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The Creative Challenge Technique

Karate kickThe creative challenge technique helps you to discover problems you don’t even know exist by helping you question the world around you. You uncover hidden problems by actively asking ‘why are things the way they are?’ Newly discovered problems can be used as seeds for possible solutions, or in the case of a business, a new and exciting product or service.

The Creative Challenge was originally developed¬†by Dr. Edward de Bono, however I’ve rearranged, combined and reworded things a bit and come up with a three-step process that I feel is a bit cleaner.

The steps

The steps to utilizing the Creative Challenge are as follows:

  1. Pick an existing solution and analyze it: Focus on an object or existing solution of interest and simply ask ‘why does this exist?’
  2. Determine what problem is being solved:Reverse the question to part 1 to discover the problem the existing solution solves
  3. Develop solutions: Determine an alternate way of solving the discovered problem

Step 1: Pick an existing solution and analyze it

The first step involves discovering what underlying problem an existing solution solves. The way to determine this is to simple ask ‘why does this exist?’. There are so many things around us that we just take for granted, but remember that every man-made creation is there for a reason.

As an example, take something as routine as a picture frame. If you ask ‘why do we have a picture frame?’ you may arrive at something like, ‘so the edges are protected and won’t curl up’.

Step 2: Determine what problem is being solved

The next step is to discover the problem that the solution in step 1 was solving. After you’ve gone through the process of answering the ‘why’ question, discovering the problem being solved is straightforward.

The is best explained by continuing the example of the picture frame. The answer we came up to the ‘why does this exist’ was: ‘so the edges are protected and won’t curl up’

To discover the hidden problem, simply reverse the answer: “The edges of pictures will get damaged and curl up if hung directly on the wall.’

Step 3: Develop solutions

Now that you have a problem, you can go about devising alternate solutions. Right now, I haven’t discussed formal solution generating techniques so I’ll go with the shotgun, pseudo random approach – just think about the problem and see what happens.

In the above example, the discovered problem was: ‘The edges of pictures will get damaged and curl up if hung directly on the wall.’¬† Here are a few possible solutions to that problem off the top of my head:

  • Stick the pages directly to the wall
  • Incorporate custom pictures into your wallpaper
  • Print the pictures on material that is much more rugged than photo paper

These solutions may or may not be that good out of the box, but they could be the start to something pretty good if you spent some more time refining them and using more of de Bono’s techniques I’ll cover that process in future posts.

More examples

Here are a couple more examples to help you further understand the Creative Challenge technique:

Existing idea: Guitar stand

Step 1: Existing solution analysis
So the guitar won’t fall over when we aren’t playing it

Step 2: Problem discovery
Guitars fall over without something holding them up

Step 3: Alternate solutions

  • Add built-in stands to guitars
  • Add way to hang your guitar from the wall
  • Build in a place in the floor that you can easily drop your guitar into so it won’t fall over

Existing idea: White board

Step 1: Existing solution analysis
So we can easily communicate visually when we are in the same area

Step 2: Problem discovery
Without some device, we cannot communicate visually, only verbally when we are in close proximity

Step 3: Alternate solutions

  • An iPad app that we can sit around the table and sketch ideas on
  • A table surface that is made from whiteboard-like material that we can write on
  • We can paint the walls with whiteboard-like material and use that for our surface

Note that some of these alternative solutions already exist – that’s fine. It really depends on what your goal is. If you want to build a business around some product that would solve a problem in a unique way, obviously reusing an existing idea verbatim doesn’t make a lot of sense.

However, if you are just trying to find alternate solutions because the existing one is inadequate or undesirable, considering existing solutions may make sense..