The steps to solving a problem, does not start with thinking about the solution, but understanding the problem in context. Attempting to solve a problem, not properly understood will keep you in a cycle of solutions not different from the alternatives, as a result of the existing box of our mind.
This box is not our mind, as we cannot think out of our mind. It’s a boundary within our mind; a boundary between what we know and what we are yet to think about. It exhumes from our knowledge structure, a phenomenal convergence, which is characterized by our intricate cognitive formulations. From our genetic make-up to environmental boundaries, first-hand experiences, indirect experiences and the years and years of learning spent in school to learn what someone else has discovered has successfully created an imaginary borderline. All of this put together, built the ant hill in which our gentle mind resides. When we think within this anthill, we feel so safe. The outside is so invisible. We do not know what is outside the box and that is why a voyage outside is very risky.
To develop new and brilliant ideas, you must be able to dream of various options, (feasible or not), and then narrow it down. Ideation typically consists of two phases: Idea generation, where quantity matters and Idea Blending, where ideas are synthesized and narrow down to a small feasible option. Without generating large quanta of ideas, you can’t be so sure of the viability of the idea you finally decide to work with. The strength of an idea, depends on how many idea-options were discarded. Its quantity first, before quality.
Idea generation can be triggered through various input modifications. It can be resource driven, value driven, customer driver or finance driven. Resource driven ideas, originates from existing infrastructure or partnership; Value driven, creates new value proposition that solves problems in a way different from existing alternatives; customer-driven are based on customer needs, convenience and increased access; finance-driven ideas are based on new pricing mechanism, revenue stream or reduced cost structure.
As mention earlier, we often have difficulties, in conceiving new ideas, because of the existing knowledge framework of our minds. One way to overcome this is to challenge our convention thinking process with “What if” questions. This can go a long way to break the existing virtual barriers of our minds, provoke our thoughts and offer new perspectives to existing scenarios. Take for instance, what if voice calls were free worldwide? (Skype). What if car dealers/owners don’t sell cars, but provide mobility services? (Uber). What if solar companies, don’t sell solar products, but provide lighting services? (Lumos). No doubt, there are infinite possibilities with the “What if” questions. It’s an open ended question that consciously takes us out of the box of our mind. For us to go outside the box, we need something which goes beyond the convergent information. Something odd; something absurd; something apparently not relevant. This is called divergent thinking. It is needed for us to cross that imaginary boundary in our mind and get us out in a place where we don’t really know where to go
By focusing on generating a whole of idea at the initial phase (divergence), and then scrutinizing it to obtain the most probable solution (convergence) will save you a whole lot of effort, time and money.
When NASA was preparing to send astronauts into space, they knew that ballpoint pens would not work because they rely on gravity in order for the ink to flow. One of NASA’s contractors, Fisher Pen Company, decided to pursue a research and development program to create a pen that would work in the zero gravity of space. After spending $1 million of his own money, the company’s president, Paul Fisher, invented the Space Pen in 1965: a wonderful piece of technology that works great in zero gravity.
On the other hand, when the Russian space agency, was faced with the same challenge, they simply equipped their astronauts with pencils. You can actually buy a “Russian space pen” (which is just a cleverly packaged red pencil).
The above story shows the risk of not generating as many possible solutions. This can be as a result of an unjustified understanding of the problem. Having a clear-cut understanding of the problem unbiased, allows for a wide range of possible solutions. What if the writing instrument was not necessary an ink-based pen? What if a voice recorder will do the job? [This illustration is not in anyway to undermine the invented space pen]
By provoking your thoughts to conceive as many ideas as possible before jumping into conclusion, is the real crux of problem-solving. Definitely, all the ideas won’t be feasible, but through modifications, synthesis and adaptation, you can optimize the various available options and develop the most viable idea at minimum expenses. That final idea you converge at, becomes a qualitative summary of all the existing ideas you have generated. It connotes sustainability and viability.
This piece was written by Durotoluwa Olumide. He offers advisory services on innovation, business strategies and developmental issues. You can contact him directly via: firstname.lastname@example.org