Buckminster Fuller argued that “You can’t change the way people think, all you can do is give them a tool, the use of which will change their thinking.” So what are some practical tools you can use to help people break out of their traditional ways of thinking and deciding?
5 Practical Tools to Apply
Here are 5 tools to facilitate thinking wrong. They’re based on questioning whether the problem as first perceived or presented is the actual problem.
Great questions unleash creativity. Great questions can themselves imply an answer. And most importantly, great questions create a possibility space within which people can cocreate answers.
1. Question the assumptions
A simple technique for questioning the assumptions behind a problem statement is to question each element in the statement. Assumptions embedded in each of the elements may mean you’re trying to solve the wrong problem or they make the problem seem impossible to solve.
Start by phrasing the problem in the form of a question using the words “How do.” Then underline each word in the problem that implies an assumption. Finally question the assumptions, meaning and creative possibilities contained in each of the underlined words.
So for example, let’s say you've been given the mandate to “Create a mobile strategy.”
How do we create a mobile strategy?
WE: The IT team? HR? Cross-disciplinary team? Co-created? Outside agency?
CREATE: What do we mean by create? What’s might the process of creation look like? Drafting a document? Prototyping the future?
MOBILE: How do you define mobility? Is it a device or a screen? A channel? Or could it instead be people on the move? What about smart objects? The internet of everything?
A: One? Multiple? Emergent? Any?
STRATEGY: What do we mean by strategy? Technology? Platform? Mobile workforce? Servingcustomers in new ways? Mobile as a lever for innovating the business model? A set of principles or guidelines framing our beliefs around mobility? Should there even be strategy in the context of mobile or is it actually the business strategy we should be looking at?
2. Play 20 questions in search of a strategic framing question
Finding the right question can be hard. Twenty questions is simple technique for brainstorming questions rather than answers. Invite a interesting mix of people with different responsibilities and viewpoints to ensure you’ll get an interesting variety of questions. Have each person silently generate 20 questions, writing quickly without judging or thinking about the questions. Post them for everyone to see. Then use dot voting to vote on most interesting questions.
Here’s an example from Idea Stormers. “How can we invent a better iron?” The word iron encompasses too many mental givens, so what’s a better strategic question? After playing 20 questions, you might land on the question “How about if we invent new garment care devices?
Let’s say you start with the problem statement “What’s our mobile strategy? Here are 10 I quickly jotted down as if I was participating in a 20 questions session:
- How can we better connect our workforce with our customers?
- What touchpoints can we reinvent?
- What social, emotional or functional jobs could we better help our customers with by leveraging mobile?
- What social, emotional or functional jobs could we better help our employees with by leveraging mobile?
- How do we make our products talk?
- How can we turn our [xyz] product into a service that keeps our customers coming back again and again?
- How can we bring our product to our customers when they are most likely to buy?
- How can we embed just in time teachable moments?
- What opportunities does a mobile customer create to reinvent our business model?
- How can mobile turn our product into a habit?
3. 7ws helps you find more interesting questions
I have six honest servants; they've taught me all I know. Their names are what, why, and who, and when and where and how. ~ Robert Louis Stevenson
Image source: QUT’s Design Led Innovation Toolkit
The 7ws is a tool that helps you find more interesting questions, dig into assumptions and identify hypotheses. Similar to the 5 whys technique, for each of the 7ws you ask why at least 5 times. But instead of seeking root causes, you’re looking for root interest (why it really matters).
Write down your question or problem statement. Then answer each one of the following questions: what, when, who, how, where and why. For each of the answers, dig beneath the surface by visualizing your answers and by probing why five times. Once you've explored the problem, propose as many what if scenarios that you can think of. Select one or more scenarios and repeat.
Here’s a template I mashed up myself leveraging Dan Roam’s 6 ways we see (and show).
4. From… To… exploration facilitates transformation
I just discovered this technique in the book 101 Design Methods and love its potential. It facilitates transformation by helping you shift from an existing perspective based on conventions to a new perspective based on trends.
Start by listing the key aspects of a project, problem or opportunity in need of innovation. Then identify trends related to each of those aspects. Once you’ve identified the trends, capture conventional perspectives. Next, based on an understanding of the listed trends, generate possibilities of what might be. How might you reframe conventions? Finally, discuss innovation opportunities. How you might frame a problem or opportunity statement based on new possibilities revealed in to the to column.
If you decide to experiment with this exercise to help you think through mobile strategy, instead of framing the exercise around mobility, you may want to frame it around your industry, customer, product or service to see how a different frame may inform the way you think about mobile.
In this example from the book, mobile surfaces both as a trend (mobile learning) and as a opportunity (a platform for offering new learning experiences). Which in turn may help you frame an aspect of your strategy “How might we deliver a platform for offering just in time learning experiences for our sales force?”
5. 'What If' helps you imagine the unimaginable
“The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.” ~ Arthur C. Clarke
The What If technique, a favorite of writers such as Stephen King, begins with the assumption that anything is possible. What if vampires invaded a small New England village? (Salem's Lot) What if a young mother and her son became trapped in their stalled car by a rabid dog? (Cujo) What if a dome sealed off an entire city? (Under the Dome)
What If helps you to challenge the status quo, reverse assumptions, explore unlikely combinations, break free from constraints imposed by existing conventions, imagine multiple futures and venture into the impossible.
To imagine the impossible, propose as many what if scenarios as you can think of. Use the trends, assumptions or insights identified through any of the previous techniques as fuel for generating what if possibilities. Here are some examples:
- What if we rethought the taxi experience, offering personal premium transportation without owning any vehicles? (Uber)
- What if a prosthetic limb was a fashion accessory? (Bespoke Innovations)
- What if kids could create their own teddy bears? (Build-A-Bear)
- What if voice calls were free worldwide? (Skype)
- What if we got rid of hierarchy and formal management and allowed employees to pick their own projects? (Valve)
- What if we turned financial fitness into a game? (Mint.com)
- What if airlines paid for their engines by the hour? (Rolls-Royce)
- What if was able to get constant feedback on my health? (Jawbone Up)
Here’s an interesting What If template I came across in Designing for Multi-Touchpoint Service Experiences. Think in systems like Uber and experiment using the template.
These five tools help you question the assumptions that hold back your progress with mobility. Learn more from the readings below.
- How reframing a problem unlocks innovation
- Reframing is a strategic skill and a design thinking skill
- Idea Stormers
- 101 Design Methods
- Disrupt: Think the Unthinkable to Spark Transformation in Your Business
- Stop Doing What You’re Told
- Reset the Web
Title image courtesy of igor.stevanovic (Shutterstock)
Editor's Note: To read the thinking behind the need for tools, see Joyce's To Think About Mobile, Start By Thinking Wrong