Earlier in the week I was having a conversation with a friend who asked me about problem solving. He wanted to know my thoughts on the best way to learn how to solve problems. My response: If you want to learn about problem solving, learn from designers.
What’s the most powerful technique available to innovators? Observation.
Tony Fadell, the creator of the iPod and Nest thermostat, shared his mantra for innovation at a recent TED conference:
“It’s seeing the invisible problem, not just the obvious problem, that’s important,” Fadell said onstage. “There are invisible problems all around us. First we need to see them. To feel them. Then we can solve them.”
The titles of this post might seem a little simplistic, and to a certain degree it is because it isn’t that easy. But, let’s consider the following story:
Ten years ago, Diane Brown found herself in a dreary hospital room, shocked that this kind of bleak environment was supposed to help her get well. Using her art-world connections, she persuaded a few friends to liven up some of these walls. A decade later, RxART is a thriving nonprofit that brings the work of world-class artists to patients whose spirits are lifted by the presence of colorful, inspirational contemporary art in their daily lives. Since then, artists like Jeff Koons, Matthew Ritchie, Alexis Rockman and William Wegman have lent their expertise to hospitals across the country.
If we want to encourage better behaviors, we have to make it easier for people to do whatever it is that we want them to do by removing obstacles in their path. What about if we want to discourage behaviors such as smoking? We put more obstacles in the smokers path, Erik Askin proposes ‘design to annoy’. The premise is that if you design the cigarette package in a way that makes it harder for people to smoke; it might change a consumers behavior.
This is a clear example of questioning the status quo and purposely breaking the rules to encourage a behavior, in this case, to make it difficult for people to smoke.
When we look at our organizations and institutions from this lens, are we designing them to encourage the behaviors we want or discouraging them? It’s clear that if we want to encourage creative thinking in our organizations then we have to do some major changes as most organizations are designed to encourage predictable outcomes and not new ones.
Food for thought!