Solve your problems creatively

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Are you hitting the dead end over solving a problem? Do you draw blank over a problem in your business?

We all go through it when we narrow our focus to the problem and problem only…Problem generally generates from a discomfort or an uneasiness showing up as a result of non achievement of the expected outcome. Problem may be a bottleneck to achieve those desirable results. You may not see the problem directly; it may come camouflaged in lot many hurdles. Problem Solving is the key…but creatively.

Problem solving through creativity is a process to advance toward an outcome that is new, unstructured, and open ended. Paying attention to targeting the right issues, developing solutions thoughtfully, and then implementing them with both sensitivity and determination will help find the essence of the problem and get solutions which were not obvious in the first go. It is creative problem solving, because the solutions are not obvious, but different and arrived at using divergent thinking. We’ve talked about divergent thinking in our previous blog {Design Thinking – The New Innovation Strategy}; it’s about generating multiple choices that don’t exist. Mostly people associate creative problem solving with brainstorming, but its more than just generating ideas, it’s also about implementing them.

Let’s see how the process helps solve the problem creatively.problemWhat is the actual problem? 

So start with defining what is the problem. It’s not easy as it seems. Like it’s not a problem that you wish to change the job, the problem is why you want to change the job. Similarly it’s not a problem that your team is not able to deliver the expected outcome on the expected date. You need to dig deep to find out the “WHY”. In a problem situation, I pull myself out and ask myself, “why is this a problem?”, “what do I wish to achieve?”, “What else can be the reason for not achieving the outcome?” Break down your problem and analyze what you are really looking for, it may transpire that the actual issue is something else. Keep asking yourself- “What is preventing me from solving the problem or achieving the goal?”, “Do other people also face the similar problem? How are they coping with it?” By the time you have answered all these questions, you should have a very clear idea of what your problem is.

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What bottlenecks or barriers exist? 

How does our brain works? My daughter is cranky, so immediately I assume she’s tired and sleepy. But it maybe because of staying away from home for long due to the new extended school timings. We go for the obvious reasons. Creative thinking helps you to think of reasons that ‘might be’ rather than what ‘should be’. So now you need to start with divergent thinking, an extensive search for multiple alternatives.  If you are presenting your ideas to your manager and the same are being rejected each time, start thinking “How Might I” do it so as to get the same implemented.

If you have defined your challenge you may find a logical approach to solving both problems in a coordinated way. Make sure your challenge is a simple question framed to encourage suggestions or ideas. Don’t put criteria in the challenge; you will limit your creative thinking. For example, “How might I improve my presentation skills and create my presence in meetings?” Improving presentation skills maybe a part of making your presence felt; but creating presence is a big task which must be taken up separately. Attack each challenge separately.

Have you filled a survey form at a shopping store or a supermarket?  Big companies even approach customers for getting facts on what went wrong or how might they do it to get the best results. For example when Olay’s ageing cream couldn’t make it large, they went back to the customers to find out what they want was missing. They figured out that the problem was in their approach. They were only focusing on wrinkles problem of women above 50yrs of age, ignoring a huge customer base of ages 30 to 40 who had other ageing issues. The cream now sells with fighting 7 signs of ageing.

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I’ve got an IDEA

Now it’s time to think of ways to fix your problem. Whatever approach you choose to solve your problem, make sure you pen down you ideas. Put down your ideas, mind registers faster what it can see as compared to what it can think or hear. You can tap into your network; ask your friends or colleagues for help. Try and get a difference perspective on the issue. It’s ok to seek help, because problems can be beyond your ability to solve. Learn from experiences and knowledge of people around you. Find out what’s your creative time during the day.  Like mine is in the morning. The best ideas for blog always come in the morning. And more ideas, means increased chances of getting one that has value.

Most important is no matter how ludicrous is the idea, just note it down. How will the idea work comes later, lets first collect what all comes to our mind. Sometimes when I am out of ideas, I put my laptop away and take a break. When my brains not under pressure it inspires my subconscious mind to generate ideas. Not necessarily that one winning idea can solve your entire problem, so don’t limit yourself to one. Remember that ideas should be freely proposed without criticism or evaluation.

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Will it work?

Once you’ve got all your ideas on the list, it’s time to pick the best one. Sometimes you may be doing all of this alone for a problem which is entirely yours, but at work when you are trying to solve a problem, make sure you organize your thoughts before you share your solution (the best idea). Check does this idea hit all the barriers you’ve identified earlier. You may have to dig deeper to get to the final selection depending upon how grave is the issue. You can try evaluating by giving each idea a score for meeting each parameter. And later pick the one with the highest score. Or you can do SWOT (Strength, Weakness, Opportunity and Threat) analysis. For example, if you wish to startup a new business or reorganize the team structure or implement a new policy, you need to do more research combined with prototyping sometimes.

