4 Steps to Solving Your Business’ Unsolvable Problems

In a previous post we talk about the advantage of the lateral thinking a concept developed by Edward De Bono in the late 60’s. Click here to view that article. In that opportunity we established how De Bono grouped the principles of lateral thinking in four blocks:

We described the first block in that time, now we are unfolding the second one: Search for new ways to focus on problems. You can say this is an obvious stage in the solving problem process. But as we talked about it in our last piece, we can get stuck trying different ways but using the same frame of reference (polarizing concepts). Then we must hear that little voice telling us <<What if…>>. And we can try refocusing the frame of work using one of several of the next tools:

1. Describe the problem: This could sound even more obvious than the previous idea, but it’s impossible to count how many research projects, degree thesis, companies or even marriages fall down because the lack or poor definition of the problem to solve. As we heard from our teachers at the University: a problem properly described is half solved.

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Then which is the proper way to settle a problem? The main tool is the description of it. We must be careful; we have been educated to describe the hole using its parts. While this may work sometimes, we must be aware of the facts. As we’re learning to use the lateral thinking we can try describing our problem completely. We can describe a cane as a long straight section merged with another small curved one made of wood. Or half straight and half curved. Imagination can go on and on enriching the object description without considering it’s a single piece of wood that has been curved in one extreme. We can preserve the fluency of this description while we do not enter into its parts, if we do that we take one of them as real and the rest as a fantasy.

Another way to make a lateral description would be using visual tools as mental maps or even simple drawings instead of words, that way we start stimulating our brain to see things in a different perspective. It is extremely useful to establish more than one problem definition. It can be hard, but once you practice, you can accomplish it faster. Having an insights stock can be a real timesaver if you have to go back to square one during the process. Don’t stop in the first station, rethink the wheel over and over again (the tire industry has been doing it for over 100 years).

2. Do not make assumptions: When Christopher Columbus came back to Spain, some friends told him that his discovery was as easy as shooting the floor because sailing through the west eventually will found the continent. So he asked them to grab an egg and make it stand in one of its tips. All of them tried without success, and then Columbus took an egg and crashed slightly in one extreme and made it stand. The friends complained, but Columbus pointed out they drew limits that never were part of the game.

We assume that every problem has its limits and we rarely give a second thought about it. This is how we put obstacles in the path to new ideas. The search for alternative focus is not a natural process and this why we have to train ourselves to search several approaches to the problem, even if those sound too artificial.

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3. Upside down: Rethink your problem from a completely different perspective. This is especially important in component design, as this can be a serious timesaver. Example: That tray ceiling that isn’t working, consider sloping the bottom chord and using fillers, or play with your splicing or even work the webs in the other side of the truss. Another example could be considering a body moved by a set of wings instead of using the air going through the wings to get elevated (this is the principle of helicopters). If your frame of reference isn’t working why not to try other option?

4. Analogies: A way to reconsider problems is transferring the relationship to a similar situation but without the focus restrictions of the first. As the egg problem showed, we can be assuming limits that are not really necessary and we can get rid of them studying the problem in other scenario. This brings us two advantages. First, as we are not transferring the restrictions to the analogy then we can play with more degrees of freedom and alter the situation more easily. Second, the analogy is a concrete image and that suggest another concretes images instead of abstract ideas, as we told the use of images enhance the flow of ideas (the famous mental experiments of Einstein were not than games of images extrapolating concepts to its behavior).

The best example of analogies we can find is in Algebra, when we see an equation we are looking that the first member is as the second at the left side of the equal symbol. The use of the analogy is essential for a different perspective.

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By applying this simple process, we can transform our results. Give it a try. You will be stunned at the results.

Stay tuned for the more in this series of simple, but useful step in the thought transforming process.

Did you find these tools helpful? Can you think in other ways of change the focus and generate new ideas? The comments section is open.

Source = Edward De Bono’s book: New Think. The use of lateral thinking in the Generation of new ideas. 1967

Javier Dominguez – Design Professional

Gould Design Inc.