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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Monday 1 February 2016

Brainstorming Vs Design Thinking:Solving the Right Problem

The first thing that came to mind while reading this article was that you truly can find studies to back anything. Of course, the way you frame the question matters quite a bit; the same data can prove exact opposite theses, based on how it is used.  

Data is neutral. People are not. They have biases, preferences, previous experiences to pull from, etc.  

I absolutely agree with the article in terms of coming up with ideas being a different thing than implementing ideas. Lots of people think it would be cool if X or Y without any intent to do anything to make X or Y happen. They throw the idea out into the ether and if it gets picked up so be it. Others will get excited and start, but move on to something else before getting started. Still others will pursue an idea without the right understanding of how to implement it, meaning it goes nowhere.  

As someone who spends a lot of time ideating and a decent amount of time creating, I totally get the concept of ideation in isolation. Sometimes you need space to play with an idea, flesh it out, do doodles and speak to the air in ways that is would be incomprehensible to anyone else. Sometimes, you need just one person as a sounding board.  

This is ideation as a selfish activity, with the goal being to make sense of one's own idea, not solicit ideas from others.  

Of course ideas don't come from the ether, nor to them spring fully-formed from the head of the innovator, like Athenea from Zeus' noggin. Everything comes from everything - the more exposure one has to ideas, images, past innovations, people, etc the more fodder they will have for ideation.  

All of this supposes that ideas are what matters. Or, to follow the article more closely, that ideas turned into action are what matters. Is this true?

This notion is based on a very Western, very Survival of the Fittest conceptualization that posits ideas or innovations as babies that their creator parents nurture. Whatever is the best idea will be adopted by the market and survive because it was the one best fitted to societal demand.  Ideas that aren't best-suited will die out.  

It's a very inwards-out process, this‎; it suggests a whole much of individuals throwing stuff against the wall to see what sticks.

Lots of things will sick that may be shiny and fun but actually aren't all that useful.  

Let's say the issue at hand was stopping diabetes type II, a preventable illness that takes a massive economic and social toll, especially on North American society. Is the best way to find solutions to diabetes Type II to get a bunch of people to sit by themselves and brainstorm?

That's not far from how the existing policy process works, with a bit of information -gathering done to provide substance for ideation.

Not that the problem of diabetes type II still persists. Note that it has been exacerbated by all kinds of implemented ideas - everything from fast food to TVs and cars and the modern work day have had an impact ‎on occurrence of diabetes type II.

Ideation is fun. Creation is fun. In the frame described here, though, it's an isolated act removed from context. 

Who's to say that the independent judge is best arbiter on what a good idea is? Lots of really smart and successful people have ideated and developed policy, programs, even polling that fails to achieve it's goals. Are all these ideas as good as they were sold to be? I'd argue not.  In fact, I'd say there are plenty of studies that say otherwise. In fact, I'd say that Western culture is steeped in the notion of the blind innovator pushing their idea forward to the greater detriment, because they were selfishly about the idea, not the context.

What if we reframe the outcome from being "come up with a good idea" to "addressing a problem?"

Design Thinking is a increasingly popular (not to be confused with good) process that looks to tackle solution-making from a different angle. Instead of focusing on innovators and ideas, it begins with people and their problems. The process here isn't about the lone innovator coming up with brilliant ideas, but a careful study of the context, culture and people involved in a problem set - lets say diabetes type II - and understanding the underlying patterns and behaviour. Once you know what the landscape looks like, it becomes a lot easier to identify a path to success.

Through this process, the more information you get, the more journey-mapping you do, the more robust your understanding of the landscape looks like. Also, since the idea isn't the fixation point, iteration is a lot easier. No one has to sell their pitch, because everyone is focused on the problem, not their ownership of the solution.

It might be the case that individuals are better at coming up with ideas and aggressive visionaries are better at turning their ideas into action, but the truth is that people exist in a social context and proper solutions aren't necessarily the same thing as individual wins.

When it comes to solutions, or even products, it's not the creator who matters most - it's the end user.

And the end user, almost invariably, is a crowd.

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