The Sweet Seduction of "Solution Mode"

This weeks post goes to the heart of any design thinking process - but maybe also more broadly touches on a key aspect of contemporary leadership: not having all the answers and turning this vulnerability or humility into a powerful tool for innovation. In Design Thinking we call this mindset "falling in love with problems" or "staying out of solution mode" as long as possible and it can be a quite powerful way to unlock collaboration and co-creation in large organisations. This is how Intuit's Suzanne Pellican puts it: "And if I can get them (my staff)  to be more in love with the problem than the solution, we all win. When you come up with an idea, and go “aha!” and you fall in love with it. You assume it’s the right answer and keep moving forward. The cost of being wrong at a big company is higher. We need to realize “Oh ok, my solution isn’t the best. Maybe my coworkers have a better solution.” Which starts with getting everyone intensely focused on the problem that we’re trying to solve. It’s game changing."

To me this approach has become a key measure of practicing design thinking in the right way. Many times - let's say during a typical design sprint process - we see clients getting very nervous during this problem definition phase, because when are we going to start making a funky gadget / app to impress our boss that this was time well spent. The likes of Google address this very well in their Google Ventures Design Sprint model and most UX Design Management Consultants are offering this service as well - were someone sits in the corner as people discuss the problems and starts doing wireframes and clickdummys with his Invision App. This has become a new type of visual harvesting in workshops and seems to impress suitably.

What this "feel-good" approach to Design Thinking lacks is the rigour and empathy of creative problem solving that starts with understanding humans and their contexts at a much deeper level - and not just during user acceptance testing on the final day of the sprint. A good friend and fellow practitioner shared this overview by Mule Design that really captures the most suitable approach to this challenge:

1. Get comfortable being uncomfortable
“All I know is that I know nothing.” — Socrates

2. Ask first, prototype later
“If we only test bottle openers, we may never realize customers prefer screw-top bottles.”—Victor Lombardi, Why We Fail
3. Know your goal
4. Agree on the big questions
“At its core, all business is about making bets on human behavior.”
The Power of ‘Thick’ Data, WSJ
5. There is always enough time and money - Just avoid doing surveys.
6. Don’t expect data to change minds
“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”—Upton Sinclair
7. Embrace messy imperfection
“We’re fickle, stupid beings with poor memories and a great gift for self destruction.” ― Suzanne Collins, Mockingjay
8. Commit to collaboration
9. Find your bias buddies
“We can be blind to the obvious, and we are also blind to our blindness.” ― Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast and Slow

Let's see if we can start practicing the art of deep listening and learning before we launch into our next venture.