Friday, January 31, 2014

5 ways of framing a challenge

How you frame a challenge makes a big difference in the kind of solutions you generate. “How do we reach more people in Hong Kong?” is how suit-maker Sammy Kotwani might have framed his challenge. Instead Sammy asked, “Which place on earth needs suits all year round?” One of the answers was Moscow where Sammy ended up moving his business. Today he boasts of many Russian ministers as his customers. How many ways can you frame a challenge? In this article, let’s look at 5 ways.

Min-Max: Any retail shop, be it a bank or a grocery shop, has to manage queues. One way the shopkeeper may frame his challenge is, “How might we minimize the waiting time in the queue?” This is a min-max way of framing. You minimize or maximize a parameter. When James Watt got a model of the Newcomen engine, he asked, “How can we minimize the steam getting wasted in this engine?” Any TV channel would be asking, “How do we maximize the viewership of this channel?” Before starting the Adhaar project, Indian Government asked, “How do we minimize the leakage to the $60-$80 billion subsidy?”

Emotional experience: Instead of minimizing the waiting time in the queue, a retail bank may ask, “How do we improve the experience of being served?” The solution may not only focus on the interaction while being serviced but also how you get entertained while waiting in the queue. Also, it might create a queueless solution. Similarly you may ask, "How do we make commute more fun?" Steve Jobs might have asked, “How do we build products which are so intuitive that users don’t need a user manual?”

Before-during-after: Some challenges involve critical events. For example, attacks in ATMs while withdrawing cash. One way to pose such a challenge is, “What can we do before, during and after an ATM attack in order to reduce the tragic impact?”  You can substitute “ATM attack” by “marriage breakup” or “road accident”.

Culture-sensitive framing: Jaipur foot is a low-cost prosthetic leg. However, the user with Jaipur foot is able to squat, a feature that may not be available with more expensive products. That is because many toilets in rural India require you to squat and hence the requirement is built into the design of Jaipur foot from the beginning. Indians have a tendency to jump into a queue. Hence, you may frame a challenge as, “How do we prevent (or dissuade) people from jumping into a queue?” Like you have regional or country-specific cultural norms, you also have cultures associated with sports (soccer, cricket), professions (engineers, musicians). Your challenge may take into account these norms.

Metaphor: Dr. Venkataswamy, the founder of Aravind Eye Hospital, asked, “How can we perform cataract surgeries more like McDonalds?” Metaphors are perhaps the most powerful and fundamental elements in creative framing. Newton might have asked, “Is a falling apple more like the moon?” Though not a successful innovation, Tata Nano has become a metaphor which people use in asking, “How do we build a Nano in our sector?” In metaphor-framing, you take two seemingly different concepts X and Y and ask, “Why can’t X be more like Y?”

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Vinay. I think it is instinctive for people to jump into solutions immediately, but it is rather important to find the problem first. So, asking questions becomes an important skill to be learnt.
    Asking the 'right' questions becomes even more important so that your teams efforts are channelized in the right direction. And it is left to the leadership to reimagine the right question to ask to the teams. And your blog gives great tips to do that. Thanks again :)