The standard approach to problem solving is identifying a problem, then finding a solution. Makes sense. But is the standard approach the best approach?
Typically, most of our time and effort is focused on developing the solution, and with good reason. That’s the action we’ll be taking, and achieving the desired outcome hinges on finding the right solution. So, prioritizing that phase seems appropriate. Not only that, but brainstorm solutions is a fun process. We get to be creative, think outside the box, and flex our critical thinking muscle.
The thing is, to find the right solution effectively and efficiently, we need to be sure we’re focused on the right problem, obstacle, or objective.
In our world of customer insights, it’s common for brands to approach us with data or feedback survey results hoping we can uncover solutions they’re not seeing. But before diving into analytics, we always start with understanding what that brand was hoping to accomplish. What was the problem, obstacle, or objective that prompted gathering insights in the first place?
Through that process, we often see the difficulty finding a data-driven solution was less about the insights themselves and more about how the initial problem was framed. In other words, there was a problem with the problem, not the data.
So, is the standard approach to problem solving the best approach? Not always.
Instead of jumping head-first into searching for a solution, it’s always worth spending extra time and effort to clarify that problem, obstacle, or objective. Pick apart the way it’s phrased. Trim the unnecessary verbiage and work to boil down a concise, clear, and easy to understand statement. That will ultimately be the foundation for building a solution, so we want to make sure it’s as solid as can be.
I read a great book (one I highly recommend) that illustrates this concept perfectly. In “What Your Customer Wants And Can’t Tell You” by Melina Palmer, she uses an example of a brand wanting to create the perfect buying experience. So, naturally, the question this brand posed to its team was, “How can we create the perfect buying experience?” From there, brainstorming ideas and possible solutions was the next step.
But instead, Palmer suggested a different approach. Rather than starting with a question (how can we create the perfect buying experience?), try starting with a statement. “The perfect buying experience exists.” Then, start asking questions to clarify how that statement relates to the brand to help uncover the real issue that needs to be addressed.
Who is the target of this buying experience? What are they buying, when are the buying it, and through which channel is the purchase made? Is there a specific aspect of the buying experience to focus on? Once the questions start flowing, that original objective seems less clear. This exposes the problem with the problem and sparks internal discussion that will help provide more solution-based context.
Much like the brands we see struggling to find solutions in their data, Palmer’s example underlines the importance of starting with a focus on the problem. The more we can refine, clarify, and simplify the core issue, the more targeted our problem-solving efforts will be. And the more likely we are to find a solution that leads to our desired outcome.
At MacKenzie, our success is dependent on the success of our partner brands. So, we leverage this approach in every project. To finish strong, we must start strong. Many times, that involves us leading brands through a process of revisiting their initial objectives. Not only is it important for us to fully understand the ultimate goal, but it’s just as important and valuable for the brand to establish internal alignment as to the purpose of the project. With those pieces in place, together we can move forward with confidence and precision.