Where Science Meets Muse

Posts Tagged ‘framing problems’

One Way of Unsticking Brainstorming Sessions

Posted by Plish on December 10, 2010

It’s the silence.  Nobody has anything to say and you can almost smell  burning neurons as people twist and twirl things in their heads while they try and be original…

Your brainstorming session has hit a brick wall…

How do you get out of it, or around it – or through it?

One way is to change the perspective of the participants.

What does that mean?

All problems/solutions exist in some type of context.   The problem-solvers/solution-finders usually inhabit the same space.  It makes sense, right?  A problem with customer service in a bank will be solved by employees at the bank; improving the design of a surgical device is done by clinicians, designers and engineers in the medical realm; figuring out the best meal for a family dinner is the responsibility of those in the household.

“The secret of all effective originality in advertising is not the creation of new and tricky words and pictures, but one of putting familiar words and pictures into new relationships.” – Leo Burnett, The advertising father of The Marlboro Man, Toucan Sam, the Jolly Green Giant, Morris the Cat, Tony the Tiger, and the Seven Up ‘spot’ among other things.

We can replace the word ‘advertising’ in the above quote with the word, ‘brainstorming sessions’ and it’s just as apropos.  It’s about finding new relationships and one of the easiest way to do this is for  idea generators to leave the space the problem inhabits. By doing this the solutions will necessarily come from a different direction and novel relationships will be made. 

For example, let’s say that a team is thinking up ways of improving customer service in banks.  Instead of looking at it from a banking perspective, pretend you are all hippies and ask, “In what ways would a hippie improve the experience  in a bank?”  Some of the resulting conversation might look something like this:

” Incense- we need patchouli  in the air,”

“Flowers, we’d need flowers, maaaaan..”

“What about music?  A guy playing an acoustic guitar would be sweet, man…waiting in line is such a drag…”

“Music is about righteousness and truth..where’s the righteousness and truth in here?”

“And love…I don’t feel love. ”

“How can anyone feel anything with the colors in here? It’s all dark and heavy, and this chair, augh! It’s too heavy and cold- give me the floor (she says pouring out of her chair and on to the floor).”

There’s an entirely different perspective now about what constitutes a bank, what the lobby should look like, smell like, feel like.  Sure, maybe patchouli isn’t the way to go, but the brainstorming session has taken on an entirely new direction and ideas are flowing where only minutes ago there was  uncomfortable silence.

So, next time you’re stuck in a brainstorming session that’s stuck, try becoming someone else outside the context of the problem space.   You might be surprised at the results.

Posted in Creative Environments, Creative Thinking Techniques, creativity, Design, idea generation, imagination, innovation, Lateral Thinking, problem solving, Traditional Brainstorming | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Framing a Problem – Lessons From Photography in Capturing Essence and Solutions

Posted by Plish on May 3, 2010

In a recent conversation, a colleague pointed out that when he’s with his wife (who is a photographer),  he tries to see what she sees when she stops to take a picture. It got me to thinking about how difficult that could be.   After all, the photographer is trying to capture a specific image from a specific perspective to hopefully evoke a response of some type.  In short, the photographer is trying to convey an essence of what is depicted.  But, to an outside observer, until that image is captured, it’s very difficult to get into the exact perspective of the artist.

This is very similar to what is experienced in the realm of problem solving and designing solutions. Before any solutions can be found, the problem needs to be framed – it needs to be depicted in its essence so that the situation is experienced and known in a way in which general directions of action are self-evident.  A proper frame will also often have an emotional component  that helps motivate those working on the issue. 

So what needs to be present in the framing process?

From an artistic point of view there are, basically, four aspects of framing.  They are present even in pictures we take with cell phones though the camera controls and ‘optimizes’ these variables for us.  Artists, on the other hand, are acutely aware of the impact of each of these variables and they  skillfully control them so as to maximize the impact of the framed image.

1. The Frame-Does it take in a wide or narrow view?  Square, Round or another shape?

2. Location of the Viewer-What angle is one looking through the frame? Close to the frame or far away? 

3.Moment at Which Frame Capture Occurs -What is happening at the point in time when the framing is occurring? What is the lighting like? What are others not in the center of the frame doing?

4. Length of Capture Time-What transpires during the framing time?  Is is a static or moving situation? Long or short exposure?

When framing, these four aspects guide how the final picture will look, and thus guide what message will be conveyed and what emotions will be felt by the viewer.   Together they determine if we look at a picture and say, “Yeah, that’s nice,” or look at a picture with our mouths open and say:

(There is nothing wrong with your sound card, you just listened to silence…)

These same four variables can be used to guide us when framing a problem that needs to be solved.  The difference though, (if it really is a difference) is that a properly framed problem contains the solution! 

1. Type of Frame – Is your frame specific enough to point out what seems to be the main problem, while not being so specific that it effectively eliminates certain environmental/system issues that may play a part in finding a more elegant solution?

2. Location of the Viewer-Can the stage be set so that everyone from stakeholders to clients to team members look at the same thing from the same location at the same angle?  Is it obvious to everyone that the best starting point occurs at this locus of perspective? 

3. Moment at Which Frame Capture Occurs–  Is the framed problem capturing the right moment?  Are we looking too much at what happens before or after what we think is the issue?

4. Length of Capture Time- This is related to number three but it’s more about emotion.  Do we capture the problem with a short exposure in which details are crystal clear, or a long exposure that blurs the details but  provides us with sensations of motion and activity?

Keep in mind that just as photographers will often take hundreds of pictures to end up with one that really ‘works’, so too, problem framing is a process of creating multiples,  and even redefining and refining the frame as more is learned.  If we stay cognizant of these four framing variables during the process, not only will we  get at  the essence of  problems, but we’ll be well on the way to capturing the solutions.

Posted in Conveying Information, culture of innovation, Customer Focus, Design, design thinking, Information Visualization, problem solving, Workplace Creativity | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

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