Skills Lab – How do you think of a problem to solve?
Creativity and ideation play a crucial role in the development of innovations. You as a reader may be wondering, where do I even start to become creative or even come up with new and exciting ideas? Which is a natural feeling but we are here to guide you through that process. In addition to the workshop L Marks will hold on the topic of creativity and ideation; we have written this short article to assist you, and your team (even though this can be done individually, working as a team or with friends will progress you faster). We want to show you why it’s important to start with a problem, using a ‘how might we (HMW)’ problem statement to figure out the root cause. Next, we will use ideation and creativity techniques to come up with potential business solutions in order to create a solution statement. This may sound like a difficult task and you may have many questions already, what is a solution statement? What is a HMW?. We will explain it step by step below.
Let’s get into it!
Why do you start a new business? To solve a problem! This is a very misunderstood issue within both the corporate innovation space and the start-up scene. There are a lot of individuals who have a really great idea, and it’s really cool, and ‘shiny’, an example can be Google Glasses which never gained any traction in the market. What you have to realise is that people only buy new solutions when it fulfils their needs. Whether that helps them save cost – like cloud computing (using online storage instead of on-site computer storage) or generate revenue, such as Alibaba using AI across their company for functions such as recommending products to customers to delivery service run by AI robots . It is best to practise to think about the problem first. Connection with the core problem identified can be very helpful because it helps you gauge whether your solution is close to solving the actual problem (hence people giving you money to solve it) and it motivates you when times get rough validating or building that solution.
Where do you begin? Start with a problem:
The great thing about a problem is that there is an infinite amount of them and you can probably come up with many just by looking around you. Problems can yield more meaningful insights, stronger ideas and solutions. It benefits you to be focused on the problem before thinking about the next best innovation for the world. By allowing yourself to focus on the problems rather than the solution, you allow your mind to be flexible and find the best fix (solution) for your problem rather than being influenced by confirmation bias (where you have an initial idea and you are only looking for the exact problem which fits your solution – it will always lead to a dead-end, or just wasting much of your spare time). A perfect example of a well-known concept delivering on a customer problem is Netflix. Netflix was born as a rental service operating online. The customer problem that existed was that customers wanted the ability to get videos directly to their doorstep, without paying extortionate late-fees for renting videos from brick-and-morter stores such as Blockbuster. Netflix filled the gap and provided an online service which provided a solution to their problem. Netflix later dominated the video rental business after Blockbuster declined a partnership deal with them, in which Netflix proposed to run the online side of the business. Netflix then kept improving their solution and overtook Blockbuster in value, and Blockbuster subsequently went bankrupt! Based on Blockbusters reliance on charging late-fees and not innovating/changing with the new technologies; they failed. Netflix were using a subscription fee model which nullified the need for late-fees; in addition to being purely online allowing customers to have a wider variety of choices, and lower fees.
Begin with your problem statement, it is a short statement which addresses the core problems and frustrations that customers are facing, it is a way that your team can focus on the real reasons that you are creating a solution, instead of going on a tangent and creating something that’s not relevant for customers. The best was it to start by rephrasing and framing your Point Of View (POV) as several questions by adding “How might we” (HMW) at the beginning, you can fill in the gaps which follow. For example, How might we create less pollution when people commute to work (problem to solve) through/by inventing a new technology or decreasing the the volume of people commuting by car (speeding up, slowing down, changing, inventing a new, etc) so that the environment can heal, and we are not dealing with the devastation of climate change in the near future (this can happen).
How might we ___ (problem to solve) through/by ___ (speeding up, slowing down, changing, inventing a new, etc) so that ___ (this can happen). To break this larger challenge such global topics like world peace, fighting climate change, or defeating violence. Split these up into smaller actionable and focused topics. Three to five ‘How Might We’ questions for one point of view is a good starting point below is an outline you can use to assist you.
Look at your How Might We questions and ask yourself if they allow for a variety of solutions to be generated. If the volume of solutions which can be implemented is low, broaden your How Might We, meaning think of a larger problem, you may have thought about a very niche problem. Which is fine however, you will have more difficulty in the next steps (brainstorming).
How do you think of problems?
It’s better not to actively force yourself to come up with problems and ideas. Instead, learn about a lot of different things such as keeping informed on technology websites and publications, listening to podcasts and thought leaders on the topic you are more passionate about. Practice noticing problems, surroundings that seem inefficient, and major technological shifts which you could see assisting your area of work. Work on projects you find interesting. Go out of your way to hang around smart, interesting people. At some point, thoughts will emerge.
By this point, you might have some solid problems which need addressing, better yet; one which you will focus on. The goal here is to use a framework that allows your team to come up with a pool of focused ideas, which you can then narrow down to select the best contenders. Just to note, there are many different ways of coming up with new ideas, but for the purpose of simplicity, we will be using the Brainstorming technique, simple and effective.
Brainstorming may seem to lack constraints, but success depends on the observance of eight house rules and someone acting as facilitator (hence why a group is best suited).
1. Set a time limit – Depending on the problem’s complexity, 15–60 minutes is normal.
2. Begin with the target problem/brief – members should approach this sharply defined question, plan or goal and stay on topic.
3. Refrain from any judgment/criticism – No-one should be negative (including via body language) about any idea.
4. Encourage weird and wacky ideas – Ban killer phrases like “too expensive” or “that’s silly”. Keep the floodgates open so everyone feels free to shout out ideas, as long as they’re on topic.
5. Aim for quantity – Remember that quantity breeds quality; the sifting-and-sorting process will come later.
6. Build on others’ ideas – It’s a process of association where members expand on others’ notions and reach new insights, allowing these ideas to trigger their own. Say “and”—rather than discourage with “but”—to get ideas closer to the problem.
7. Stay visual – Diagrams and Post-It notes help bring ideas to life and help others see things in different ways.
8. Allow one conversation at a time – Keeping on track this way and showing respect for everyone’s ideas is essential for arriving at concrete results.
If you have followed the rules above and spent some time ideating, you should have a list of ideas, some simple, some crazy such as a spaceship (for this purpose, all are relevant). You need to filter through these as you cannot practically act on all of them. Go through each one and ask yourself these set of questions listed.
1. Will it address the problem?
2. What does the user / customer think?
3. Is it feasible / realistic / legal?
4. Is it genuinely novel/new?
5. Does it have the “wow factor”!
6. Is it “more of the same”?
7. Does it have additional side benefits?
8. Does it align with the plans and values of either your peers, company, or other?
Crafting your Solution Statement
Once you have a really compelling problem plus a solution, you are able to write your Solution Statement. Here is a template which will be great for you to fill in. We intend to [Solution] for [user/customer] so that [desired outcome]. As an example we have prepared one to show you: We intend to [develop a smart technology, perhaps using machine learning/AI] for [customers who are seeking new work or companies who are looking for the right candidates] so that [they can achieve a candidate/job fit with lower turnover and higher job satisfaction]. This is a statement you can use to articulate your problem and outcome to anyone outside of your team, use this in addition to your problem statement to make sure everyone you are working with is on the same page.
Pulling it all together!
To wrap it all up, it’s crucial to always begin with a problem. Use a problem statement to help you generate clear addressable problems/frustrations which your customers are facing. Use this problem statement as a focus point when moving into the ideation process. The ideation process using brainstorming will allow you to generate numerous ideas and finally construct your solution statement.