Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Problems are like puppies

One of the results of becoming a curious and courageous problem solver is that the world starts to look different. Things which once seemed frightening, or overwhelming, start to at least drift into the realm of possibility. It is within that "what if" space that the seeds of remarkable solutions take root and grow.

When you first notice that something is a source of frustration or difficulty begin by asking; Why?

Next, set out to learn as much as you can about the circumstances surrounding the problem. This usually involves coming up with a list of questions, initially based on what you know that you don't know. Those questions will usually lead to other questions as you start to discover what you don't know that you don't know yet. One useful tool is the method of the Five Why's.

Then, start talking about the problem with other people, both to get their perspective and  to uncover any further aspects of the situation of which you are unaware.

At that stage it's time to evaluate the scope of the problem and figure out what resources may be needed to solve it. You may be the only one with the problem, in which case it may be possible to solve it "on your own."

With bigger problems, the ones which affect other people, it's important to understand not only how much difficulty it is generating for how many people but why the problem has been allowed to exist.

This is where the process can start to get very interesting. Sometimes what looks like a problem to you is actually someone else's "solution." (There is a great book called "Are Your Lights On?" by Gause and Weinberg which explores that topic in a fun and interesting way.) This is where one of the less explored aspects of being  a "problem solver" comes up.

Simply put, there are times when someone else, or a whole bunch of someone elses, don't really want a solution. There can be many reasons for this. You need to uncover them. They often have to to with inflexibility. Someone decided to do things in a certain way at some time in the past, based on the circumstances at the time. If anyone ever answers; "I don't know, we've just always done things that way." you are probably onto something.

Remember, there are always two forces at work. Doing something for the first time usually implies an inefficient process because of all the unknowns. Optimization means reducing the effort and materials needed to produce an outcome which fulfills all the requirements. As a designer you represent change. Consistency is the opposite of variety. Without a flexible manufacturing process, change is bad. This is where the Kaizen Ninjas with their kanbans rule. Once the product is defined, don't change it, so we can build a lot of it quickly and efficiently.

At times *you* can start to appear to be part of the problem. That's usually not good because, in the vast majority of cases, you're going to need help to change things. Once you start looking like part of the problem, you become the thing which everyone else wants to change, or at least have go away.

This is where an approach based on Design Thinking really shines. When you are sincerely asking someone else about their problem, you look like help to them, or at least a curious stranger.  Under those circumstances the other person is much more likely to want your "help." If the problem is big enough, and affects enough people you may even have the seeds of a revolution, or at least a small start-up.

You got a problem buddy?

So, what is the key to helping those cute little puppy problems grow up into solutions rather than a pack of angry killers?

Ask yourself this question; When you pick up a mirror, is typically to get a better look at yourself, or as a way to unthreateningly look at others?

Questions can be like mirrors - their results vary depending on how they are asked and where they are pointed. Is the mirror a periscope or a Me-A-Scope?

Who me? I'm so cute and wonderful, how could I be a problem?

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