Creative Thinking for Business
Creative Thinking E-book
Best Problem Definition
Another creative thinking tool is called the Best Problem Definition. Begin by defining the problem statement and putting it on the board for everyone to see. Normally, you would then transition to the brainstorming phase.
Using the best problem definition tool, you expand your thinking and get a whole new set of ideas by analyzing the problem statement before trying to generate solutions. This tool is similar to the paramount idea tool in that once you clearly define the problem statement, step back and think for a minute. How else can the problem be defined? At this point do not try and generate solutions, just try and generate different ways the problem could be defined.
There are a number of simple ways to generate alternate problem statements. Substitute a word in the problem statement, add words, use the opposite meaning of word, synonyms, anonyms, or a number of other substitutions.
What if the problem statement was “revenue projections for the next three quarters do not meet the board’s expectations and we need a new plan.”
What if you change the word “revenue” to “profit?” What if you changed three quarters to five years? What if we change “board” to “customers” or change the word “board” to “your mother” or “revenue projections” to “customer survey scores?” You can see that it is easy to generate a lot of alternative problem statements.
Once you have a list of alternate problems identified, pick a few of them and try to use the PNS or other creativity tools to generate solutions for the alternate problem. What this tool allows you to do is think about the problem in a different way, which results in different solutions.
Here is a real life example to illustrate the concept. In the early industrial age, buildings began to spring up all over the east coast. Many of these new buildings were taller than anything ever built before and most had elevators. As buildings got taller and taller, more people began to use elevators. Elevators in those days were pretty darn slow. People were constantly complaining about how slow the elevators were.
Elevator companies were challenged with this problem and came up with the typical problem statement “elevators move too slow.” So they went off to design elevators that were faster and safer, but at the time it was very expensive to do so. Several companies went off and running to build a safer and faster elevator, and one elevator company proposed a different problem statement. They may have had a different name for the approach, but they were using the fundamentals of the “best problem statement” tool. One engineer said, “I think our elevator speeds are just fine, people are crazy.”
Then an engineer proposed that they work on a different problem statement. He proposed that the problem was “people think elevators move to slow.” He inserted two words people think into the problem statement which allowed the design team to approach the problem from a completely different angle and thus a whole new set of ideas. Instead of concentrating on larger motors, slicker pulley designs and such, they concentrated on the passenger in the elevator.
When they looked at the problem from this angle, the ideas started to snowball. Is it really too slow? Why do they think it is slow? How can we distract them? How can we make it more comfortable? Are customers scared of heights?
This lead to some first hand customer research. They found that a lot of people thought the elevators were a lot slower then they actually were.
They also discovered that people had an exaggerated sense of time because they had nothing to do but stare at the wall and think about the safety of the elevator – being suspended in the air, and preoccupied with the fear of falling.
This lead to an idea to give people something to do while standing in the elevator. There wasn’t room for additional equipment of any sort, so they brainstormed on that. This lead to the idea of mirrors in elevators so people would think about something else besides danger. Was their hair combed properly? Did her makeup look okay?
By installing mirrors in the elevators, people became distracted and were no longer preoccupied with the fear of falling. On a follow up survey, customers commented how much faster the new elevators were even though the speed was exactly the same. The elevator design itself had not changed at all.
Today we have elevators that you would swear are pulling three G’s rocketing towards your hotel room.
Yet most modern elevators still have mirrors. Is this phenomenon similar to the typewriter and china story, or do we just like to look at ourselves?