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Refreshing approach to the grind of problem solving

How is design thinking different from traditional problem solving? It is a popular approach and many are using it to come up with new, more strategic ways to approach complex situations. I have taken some design thinking concepts and applied it to problem solving. Give these a try and let me know what you experience.

1. Learn the needs:

First, think from the perspective of the user or customer of the service or product. What do they want and need the service to do? Have you asked them? I am amazed than many executives who are in shared services, like HR, IT, Finance, Marketing, for example; fail to ask the user of their idea or service what their needs are. Team up with them. Use this opportunity to connect with other departments as well. Involve them in the analysis of the problem and subsequent redesign of a better process or product. Cross functional teams can see the problem from more perspectives. Maybe a new process does not need to be developed, get into the needs before rushing to solution. A designer of custom homes will really understand the home owner’s needs, what the house represents to them, what the site will allow, what their aesthetic is.

2. Assemble a team:

Diversity- this is critical. Bring people into the discussion who are different than you. In experience, education, background, race, job title, age, gender, etc.  If not, you are cutting off very important insights. Leverage their ideas and innovative approaches.

3. Generate ideas:

Ask a lot of questions about the desired outcome are you seeking, what will you have if you use this product or service? Ask how they envision it working? Maybe no one has asked them those questions. Look past the obvious. Make it safe to generate wild ideas as a way to think past the old ways of doing things. Designers may sketch several ideas before honing in on the best one.

4. Look long term- By thinking about the future, you will ask questions than encourage the team to be more creative. For example, if you need a larger parking garage, rather than design and build it, perhaps in the next five years, more of your employees will be working from home, or take a ride share or mass transit to work. Will you really need a larger parking space and capital expense?

5. Pay attention to context:

Where does it fit- learn the context of the situation, its critical. Ask about the whole situation, not just the surface level. For example, if you are designing a new ticketing system for tracking open service requests, ask about the whole need, not just the tickets themselves; otherwise, you may miss some key information. Maybe the problem is bigger than the ticketing, and it has to do with the quality of a product, not the way to fix it. Why not tackle that problem which reduces the need for an elaborate ticketing system all together?

6. Build and test:

Most builders or makers  will create a prototype, or rough model and test it. Similar to making that shirt out of muslin and basting it together quickly to get the fix just right, you should take the time to build your product, test with a small group before rolling it out for mass use.

7. Finally, in order to get others to use your new service, process or product, use what Simon Sinek describes as starting with why.

Asking “Why” will help connect to human emotions and inspire people to make the changes you are asking them to make. Change is hard, so use this idea to help create a bright vision for your message. Inspiring people makes the story interesting, answers what’s in it for them to change. Involve people good at telling stories and communicating in order to craft a compelling human interest story that involving your employees, or customers as a way to make it relevant and motivate others to action. Your communication department will be thrilled you involved them.


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