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10 Tips for Having Great Ideas - #1 Framing the Problem

Someone recently asked us how the design team at The Imagination Factory approaches repeatable idea generation in the projects we work on. It made us stop and think and we ended up with a list of 10 top tips for having great ideas which we thought might be useful to share.

First up is the concept of Problem Framing.

It has been said that good leaders find solutions to problems but great leaders find the right problems to solve.
Most good ideas are born out of a genuine need rather than a spontaneous Eureka moment. So, learning how to spot a user need or a 'pain point' and correctly framing the problem that causes it will dramatically improve your ability to generate good ideas.

Pain points come in all shapes and sizes; physical discomfort or injury, environmental waste or damage, economic loss or inefficiency and so on. Maintaining an attitude of curiosity and empathy will sharpen your ability to spot the challenges that a good idea could solve.
Framing the problem that you are trying to solve involves keeping an open mind for long enough to consider the situation from a variety of angles and different levels of abstraction. This counteracts the tendency to bake a solution into a problem before even getting started.

An example of this is seen in the development of the first iPod. Apple's competitors were all asking themselves how to make a better mp3 player and so they were coming up with incrementally better ideas. Apple took a different approach and asked how to improve the experience of finding, purchasing and listening to music on the go. This led to a step change idea that required the development of an ecosystem including iTunes and a portable hard-drive for carrying enough music to satisfy most people's collections.

So how do you develop the skill of problem framing? Like all techniques practise makes perfect so start small with some simple examples in your own life and work. What's really bugging you today? Then frame the problem that's causing you annoyance by generating an open question. For example, "How might I stop my laptop power cable slipping off my desk all the time? ". Now spend a few minutes challenging whether you have framed the problem correctly. Is the issue really the cable slipping off the desk? Or is it where you are sitting? Have you set up your workspace correctly? When are the moments when the cable slips off? Is this related to certain activities?
This kind of open thinking before you dive into solving the problem gives you a chance to check that you are approaching the issue from the right angle.
By practising this skill on simple, unimportant examples you will feel more confident to challenge the way a problem is framed when it comes to the bigger issues in work and life.