Defining the problem well

I recently stumbled across an article on Harvard Business Review by Art Markman, Professor of Psychology at the University of Texas in Austin. In this article, Art explains how the definition “of the Problem determins whether you solve it”. According to his view when doing creative problem solving, it is necessary to find a key to unlock ones memory.

[The] statement of the problem is the cue to memory. That is what reaches in to memory and draws out related information. In order to generate a variety of possible solutions to a problem, then, the problem solver (or group) can change the description of the problem in ways that lead new information to be drawn from memory.

This exact mechanism applies when you play our Game of Conflicts. The game helps you to playfully expand your view and identify the right angle(s) to describe the problem. Art Markman uses the example of Thomas Dyson re-inventing the vacuum cleaner. If he had only asked questions around vacuum cleaner bags, he would have come up with a better bag, but not necessarily with a bagless vacuum cleaner.

Only by describing the problem in a better way, will you be able to solve it in a more innovative or even disruptive way.

According to Art Markman,

[…] groups should find several ways to describe the essence of the problem being solved in ways that focus on the relationships among the objects or a more abstract description of the goal (e.g. separate dirt from air).

By playing our Game of Conflicts card game for around 45-90 minutes with your team you will easily find “several ways to describe the essence of the problem”. The “essence of the problem” can be looked at through the lens of conflicts between certain parameters within your problem area. These conflicts prevent you from simply solving the problem. After identifying them though our game, you can prioritize them and thus have several entry points into your memory to dig out solution ideas.

For the solution part, you can use several strategies. Either you follow the TRIZ approach, which is one of the inspirational sources of the Game of Conflicts. TRIZ makes use of a set of solution principles, which can help you as to untap your memory. You can identify the right solution principles for your identified conflicts, by using the Classical TRIZ Matrix or the new TRIZ Matrix 2010.

Or, you follow a more intuitive, design led approach and dive right into prototyping. A prototype, which focusses on the identified conflicts, can inform you about strategies to resolve them.

Don’t forget to use our free easy playing kit in order to describe the identified conflicts in more detail and work with them further.