Life of a Problem

 Life of a Problem

Extract of my talk this Monday at Elephant about Design thinking and its role in problem solving. Based on 3 stories from authors unknown, stitched together to highlight critical nuances in innovative problem solving.

By ASHISH DESHPANDE, Director, Elephant.

Ask a room full of Designers; if they thought themselves as problem solvers, almost all will raise their hands. However, quiz how many are problem creators? Some hands may go down. Then if one were to ask, how many are problem spotters, what would be the answer?

One day, a fox trundling along a jungle path came across a rabbit typing away on his laptop. Intrigued, the fox asked the rabbit, "What's up?"

"I am writing a thesis on how a rabbit eat foxes", said the rabbit.

"Obviously, you must be joking." said the fox with disbelief.

"Not at all" said the Rabbit and invited the Fox to his burrow to prove the point.

A while later, the Rabbit emerged from his burrow licking a piece of Fox bone.

The scene repeats itself with a wolf and then with a Bear.

The Bear rolled on the jungle floor laughing at the very thought behind Rabbits thesis. Rabbit again nonchalantly invites the Bear into his burrow to prove the point and introduces him to the Lion. *

(*The above story is a summary effort based on http://shortstories.co.in/corporate-lessons-part/.  Author unknown)

The genesis of any problem solving lies in problem spotting and for designers’ problem identification is the key to problem resolution. Many a times, like our fox, wolf and the bear, we fail to see the problem. We fail to generate empathy with the situation to spot the problem.

And what happens once you spot a problem, where does the solution lie? My math teacher would have said," Answer lies in the question itself!” However, sometimes the answer requires a catalyst from out side, to help bring the solution to surface, as became apparent to the herd of 17 camels awaiting their fate.

These 17 camels belonged to a successful tribesman from the sands of Arabia. Nearing completion of his life journey the tribesman wrote a will dividing his wealth of 17 camels amongst his 3 sons.

After their father’s demise, the 3 sons read the will. Their father had willed 1/2 of the 17 camels to the first born, 1/3 to the second son and 1/9 to the youngest. The sons wondered on how to meet this strange request by their father and not sure how the division would take place. Soon their bewilderment turned into arguments and quickly into quarrels. The village elders fearing more trouble referred the siblings to a local Saint.

The wise man thought for a while, then called the 3 brothers and told them that he would like to give them one additional camel. Now the 3 brothers had 18 camels. The eldest could take home his share of 9 camels, the middle one got 6 and the youngest was content with his 2 camels. Since 9+6+2=17, there was still one camel left which was promptly given back to the Saint.

Many a times, the solution to a problem lies outside. We need to add to be able to divide. In design, realigning existing set of elements may not solve all problems. Sometimes value needs to be added to bring about a workable solution.

The obvious solution is not always the best solution. Some one famously said , " Most problems are created by a solution". If Ratan Tata (past Chairman, Tata Motors) had focused on a better scooter his solution would have been different. Instead he chose to create a safer, comfortable transport solution and NANO was born. Most of the times, our restricted understanding forces a solution. If we change our perspective, our context changes and so does our solution.

Once a talented carpenter walked into a rich landowners farm. The landowner was in a dispute with his younger brother over share of their ancestral land. Seizing the opportunity of a good carpenter having walked his way, he was quickly hired to erect a strong fence between him and his brother’s land along the river that flowed between their properties.

"I never want to see my brother’s face. Build a fence that will isolate him from me." Saying this the landowner traveled away to a distant place on work. The carpenter was sharp to pick out the problem between the two brothers and set out making a fence. On his return, the elder brother was amazed to find an exquisitely carved fence waiting his sights. However, our carpenter had created small bridges inside  the fence stretching across the river.

The younger brother thought that his elder brother had created special bridges for connecting with him and eagerly walked across to embrace him and ask for forgiveness. The elder one though flustered, was moved by the event of his younger brother coming over. In short, the dispute dissolved as emotional bridges were enabled by a solution that was not the obvious. *

(*The above story is a summary effort based on wonderful stories shared on http://www.rajivbajaj.net/ Author, Unknown)

Design is all about feeling, thinking as well as doing. In a manner of process, design begins by sensing a problem or spotting an opportunity to inflict change.

Some solutions are apparent and common sense, but when dealing with issues like disruption, differentiation, wicked problems, part of solution may not lie inside the box. There is no end to the change a solution can bring about. There will be possibilities and spin offs. The way one changes the perspective of looking at a problem will always result in a different end to a problem solution.

Design effort is always towards being receptive to an emergent problem, adding positive value to the process leading to a solution and changing the context to look in a new light helps see new solution enabling a novel lifecycle of problem resolution.

Elephant is India’s Best Design Practice (ET-Brand Equity 2012-2014 ranking) with a multi-disciplinary experience of 27+ years having presence in India & Singapore and has been transforming brands, organizations & businesses using Design led Innovation.

ASHISH DESHPANDE is an Industrial Designer, Co-founder & Director at Elephant. An alumnus of National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, he is a keen Design Thinker, a member of India Design Council & Jury for India Design Mark. He has worked on several design programs, notably, Titan Eye+, Ceat Tyres, Axis Bank, ICICI Bank, Symphony, Paperboat and works on medical & healthcare devices amongst others. Recently, Ashish spoke on Design with Context : Design for Real Needs, at the International Design Congress, 2015.

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