Today is a small snippet from strategy number 7 in Best Practices are Stupid.
Goldilocks enters the house of three bears and decides to go to sleep. One bed was too hard, one was too soft, and the baby bear’s bed just right.
The same is true when defining challenges.
They can’t be too big (broad or abstract, e.g., asking for new ideas) or too small (overly specific, e.g., extremely technical that can only be solved by one discipline). They must be “just right” – framed in a way that maximizes the likelihood of finding a workable solution.
When framing challenges, you must adhere to the Goldilocks Principle.
It is quite common for a company to ask its employees to find ways to increase revenue. This is a lofty goal and posing this type of general challenge usually results in fluffy solutions. Instead of asking people to solve broad problems, ask specific questions that will likely result in an implementable solution. For example, are there specific markets that you have not yet penetrated? Are you missing out on customer segments that present a greater opportunity?
NASA ran an open innovation challenge designed to find a “micro gravity laundry system.” However, the solutions they received were not as useful as they had hoped. In hindsight, they recognized two important lessons.
First, they realized that asking a “system” question might have been too complex and the larger challenge might have been more effectively solved by deconstructing it into a series of smaller challenges (e.g., a valve challenge).
Second, the potentially more important lesson was that they may have been better served by asking an even “higher level” question. That is, asking about a laundry system implied that the solution was mechanical in nature. However, they might have found more interesting solutions had they asked about how to eliminate the need for clothes laundering altogether. This might have led to a completely different breakthrough. So in this case, you could argue that the original challenge was too narrowly defined.
A critical step in trying to find solutions is to clearly define the challenge. The way a challenge is framed will impact the way it is solved.
Some may suggest that Goldilocks’ decision to enter the home belonging to the three bears in the woods was not very sound. However, it was her quest for “just right” that allowed her to rest peacefully. If you adopt this same rigor when defining your challenges, you too just might sleep a bit better at night knowing a workable solution is just around the corner.