"The real problem is that you have been seeing problems as problems, not as creative opportunities."
Mona Patel’s deepest passion is to help people realize their potential. She encourages people to not only face the barriers that are standing in their way, but to move past them and believe in their own ability to make the world a better place. She is the CEO and Founder of Motivate Design, and an adjunct professor at Parsons the New School for Design.
In Reframe, Patel shares with us the techniques she has developed in her company that bring people together to empathetically and creatively solve problems. Readers will learn new ways to understand what holds them back and to overcome barriers through the Reframework, an eight step process that will help you to get unstuck.
The Big Idea
Where are all the great ideas?
"Companies block innovation by starting with what they want to create, not with what people need."
Let’s start with a real example. At Disney World, there are buses to bring people from the resorts to the park. Most of the time, when they arrive, they are already so packed that you cannot get a seat and you have to wait for the next one, with no idea about how long it will take to arrive. When thinking about this situation, many potential solutions come to mind. What if Disney provided real-time electronic bus schedules with seat availability? What if the park had a handle on supply and demand and increased the number of buses during the busiest times of day? What if they had entertainment while people are waiting, so the wait would be part of the experience?
If you think about who, above everyone else in the park, is the most in tune with this problem, you immediately think of the bus driver. Patel encountered this situation when she herself visited Disney, and asked the driver once she finally got on the bus. Je already had already considered most of the ideas above and even more, but he hadn’t told anyone. Why?
There are three factors at play here:
- Fears and other psychological barriers (internal influencers)
- Corporate blocks and barriers (external influencers)
- BS Excuse Personas (the sum of your fears and blocks)
The ability to ideate, explore, identify, assess, pivot, and receive feedback is critical to innovation. Fear is the driving force against this agility, and by conquering individual fears, we can collectively shift work culture from fearful to brave and innovative. The fears that we encounter most often in the research, design and innovation space are the ones below:
- The unknown
- Losing autonomy
In addition to the fears that each one of us brings to the table, business structures and rules also create blocks to creativity. The first block is that companies don’t create the room or permission for ideas to come about. It’s not in the schedule and they don’t have a line item in the agenda. The second block is money. Companies try too quickly to map innovation and ideation practices to revenue. And third, companies start with what they want to create, not with what people need.
So, when we ask, “Why isn’t innovation happening?”, we can look at the sum of all fears and blocks. However, they all represent nothing more than a pile of excuses, all of which can be overcome simply by recognizing them, deciding to take a stand, and coming up with ways to get around them.
Creative openers to problem solving
"Dig deeper into why you can’t do something. Usually, you can, you are just choosing not to."
Creative people are constantly questioning the things they see and experience, questioning assumptions, authority, reality, and the status quo. But questions can be tricky. The way you ask a question can impact the answer you get.
Open questions provide people with opportunities to share deeper-level thoughts, beliefs and opinions. These lead to eight “creative openers” that contribute to asking questions that will bring powerful and actionable answers.
- Why? to define the problem
- What if? to get unstuck and create a space for creativity
- Imagine if? to really open up possibilities and dream big
- What if I can’t? to push beyond the doubts
- What if I don’t? to ground our efforts and clarify what’s at stake
- What? to explore the underlying issues
- Why not? to incite conversation and spark competitiveness
- How about? to comfortably dig deeper
Creative openers should not be used in all type of situations and they can even cause some unnecessary confusion and a diffused focus if you are looking for incremental change or to stop a pain point, for example.
As long as you’re aware of the blocks that hinder innovation and creativity, you should be able to use common sense to determine when a creative opener would be useful. If you can ask open questions, listen, and empathize—you are well on your way to creative solution
Just do it
"Open exploration grants you permission to get lost, constraints give parameters to work within."
People have closed, biased perspectives and are not seeing the problem or opportunity clearly. This all changes with reframing. Designing a new frame around the same circumstances allows new perspectives and ideas to emerge. The author proposes what she calls the Reframework, a set of eight modules that you can choose from depending on the type of business problem you have and the answers you need.
Step 1: The Real Problem
Step 2: A Different Lens
Step 3: Ask What If
Step 4: Funnel Vision
Step 5: Themes
Step 6: BS Excuse Personas
Step 7: Rapid Refine
Step 8: Execute
Taken one by one, below are the biggest challenges encountered at each stage.
Step 1: Define the real problem
Here we can use the Problem Brief, that consists in reframing the problem in four parts as follows: the Problem Space (reality that prevents the goal/state to be achieved), the Goal Space (desired outcome/situation), the Consequence (what’s going to change when the problem is solved), and the Gaps and Barriers (reasons why the problem hasn’t been solved yet).
Step 2: Use a different lens
Put yourself in the other protagonist’s shoes and see the problem from another perspective.
Step 3: Ask questions to frame the future
The central part of the process that will bring the most creative and innovative ideas to the table.
Step 4: Narrow down your ideas
Make all ideas visible and use a method to classify and narrow them down.
Step 5: Identify the themes
Step back and build categories of solutions.
Step 6: Deal with people’s fears and beliefs
Make sure everybody can express their fears and beliefs and help them address the tension points before moving forward. If you let them, excuses will hold you back.
Step 7: Refine
Once the excuses are handled, refine the idea together.
Step 8: Ship!
Execute the idea.
With Reframe, Mona Patel provides us with very concrete and directly applicable tools in our working environments, whether we are an independent or part of a large company. I am convinced that something is holding you back from making a change. Take some time to think about it, as well as the solutions are available to you by exploiting the various tools proposed by the author.