Tips for Innovative Problem Solving, or, How to Shovel Snow Without a Shovel
Posted by Plish on February 27, 2013
This past evening, just shy of midnight, I was getting ready to head outside for my second round of shoveling. I had already shoveled a good 7 inches of snow around 5pm and it looked like another 5 or so had fallen since.
I glanced at the TV. A warning scrolled across the bottom: more precipitation on the way and a caution to people who were going to shovel the heavy stuff. So, instead of heading outside, I paused and turned my shoveling into a small, innovative, problem solving project.
My goal was ultimately to remove snow from the walkways and from around the cars, so I asked: “In what ways can I remove the snow from walkways?” (Notice, I didn’t say, “In what ways can I shovel the snow?” My goal is snow removal, not necessarily shoveling.)
I then looked at what types of things were available to help me accomplish my goal:
- A house and garage full of tools, equipment, books, clothes
- cell phone
Since the snow is heavy, ultimately, if I want to make my life easier, I would rather not shovel.
I give myself a provocation:
In what ways can I remove snow without using a shovel?
I look at what’s left: Snow, me and the house/garage/etc..
Picking up the snow doesn’t sound very easy. Hmmmm….
The snow is wet, and sticky, and sticky snow sticks to itself. So, if I make a snowball, I can roll it and it’ll pick the snow up as it goes – I’ll clean the walkways and dig out the cars and never lift a shovel!
In the end, I’ll just have a giant snowball, or I can make multiples and make a snowman – I’ll clean the walks and have fun doing it!
So, I bundled up, went outside and started rolling.
The problem became apparent right away. Thought the snow was heavy, it didn’t stick together as well as it did earlier today. It wasn’t picking up the snow very efficiently. As you can see from the below pic, the area where I started rolling is not terribly clean – it was only about 30% efficient, though, as the snowball got bigger, it got more efficient.
I continued rolling. It started doing better. It was cleaning up around the cars pretty well.
It eventually started getting pretty darn big, and it was getting harder to get the traction to roll it. I decided to roll it back into the yard. I tried posing with it on my shoulders ‘Atlas’ Style, but alas, it was too heavy as you’ll see in the pic below.
After extracting myself I calculated that the snowball was the result of approximately 250ft to 300ft of rolling. Not terribly efficient but I had the beginnings of a kick *** snowman. I tried rolling the next part of the body, but unfortunately the snow was sticking even less effectively than before. I would have to abandon this route and go back to the shovel.
While this project wasn’t quite as successful as I had hoped, it was enjoyable and it highlights the main steps that should be taken when trying to solve a problem in an innovative manner.
Define what it is you’re trying to accomplish. (Remove Snow) Play with framings here. Don’t be too vague but don’t be too specific.
Start the ideation process with the phrase, “In what ways can we (Insert task from Step #1)” (In what ways can we remove snow?) If you start the phrase with “How can I…?” it isn’t as provocative.
- List everything that is present. These can be tools, objects, things in the environment. Interestingly enough, very often people forget to list themselves or any objects being acted upon.
- Use another provocation to get the ideas going. A good one is to remove something essential from the list. In my case, I removed the shovel and forced myself to think of ways to remove snow without using a shovel.
- Try an idea
- Assess effectiveness
- Modify to make it more effective
- Go back to #4 or #5 if needed
EPILOGUE: Oh, and this morning we received another 3-4 inches so I used the same technique to “shovel” and finish what I started last night, as well as create a small “King of the Mountain with Subjects” . It worked alittle better than last night, but I still had to shovel…
Yet all is well in the Kingdom of Snow…