Analyzing out of the Box

I was recently asked about my approach to problem solving and analysis. Do I have a more creative approach or is it more one of analysis? I admit I’m a bit of a conundrum when it comes to problem solving; I’m equally creative and analytical when it comes to solving most problems. My technique is nothing new, I just don’t limit the problems that I analyze (unless they prove to be pointless).

The first question that I ask in any problem is always “Why?” This first why is meant as a point of simplification. For example, if we needed to move from point A to point B in the jungle through unknown dangers, I’m going to ask, “Why move?” Even though the answer might be obvious, “To get out of the Jungle,” it's still worth asking for 2 reasons. Many questions, especially opening questions, aren’t really questions, they’re presumptions disguised as questions or weighted questions. Saying “How do we move towards this way” also says “We should move this way.” What many don’t realize is that it also tends to say “This is the only way in which we can move” through its inherent persuasion. If the intended goal is to get out of the jungle from our current location, let’s make sure that our intended plan is the fastest way out of the jungle; if the fastest way is also the most dangerous, let’s find a safer way out. For all we know, the first presumed direction might have been the most dangerous.

Removing presumptions in the first step of analysis greatly aids in removing bias, allowing for experimentation and encouraging discussion. If you can question what you think you know, then you can remove one of the biggest roadblocks in the thinking process: assuming the problem exists. If the easiest road to a solution is always the simplest one, then by definition that means to never engage in a solution. Don’t change anything. Now one can analyze why you’re changing anything in the first place. With intentions properly assessed, creating a solution and compounding the inevitable complexities becomes an incredibly simple problem to solve even if a complicated one.

The clarity this vantage point affords may sometimes set one at odds with others; removing bias is a skill not to be underestimated, many people don’t know and refuse to recognize their bias and will oppose unbiased, out-of-the-box, problem-solving simply because it doesn’t fit their bias. The clarity of having built the solution also affords one the ability to persuade those around you as to its value. If you can tell a good story, you can sell a good solution. However, some will never be sold.

A good problem solving environment is one in which data is regularly collected. I encourage disagreement. Friction is why cars move, if the road always agrees with the tires, the car doesn’t move. In any disagreement, the ideal solution is to simply try both solutions. Why choose one solution over another through guesswork when you can test each hypothesis and bring forth a tested answer? When setting up these tested disagreement, it's important to set both a time limit and a success criterion for the experiment. For a small subset of the visitors, run a split test of the two solutions. For 20% of the viewers, 10% will see Solution A, and 10% will see Solution B. Run the experiment for a week and see which proposal results in improved engagement (our chosen metric). After the testing period is over, compare each result to the control and see what improved, what didn’t. What may result could be a blended solution that makes use of unintended necessities from each solution.

The point is…good problem solving is neither creativity nor analysis; it's an open mind and a scientific method.

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