In the dynamic world of business, finding innovative solutions that not only solve problems but also save resources is a constant pursuit. This is where design thinking – a powerful, human-centered approach that we use at ConvergentIS to creative inventive and cost-effective solutions – can help.
Define a Problem Worth Solving
All versions of the design thinking process have a step near the beginning in which you take stock of the issues and pain points, then articulate the problem statement around which you’ll focus your solution (we call this step “Discover” but you may also see it called “Define” and “Frame a Question”). The problem statement often begins with “How might we…”
Instead of jumping straight into solutions, taking time to thoroughly understand how stakeholders perceive and are affected by the problem allows for a more comprehensive and creative approach. Getting this step right is critical because it sets the tone for the rest of the project.
Innovative ideas stem not only from how you solve the problem, but also from how you define the problem; different questions can lead to radically different solutions.
Fortunately, as Haydon brings out there are a few secrets that can guarantee that adoption is successful. These secrets are what we will highlight below.
The most obvious problem statement may not be the best one – try formulating it a few different ways. You want to land on a challenge that is right-sized: not so narrow that it suggests a single solution (for example, “How might we use a bot to process our invoices?”), yet not so broad that it’s effectively unsolvable (for example, “How might we reinvent invoicing?”).
Below are three real-world examples of how reframing the problem revealed fresh perspectives and led to clever, human-centered solutions.
Embracing the Wait at Disneyland
No one likes waiting in line, and the endless, snaking queues at amusement parks are some of the worst for sapping enthusiasm and enjoyment. Businesses typically try to reduce waiting times to keep customers happy. But Disneyland – the most popular amusement park in the world – decided to take a different route. Instead of merely focusing on shortening lines, they integrated waiting in line into the overall experience of the ride.
Some rides have lines in which guests progress through a storyline. For example, the Indiana Jones ride makes guests feel as though they are walking through the actual Temple of Doom. The suspenseful background music and artifacts like giant snakes, spears, skulls and ropes with trap doors build an atmosphere of anticipation for what’s coming next. The ride itself is the climax of the adventure that started when the guests first got into line.
Disneyland transformed waiting in line from an interruption to be endured to an experience to be enjoyed. They could have asked “How can we make wait times shorter?” Possible solutions to this problem include allowing fewer people into the park each day or increasing the number of attractions – both costly propositions. Instead, they asked “How can we make waiting in line more enjoyable?” or perhaps “How can we make wait times seem shorter?” Making the time guests spend in line more pleasant by adding thematic entertainment is cost-effective and relatively quick to implement. This approach not only managed customer expectations but also turned waiting into an attraction in its own right.
Telling a Story About MRI Machines
Healthcare, too, has been transformed by design thinking. A famous case study in David and Tom Kelley’s book Creative Confidence relays the personal struggle that Doug Dietz, a leader in General Electric’s MRI division, went through as he watched a young patient burst into tears at the prospect of going inside one of his MRI machines. That was when Doug learned that nearly 80 percent of pediatric patients must be sedated before an MRI because they are too scared to lie still during the scanning process.
Traditional solutions might involve technical enhancements to reduce noise or design changes to make the machines less enclosed. Doug knew he had to do something, but re-designing the brand-new MRI machine from the bottom up was simply out of the question. Instead, Doug and his team reframed the problem to focus on the patients' experience rather than just the technology: “How might we make the experience of having an MRI less scary for children?”
Drawing inspiration from storytelling and set design, they crafted an adventure for kids that turned the MRI procedure into a captivating narrative. They applied themed decals to the machine and the room and wrote a script for technicians to lead their patients through the storyline. With no changes to equipment itself, the hulking MRI machine was transformed into a pirate ship; the loud banging of the magnets was “the cannons firing”.
The outcome was astonishing – young patients became absorbed in the story, effectively bypassing the typical fears associated with an MRI. Doug even witnessed a little girl asking her mother if she could come back again tomorrow! This shift from a machine-centric to a patient-centric approach highlights the potential of innovative solutions when you tackle problems from a fresh angle.
Finding the Root Cause in Safety Investigations
Here’s an example from our own experience at ConvergentIS: A utility company approached us to improve the very manual way they analyzed and reported out safety incidents. The client articulated their problem to us as: “How can we automate regulatory reporting on safety incidents?” The solution they had in mind was to create a reporting application that automatically pulled in information from the initial incident report and subsequent safety investigation so that they could quickly and efficiently pass information on to regulatory bodies.
Through the design thinking workshops we quickly discovered that the this was not the right problem nor the right solution. It turned out that the reporting step was so manual because of the upstream data and compliance issues – field technicians didn’t understand how to fill out the incident report form properly, and safety advisors were keeping records of their investigations on paper because the current application didn’t support their investigation process. There was no central place where all the relevant data about a safety incident was collected. Simply automating the formatting of low quality, incomplete data would not make it easier to fulfill regulatory reporting requirements.
So, we reframed the challenge to “How might we make it easy for field staff and safety advisors to record all relevant safety incident data in the system to enable downstream reporting?” By taking a few steps back and asking a different question, we ensured that the solution would actually solve the problem faced by safety advisors.
The Takeaway: Choose the Right Problem to Solve
As these examples demonstrate, design thinking has the power to reshape challenges and lead to creative solutions that might have otherwise remained hidden. Before hastily implementing solutions, take a moment to ensure you're targeting the right problem. Considering the human element often reveals rich opportunities for innovation.
Try this on your next challenge: is there a way to think around the most obvious, expensive, or intractable problem? Can you tinker with the experience or process rather than the system or technology? Can you zoom out and think holistically about what you are trying to achieve?
Design thinking encourages us to question assumptions, embrace empathy, and consider problems from multiple angles. By reframing issues, you can identify unexplored opportunities and transform your obstacles into unique advantages.
Just as there are many ways to solve a problem, there are also many problems to solve. Let us help you focus on the right problems.
Learn more about our innovation services.