, deliver the right solutions when you promised, and care about the outcomes and people involved.

    The core habits that are part of being helpful are:

    • Thinking and acting differently
    • Leading with ethical influence
    • Asking the right questions

    The keystone habit makes the behaviours powerful, repeatable, and lasting. Like an arch.

    Learn more about keystone habits and how they lock everything together when you develop the Be Helpful keystone habit

    Introduction to a New Way of Solving Problems

    Why an Arch?

    The arch is one of construction’s strongest structures, it’s simple in design and repeatable – very important when building long or large structures. All of which makes it perfect for solving difficult engineering problems.

    Dilemmas such as transporting water across wide river beds or lifting a train 100ft above a river valley in rugged terrain resulted in the beautiful Ponte du Gard Aqueduct in France and the Victorian marvel that is the Glenfinnan Viaduct in Western Scotland.

    Also, the arch is easy to imagine and relate to which makes it perfect when thinking of analogies.

    Examples of arches in concrete bridges and roman block aqueducts
    Clockwise from top left: Bixby Creek bridge (photo by Cody Hiscox on Unsplash); The Pont du Gard (photo by Jeremy Bezanger on Unsplash); Glenfinnan Viaduct (photo by Bryan Walker on Unsplash); The Ponte Vecchio (photo by Bianca Ackermann on Unsplash)

    Arches and Keystone Habits

    What the arch is to bridge building, keystone habits are to problem solving.

    The specific keystone habit that makes the difference, is to Be Helpful. That’s someone who solves problems, delivers the right solution, and cares about the outcome. They are consistently helpful to the people they are helping.

    If you’re not familiar with keystone habits, no worries, I’ll explain them in a moment.

    With the Be Helpful keystone habit, you develop positive behaviours such as building trust, being clear in your communications, and having effective organization skills that enable you to understand the problem, define the right solution, and deliver it when you said you would.

    And then do it all over again… because it’s a habit.

    What is a Keystone Habit?

    A regular habit is a single behaviour we perform repeatedly. Like holding the door open for someone or brushing our teeth in the morning.

    A keystone habit is a collection of smaller habits and behaviours that impact many areas of our life or business. Like being organized.

    Being organized means you:

    • Turn up early to meetings and the meetings you run are effective.
    • Your pens and laptop battery are always full.
    • You know what’s on your to do list and when the tasks are due.
    • When someone asks you for a form or a spreadsheet you can produce them – no fumbling around for your cluttered laptop on a desk that looks like an abandoned, no-rules organization experiment gone badly wrong.

    The keystone habit of being organized results in a high level of self confidence and positivity because you know what you’re doing and what’s happening around you. And that positively affects the people around you and their opinion and level of trust in you.

    A keystone habit has a cumulative effect with impacts on all sorts of behaviours and other habits. Much like a spider’s web where vibrations from any point on the web are transmitted back to the centre along the connected spokes and radials.

    A spider's web strung between 2 plants with the sun shining from above
    A keystone habit is like a spider’s web connecting multiple behaviours and habits together. Photo by Bence Balla-Schottner on Unsplash

    Examples of Critical Problems The Be Helpful Arch Solves

    A rotten apple on a brick wall surrounded by dried moss
    Wellingtone PPM Intelligence’s project management survey found 60% of projects don;t deliver their promised benefits.

    Which tells me two things:

    1. People are struggling to really understand the problem they’ve been asked to solve.
    2. People aren’t helping end users to understand and become excited about the solution, or how to use it to get the benefits that it promises.

    The lack of understanding – either in the problem or how to get users onboard – has insidious effects when it comes to project costs and employee satisfaction.

    Which leads to our last problem, low employee engagement.

    Next Steps

    Black lab puppy chewing on a dog toy, looking at the camera while the dog's owner tries to take the toy away
    Asking the right questions encourages the right behaviours. Photo by Camylla Battani on Unsplash

    When you look around, do you see problems and bad habits and processes you want to change? Have you been asked to solve them and make them better?

    Your starting point is to ask the encourage/barrier questions (step #3 in the Be Helpful Arch):

    • How can I encourage people?
    • What barriers do I need to remove?

    Then put the answers into practice.

    For example, how can I encourage people to:

    • Trust my project plan?
    • Give me the information I need?
    • Fill out the forms I send them?
    • Engage with the products I provide?


    • What barriers do I need to remove for this to happen?

    The fact you’re asking the right questions (step #3) shows you’re thinking and acting differently than before (step #1).

    Because you’re open to new ideas and the directions the responses to the questions take you, people trust your judgement. Especially when you back up your words with actions (step #2).

    When you say, “I can solve this” and you do, repeatedly (step #4), people want to work with you time and again.

    Which results in you making the world a better place – for you and those you work with.


    1. If you bought a car that feels like a lemon and always has problems, it’s possible you bought a Friday afternoon car. That’s a car that was finished poorly because everyone was rushing to get home on Friday afternoon. ↪︎ return
    1. Wellingtone PPM Intelligence’s The State of Project Management 2018 survey with results for how many projects deliver on the full benefits and how many are completed on budget. ↪︎ return
    1. Project Management Institute’s Pulse of the Profession 2018 report listing how many dollars invested in projects are wasted. ↪︎ return
    1. Gallup’s State of the American Workplace 2017 survey listing how many employees are engaged with their work. ↪︎ return

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