Borrow someone else's wheel, don't reinvent it
And being struck by lightning demos
You cannot reinvent the wheel. But it might be interesting to see if you can upgrade that wheel with another frame, or adjust the radius to do less but go further instead.
When we come across a problem we need to solve we might get stuck. Cross-pollination between different fields often can be a catalyst for generating solutions.
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Before we head into problem-solving, it is essential that we look a little bit deeper into the problem. The definition of a problem is the following (Newell, Shaw & Simon, 1960):
A problem is a situation in which the subject desires some outcome or state of affairs that he does not immediately know how to attain. Imperfect knowledge about how to proceed is at the core of the genuinely problematic.
In other words: a situation in which someone immediately has the answer to a set goal is not a problem for that person. It can be seen as a problem from the moment that they don’t have the needed knowledge, yet.
Define your problem
When we have defined our problem we can come up with a set of solutions. Keep in mind that getting to the core of the problem is crucial in finding the best possible solution for your problem. The best way to attain our core is to ask as many ‘Why-questions’ as possible.
Sometimes the problem isn’t ‘sales are going down’, but the core might be deeper ‘we only have one supplier’.
Reframe your problem
This is truly where the magic happens. You have your sticky problem for which you don’t have the answers yet. Rephrase the problem into a ‘How Might We’ Question. HMW (How Might We) questions stem from the Design Thinking method. It’s a way to transform a negative problem into a positive question to generate as many ideas as possible. You’re turning something non-actionable into something actionable.
Problem Users find the return process difficult.
HMW (poor) How might we make the return process less difficult?
HMW (good) How might we make the return process quick and intuitive?
Borrow someone else’s wheel
So now you have your problem stated and you reframed it, you’re good to go. You can start coming up with ideas. This is where I introduce you to the exercise called Lightning Demos.
Core of this exercise is to browse the internet and to look for possible solutions for your problem in other fields. That means that you’re stating your problem and you’re looking for ways that other disciplines used to solve their problem.
When you found multiple possible solutions in other fields you’ll have to be critical to those solutions. What is good about it, what’s not good about it? Are there parts of the solution that you can implement in your discipline/ field?
The reason why you should check out other fields is because this can stimulate your own creativity and make connections in your brains you hadn’t even thought of. While being in this process you might even come up with other solutions too. Another reason is that because the solution is already out there, it’s already been tested. Chances are that it would also work out for your problem, even though that’s not guaranteed.
In the video down below, Ben Rouse talks you through how to set up a Lightning Demo in a workshop/ work session.
A lightning demo can only be used when you have a clear problem (with a HMW question and ideally also Can we Questions like Ben describes) and is better used in group dynamics so that cross-pollination can really occur.
So when are you going to do a Lightning Demo?
Fun fact: when Ben and I executed the Lightning Demo in the workshop in London, we really did have lightning AND THUNDER. When explaining the exercise we communicated that we thought it would be kinda cool if we would have actual lightning and thunder to go along with the exercise. When it then actually happened, the whole crowd went cheering, clapping and laughing.
What a great experience!
Hamel, Ronald. On designing by architects: a cognitive psychological description of the architectural design process. Aha books, 1990.
Weather is not always compatible with the execution of the Lightning Demos.