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Let’s do it

You’ve got the solution, now it’s time to implement it. Gather what all are the action steps required in order to implement your solution. Implementing the idea doesn’t mean it will be successful just like that. You might have to try it again and again with feedback from each stakeholder each time. Rework till the time you get the perfect outcome.

The key to creative problem solving is to avoid traps that paralyze your thinking. Once you learn to re-define your problem and learn to apply creative problem solving you can achieve efficiency to strengthen your initiatives.

Nothing is more interesting for humans than human activity and the most characteristically human activity is solving problems; thinking for a purpose, devising means to some desired end. —George Polya

Prototyping: Play With Your Ideas

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Whether its Indra Nooyi of PepsiCo, or Kishore Biyani of Future Group or Nisa Godrej of Godrej Industries all corporate leaders today are banking on Design Thinking to connect with there client at the emotional level to see results in innovation, growth and profitability. With start-ups and entrepreneurship growth all around, leaders of established organizations are increasingly making Design Thinking as a part of the core strategy.

Design Thinking has a human centered approach, yet ensuring business value and technology to be part of the solution. I did share my thoughts around Design Thinking in my earlier blog ( Design Thinking – The New Innovation Strategy), today I am sharing critical element of Design Thinking – Prototype. So let’s see the What, Why, When, Where and how of Prototype?

People try shoes, clothes before they buy or test-drive cars or even see the model houses, then why not test your idea before you develop it?  Prototype is nothing more than user interacting with your idea. There are several reasons why it’s so crucial to design thinking:

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  • To problem-solve – the teams have to build or create something
  • To communicate ideas – showing is always better than telling
  • To test various options & possibilities – in low resources – less time and money
  • To connect with end-users – helps elicit feedback and what they think after seeing your idea
  • To get investments – generates interests and investment in your idea
  • Better design faster with shared common understanding

Things we conceptualize in our heads that seem awesome sometimes can turn out to be terrible ideas when we put them in a more concrete, visual medium such as a piece of paper or a computer screen.  It can be anything from a post-it note, or role-play activity or gadget or wireframe or storyboard or interactive simulation Its all about user experiencing your solution – role-play to make them physically go through the environment, or storyboard to walk through the scenario or creating some samples to experience it, but all this to bring out the responses and feedback from the users.

So what exactly should a prototype look like?

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First it depends on your idea and second on your budget and objectives. I would say pick a pen and a paper and draw. Don’t worry you don’t have to be an artist to do that. If you need a nudge to start sketching, try Dan Roam’s book The Back of the Napkin. It’s ideal during brainstorming and conceptualization and can be done alone in a cubicle with a sketchbook or in a group with a flip chart (or whiteboard) and markers. Doing this rapidly and iteratively generates feedback early and often in the process, improving the final design and reducing the need for changes during development.

Just think of your business model like a story. A story how your enterprise will create, deliver and capture value. You can start with what most people are fixated upon- the value proposition. Then decide whom you can sell it to. Sketch in how you can get it to them and how that will generate revenue. You figure out the key resources like a reliable website or brand recognition. The key responsibility of each partner, and the finally from your cost will come from – sales, marketing, platform development. All that will cost you. And there you go, you first model is ready. But don’t expect a middle of a breakthrough. Predictable models can work but can rarely give you advantage. So don’t fall in love with your first idea. To compete in the world where the best model wins, you need to think harder and explore alternatives. You might not find it realistic but exploring it will force you to think hard about potential alternatives.

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There’s no right or wrong way to do it. Just some simple rules

  1. Establish a clear purpose for each prototype:It allows you to take risk or try something new. We all know that markets aren’t stable, technology changes incredibly quickly and customers can be confused – so you’ve got to pursue innovation to create something which user need or want.
  2. Build with the user in mind. What do you hope to test with the user? What sorts of behavior do you expect? Answering these questions will help focus your prototyping and help you receive meaningful feedback in the testing phase. Convert the users’ description of the solution into mock-ups, factoring in user experience standards and best practices.
  3. Share the prototype with users and evaluate whether it meets their needs and expectations.Your interactions with users are often richer when centered around a conversation piece. A prototype is an opportunity to have another, directed conversation with a user.

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Experience is king – pictures speak thousand words, prototype is thousand words. Let people interact with your idea, and then they’ll be better able to understand it.  But don’t be a perfectionist – prototyping does not have to be 100% perfect, just good enough to give everyone a common understanding. So go ahead and start…play with your ideas first before you axe it.

