Creative problem statements for effective systems
A snippet from other great blog articles!
Einstein quoted, that if he had one hour to save the world he would spend ''fifty-five minutes defining the problem and only five minutes finding the solution.''
This quote illustrates an important point, before jumping right into solving a problem. We should step back and invest time and effort to improve our understanding of it. Here are strategies you can use to see problems from many different perspectives.
Don't structure a question and then look for answers. Develop a system about the process of understanding beyond what surface. Rephrase the problem question. When an executive asked employees to brainstorm “ways to increase their productivity”. All he got back were blank stares. When he rephrased his request as “ways to make their jobs easier”. He could barely keep up with the amount of suggestions.
Words carry strong implicit meaning and so play a major role in how we perceive a problem. In the example above, ‘Have a Productive Day or be productive’ might seem like a sacrifice. While ‘make your job easier’ may be more like something you’re doing for your own benefit. But from which the company also benefits. In the end, the problem is still the same. The feelings and the points of view associated with each of them are vastly different. Many don't see the important of asking a question in such a way that an answer becomes available. Play freely with the problem statement, rewording it several times. For a methodical approach, take single words and substitute variations.
‘Increase sales’? Try replacing ‘increase’ with ‘attract’, ‘develop’, ‘extend’, ‘repeat’. See how your perception of the problem changes. A rich vocabulary plays an important role here. So you may want to use a thesaurus or develop your vocabulary.
Every problem, no matter how simple it may be comes with a long list of assumptions attached. Many of these assumptions may be inaccurate. They can make your problem statement inadequate or even misguided.
If you don't start with the core of the subject it's easy to focus on the wrong detail. It isn’t until you cut the inessential from your problem that you can begin to see the real problem.
The first step to get rid of bad assumptions is to make them explicit. Write a list and expose as many assumptions as you can — especially those that may seem the most obvious and ‘untouchable’. That, in itself, brings more clarity to the problem at hand. Essentially, you need to learn to
Think in ways that they might not be valid and their consequences. What you will find may surprise you: that many of those bad assumptions are self-imposed — with just a bit of scrutiny you are able to safely drop them. Read up on Be a Skeptic|How to Be a Skeptic.
For example, suppose you’re about to Open a Restaurant|enter the restaurant business.
One of your assumptions might be ‘restaurants have a menu’. While such an assumption may seem true at first, try challenging it and maybe you’ll find some very interesting business models (such as one restaurant in which customers bring dish ideas for the chef to cook, for example).
Don't get stuck in your own frame of reference.
Replacing words in the problem statement
Replacing words in the problem statement with hypernyms. Hypernyms are words that have a broader meaning than the given word. (For example, a hypernym of ‘car’ is ‘vehicle’). A great, free tool for finding hypernyms for a given word is WordNet.
A good question worth asking is whether the "problem" you're defining is really just a symptom of a deeper problem. For example, a Save Energy in Your Home | high heating bill might be the "problem" and an obvious solution would be to check to see if your heating system is broken, or needs updating for better efficiency. But maybe the bigger problem is that the people in your house use heat wastefully—and might that be? Because they don't perceive the negative consequences; they don't have to pay the bill themselves, perhaps, so they're not conscious of how wasting heat will affect them.
Problem-solving florishes when it's a product of both critical and creative thinking. Combine them with a process in place that allows each to do it's part.