Dixie Darr

In creativity, Learning, work on March 1, 2007 at 8:48 am

Restating the Problem

The first step in the creative process is to define the problem. This seems pretty straightforward, even obvious, so most people neglect this step. That is unfortunate because it may be the most important step in the process. How you define the problem determines how you solve the problem.

As in the Fable of the Two Steves, if you define the problem as needing money, then the solution involves getting more money. There are always alternate ways to define a problem, but they can be very difficult to see. Here are some techniques from Morgan D. Jones’ The Thinker’s Toolkit to help:

1. Paraphrase: Restate the problem using different words without losing the original meaning.

Initial statement: How can we limit congestion on the roads?

Paraphrase: How can we keep road congestion from growing?

  1. 180 degrees: Turn the problem on its head.

Initial statement: How can we get employees to come to the company picnic?

180 degrees: How can we discourage employees from attending the picnic?

  1. Broaden the focus: Restate the Problem in a larger context.

Initial statement: Should I change jobs?

Broaden focus: How can I achieve job security?

  1. Redirect the focus: Boldly, consciously change the focus.

Initial Statement: How can we boost sales?

Redirected focus: How can we cut costs?

  1. Ask “Why”: As “why” of the initial problem statement. Then formulate a new problem statement based on the answer. Then ask “why” again, and again restate the problem based on the answer. Repeat this process a number of times until the essence of the “real” problem emerges.

Initial Statement: How can we market our in-house multimedia products?

Why? Because many of our internal customers are outsourcing their multimedia projects.

Restatement: How can we keep internal customers from outsourcing their multimedia projects?

Why? Because it should be our mandate to do all of the organization’s multimedia.

Restatement: How can we establish a mandate to do all of the organization’s multimedia?

Why? Because we need to broaden our customer base.

Restatement: How can we broaden our customer base?

Why? Because we need a larger base in order to be cost effective.

Restatement: How can we become more cost effective?

Why? Because our profit margin is diminishing.

Restatement: How can we increase our profit margin?

A principle problem has emerged: How to obtain a mandate to do all of the organization’s multimedia projects.

You might find that looking at your problem from a slightly different perspective will lead to solutions you would never have otherwise considered.

©2007 Dixie Darr. All rights reserved

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