Design Thinking – The New Innovation Strategy

Today we are living and doing business in complex modern technology driven environment. There are various types of complexities, in different forms and faces, and in this volatile environment, business need to experiment with different approaches to thrive. They not only need to understand the complex technologies but also make sense to start using the same for their benefit. We are seeing a massive transformation across the business world – where they are applying the principles of design to the way people work. They are investing in design to get to the top of the trend to deliver more value to their customers.

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How Design is playing a critical role in modern business environment? What is this Design Thinking? What is so great to think like a designer? You may have many more such questions.

Although Design is most often used to describe an object or end result, Design in its most effective form is a process, an action, a verb not a noun.  It is a powerful thinking tool that can drive a brand, business or an individual forward positively.  It’s a protocol for solving problems and discovering new opportunities to achieve extraordinary results. 3M and Apple were companies on the brink of failure- but they proceed to adopt an innovative culture through design thinking to achieve amazing records of success.  Design thinking will allow companies and startups to innovate and explore opportunities, based on unmet consumer needs and understanding of the situation.

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Have you seen your newspaper? What difference do you see in the newspaper that was delivered 10 yrs ago and now? It’s not only news these days it’s about awareness as well. One of the travel newspapers was offering to publish the picture reader would share from their personal travel experience. With digital media growing these companies had tough time generating revenues. So they innovated. They gave the consumer something extra. The point I am about to discus here is how design thinking can help to solve the problem of finding the new blue ocean for many companies.

Let’s talk little more about the foundation of Design Thinking:

Integrate your thinking – think ‘HOW’

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The principles of design thinking have got to do with the way we think about problem solving. We spend most of our educational experiences through school and colleges where we are taught to think convergently. To take the best out of the available set of choices and to converge on that choice and execute. What design thinking does is to encourage us to think divergently. To create new choices that hasn’t existed before and then apply those. Design thinking is about thinking in a holistic way where desirability can meet the needs and viability to develop a workable solution.

We should have a varied perspective to each problem to solve and come up with an innovative solution. How can we have that – by questioning. Like my kid keeps asking me “Mumma why, but why and why” until he gets the clear and easy answer which makes sense to him or the one he finds beneficial. They key is DEFINE ‘WHY’ – Defining the right problem you are trying to solve. We may fall into the trap of solving the problem the same way, every time, but Design Thinking helps us get multiple perspectives by working in a team to yield richer results.

It’s like wearing the designer hat on to take advantage of the technology and deliver value to the clients in an innovative way.

A tool for simplifying – Emotional Connect

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Design Thinking wants us to focus on the users/clients/customer not on the technology first. What are their needs and wants? What makes their life more fruitful? It’s all about customer’s desires, aspirations, engagement and experiences to describe the value proposition of the product or services before the technical requirements.

Design Thinking is all about the feeling — The latest example is Big Basket online grocery store. What they did that worked for them is they realized that today’s time strapped professionals find it not only hassling but also cumbersome to go shop in the market with traffic and parking becoming worst each day. And that’s something we all have to do daily, alternate days or weekly. So to save their time they came up with online grocery shopping. This might not have been discovered unless they understood what the customer needs. The secret for their success is exceptional customer focus – Offers same-day delivery across a city, 99.3% on time delivery, 99.5% order fill rate and a no questions asked customer return policy. Also compensates a customer every time it is not able to deliver on its promise. Continuously innovating with the help of technology, Big Basket has both android and iOS mobile apps which allow customers to order groceries on the go. They want you to sit at home watching IPL, listening to music, helping your kid to homework or anytime when you get time to order and get groceries at your doorstep. And to top it all, look who’s the bigbasketeer – Shahrukh Khan.

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There are numerous other examples – Panasonic TVs with integrated internet, HDFC Insurance artificial limb ad which focuses on touching the emotional chord of the audience.

Be ready for some bumps

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It’s not going to be a cake walk, the design thinking methodology requires a lot of trial and error, with iterations along the way. The point is not to get it right at the very first try, but rather making use of design principles to understand which options are or not viable, and proceeding with the ones that truly add value to the business, the brand and its customers.

Design Thinking focus on emotional chord – humanizing technology. But is this easy? There is ambiguity, there is risk involved, because we don’t know how much value will it add or will we achieve the desired results.  Leaders need to create a culture that allows people to take chances and move forward without a complete, logical understanding of a problem. But it surely has an empathetic drive to run the business more human way. It helps create a workplace where people want to be, one that responds quickly to changing business dynamics and empowers individual contributors.

In our next blog, I will share some more thoughts around prototype and how can we take our design thinking forward. But have you started thinking like a designer? Share your thoughts with me.

 “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” – Steve Jobs, Apple CEO