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Are solving problems back breaking? No Problem!


I have this ill fate with Fridays and last Friday couldn’t have gone worse for me. I was at work till 12 o clock on Friday night (please don’t think of me as the Geek, no I’m not), I was completely clueless about my personal life, and I couldn’t have been in a worse feud with my parents. Has there been a time when you’ve tried to attack problems single-handedly and ended up getting frustrated? I know I would get an all-out YES for this question.

It is human nature to immediately freak out when we encounter an issue, big or small. But, when we ask ourselves how much do we get done when we are worked up, the answer would be none. Am I saying that we are not supposed to get tensed when we are pushed over the edge and be inhuman? No! That’s not what I’m saying – because if you are human, then the lack of emotional reaction is impossible. Now I do sound pretty freaked out, don’t I, playing a monologue of the devil’s advocate?

The problem with us is we either jump in to solve a problem or close our eyes or pretend the world is dark. There is no proper analysis and complete understanding of the issue. Whether we try to solve our problems or others’, we may come up with the most brilliant solutions, but it may not be the most suited solution. Our problem resolutions have always been solution-oriented and not people-oriented.

I came across this brilliant problem solving technique when I attended a conference in Bangalore. I’ve been using this technique to resolve a bunch of my own personal problems and issues at work. The technique’s simplicity will leave you gaping, I promise. This technique can be used to single-handedly solve your problems, or work as a group on a particular personal or business or any issue under the Sun. As opposed to other techniques which are all solution-oriented, this technique helps us arrive at solutions with an emotional quotient. It’s called Design Thinking.

First we’ll understand what design thinking is and how we do it and then we’ll move to answering the where, when etc. Design thinking is defined as the method of examining tough problems, gathering information, analyzing the situation and the individual, and arriving at solutions that would be a best fit to the individual who is impacted by the problem, the most. At first look, it might sound like a regular problem solving technique, but NO. This technique addresses one most important thing that the other techniques fail to address – empathizing.

Design thinking happens over five phases – Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, and Test.

Empathizing

The first and the most important phase is to empathize with the individual and the problem. Without looking at the problem from the perspective of the person facing the problem, it is obvious that the solution will not be the best fit for them. The solution will be influenced by others’ experiences and bias. Whether it is you or someone else, try to completely understand and accept the intensity of the problem. If required, try to react to the problem emotionally, and you will have a clear mind for the next phase. If you are doing this by yourself, record the things that have been bothering you either on paper or a mind map in any order. If you are out to help someone, then question them and get them to answer, without breaking their flow of thought.

Defining

This is the point where you attack the problem logically. Whether you use paper and pen or a mind map, choose a method that works for you. List all the issues that are serving as obstacles. Now, you might end up filling the sheet of paper with issues. Some of them would need your immediate attention, most of them can wait, and some would be very trivial. Out of these identify top three problems that would love to do away with immediately.

Ideating

This is where the more the merrier! Normally, it would be more productive if you solve a problem using design thinking in a group – friends or family. At this point, try identifying as many solutions to the three problems. Defer judgment and the feasibility of the solutions to the next stage. Gather as many ideas as possible.

Prototyping

Whether you are trying to find solutions for yourself or for others, you would be flooded with ideas. At this stage, go through the heap of ideas and identify the best three among the lot. The three ideas should be on the lines of: * A great idea! – A practical solution implementable within the next 15-30 days * Oh my god idea! – A WOW idea that can be implemented within 2-3 months * One crazy idea! – Worse come worse, a fall-back option. If you are working as a group, a voting system would help you narrow down to three ideas in the above categories. Yay! We are almost done! By this time, you have broken down the problem into small units. This in itself is a psychological booster.

Testing

You or the individual whom you are helping will implement the solution which is most suited. After two weeks, review the progress and change the strategy, if the current one is not smooth enough. Again, you’re welcome to use design thinking.

This might seem like a daunting task to sit with a pen, paper, and a group of people to solve issues. Some might even feel weary. But, so far, brilliant ideas have been generated by this step-by-step problem solving technique, ideas that otherwise would’ve either been unvoiced or not thought of. After a couple of times, design thinking would become a habit.

Every problem is solvable when it is broken down to the smallest unit. As always, try it and let us know how it worked for you!

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