During a recent conversation with a Polish counterpart, I was introduced to a new expression that really resonated with me.
“Don’t fall in love with the solution, fall in love with the problem”.
My first response was a confused one. Surely, being solution focused is a great thing. We need solutions for the many problems we face, and we need people who can find them. But through further discussion with my colleague, I came to realise that one of the big problems product and process designers face is that they become so wedded to a solution, that they stick with it even if it is imperfect or has ceased to be pertinent.
I recognise this in myself. Having invested so much time, money, and creative effort in finding a neat solution, it can be very hard to give it up. This happened with our first iteration of Muster. We started out making a piece of software that clients would need to install on their company systems. It took a while to accept that this was never going to work, even though we had already done a lot of the work and spent a lot of the money. So we pivoted to a WebGL solution instead. Now clients access the software via a browser and the whole thing is hosted securely in the cloud.
It’s why I propose a solution creation approach called AIM. Adapt – Improve – Modify.
If our aim is on the problem we remain alert to the way problems evolve, shift and disappear; and when new problems enter the frame. This allows us to be flexible in the way we develop our solutions, and the type of solutions we create. And it allows us to give up on solutions that are no longer fit for purpose.
Our solutions can quickly become irrelevant and redundant, having been designed for a problem (or need) that no longer exists. It’s like continuing to create imaginative storage solutions for DVDs and CDs, because we love the look of them and the process of making them. The trouble is that however glorious it might look and whatever design merits it might have no-one needs it anymore. The problem has gone.
So, we need to keep our focus on the problem and how that problem shifts or disappears. And then we need to adapt our solution or invent a new one rather than hanging on doggedly to the old one. Keep designing beautiful storage solutions, but for different things.
However good our initial solution might be, we shouldn’t fall into the trap of believing that it is perfect. By maintaining a continuous improvement mindset, we remain open to the possibility that it might have flaws, and that we can find ways to remove them. Falling in love can mean overlooking imperfections and irritants. It can blind us to other ideas and opportunities. That might be fine in an intimate relationship, but less fine when it comes to product and process design.
Improving and adapting, doesn’t always need wholesale redesign or starting from scratch. Reuse what you can and what remains relevant but tweak a little here and there. This allows you to test as you go, and make further small modifications based on what you learn. You can find out more about this in a great book by our CEO called Small Change Big Returns
We should fall in love with problems because they give the us the reason for inventing solutions. Our AIM should be to wrestle with them until they become problematic no more, and then be ready to move on to the next one.