In Defense of Problems

Half of the battle in coming up with the right solution is coming up with the right problem. That's my truism for the day. As a planner, my job is partly making sure that we're identifying and framing the right problems to solve. That holds true for anyone intending to think and act strategically, really. My agency has an innovation lab up and running, and it's spurring some pretty cool thinking around new things we can make. Last night, I sent this email to the agency to flip the script and give problem ideation as much credence as solution ideation in producing innovation:


Hey party people,

With RDI Labs, innovation, and #evolving in mind, I'd like to pose an additional, alternative approach to coming up with fresh thinking that we can use as fuel to grow Red Door's offerings and capabilities to do cool shit.

I'd categorize our approach to date as being predominantly solution-first: let's make a chat bot; let's do something with AR. Pause before I go further: there's absolutely nothing wrong with that at all. It's made for some great ideas that the RDI Labs crew can attest to, so keep on submitting.

But if you don't have potential solution in mind, you may be able to see problems to be solved, instead. Perhaps to free up thinking and get puzzles to be solved out in the open, I'll pose the alternative, problem-first approach: are there any problems that you see that we can solve with emerging (or maybe even existing) technologies for brands and consumers, that have gone unaddressed to date?

Are there brands you see who, if they just had the right tools in hand, could cut through the noise and overcome some problem that they have in really selling their full value to consumers? And are there lingering (small or large) consumer problems out there that people still deal with, and that the right tech by the right brand would wipe out (and make a bazillion dollars in the process)?

Often times, the best and most impactful solutions come from ingenious people solving nagging problems by putting their smarts and creativity to work. Classic example: a handful of kids at Cambridge came up with the webcam so that they could check to see if their coffee was ready without getting up to check on the pot.

Last night, Jamie and I commiserated in how much we dislike setting appointments over the phone, and started exploring the app space to see if there's anything on the market that's especially adept at letting people make appointments online. In that case, the answer was: yeah, sorta, not exactly, but maybe not worth pursuing further. Fine, but the spirit was there, and there's still room for improvement.

So while you rack your brains for uses of the latest and greatest in tech, don't shy away from instead surfacing lingering and emerging problems that you see that consumers and brands (maybe all, or maybe particular ones) have. It's another way to unlock fresh thinking, get opportunities out in the open, and spark new ideas in the RDI hive mind.

There was a sociologist back in the day named C. Wright Mills, whose jam was the concept of "making the familiar strange." Take a step back as you encounter nuisances in your life and think "Am I alone in dealing with this? Is this how it has to be? Could there be something better?" And the same goes for brands: "If they could just do X, they'd be killing it!"

Those are opportunities for Red Door to change the game, so I encourage you to see the potential in problems as much as you do solutions. Perhaps this warrants a Teams team? Or a dedicated 'Problems and Opportunities' whiteboard or wall? I dunno, that's a problem to be solved.

How to Think and Create Better: Brief Anyone and Everyone

10 Tips to Be a Better Interviewer (this isn't clickbait)