Three ways to reframe a problem to find an innovative solution

Stephanie Vozza at FastCompany: “Everything really comes down to solving problems. To be successful and a leader in your field, you not only have to come up with good solutions; you need to be innovative. And that can feel like waiting for lightning to strike.

Tina Seelig, author of Insight Out: Get Ideas Out of Your Head And Into the World, has been teaching classes on creativity and innovation at Stanford University School of Engineering for 16 years, and she says most people don’t have a clear understanding of what those things really are.

“Imagination is envisioning things that don’t exist,” says Seelig. “Creativity is applying imagination to address a challenge. Innovation is applying creativity to generate unique solutions. And entrepreneurship is applying innovations, scaling the ideas, by inspiring others’ imagination.”…Reframing a problem helps you see it as an opportunity, and Seelig offers three techniques for finding innovative solutions:


Start by questioning the question you’re asking in the first place, says Seelig. “Your answer is baked into your question,” she says.

Before you start brainstorming, Seelig suggests you start “frame-storming”: brainstorming around the question you will pose to find solutions. For example, if you’re asking, “How should we plan a birthday party for David?” you’re assuming it’s a party. If you change your question to, “How can we make David’s day memorable?” or “How can we make David’s day special?” you will find different sets of solutions.



When an individual or group is tasked with being creative, often there’s pressure to only come up with good ideas. Seelig likes to challenge teams to only think of bad ideas.

“Stupid or ridiculous ideas open up the frame by allowing you to push past obvious solutions,” she says. “There is no pressure to come up with ‘good’ ideas. Then, those terrible ideas can be re-evaluated, often turning them into something unique and brilliant.”…


Another way to reframe a problem is to challenge its perceived limitations or rules. Ask, “What are all of the assumptions of the industry?” Make a list and turn them upside down by thinking about what would happen if you did the opposite….(More)”

Design Thinking Comes of Age

Jon Kolko at HBR: “There’s a shift under way in large organizations, one that puts design much closer to the center of the enterprise. But the shift isn’t about aesthetics. It’s about applying the principles of design to the way people work.

This new approach is in large part a response to the increasing complexity of modern technology and modern business. That complexity takes many forms. Sometimes software is at the center of a product and needs to be integrated with hardware (itself a complex task) and made intuitive and simple from the user’s point of view (another difficult challenge). Sometimes the problem being tackled is itself multi-faceted: Think about how much tougher it is to reinvent a health care delivery system than to design a shoe. And sometimes the business environment is so volatile that a company must experiment with multiple paths in order to survive.

I could list a dozen other types of complexity that businesses grapple with every day. But here’s what they all have in common: People need help making sense of them. Specifically, people need their interactions with technologies and other complex systems to be simple, intuitive, and pleasurable.

A set of principles collectively known as design thinking—empathy with users, a discipline of prototyping, and tolerance for failure chief among them—is the best tool we have for creating those kinds of interactions and developing a responsive, flexible organizational culture….

Design thinking, first used to make physical objects, is increasingly being applied to complex, intangible issues, such as how a customer experiences a service. Regardless of the context, design thinkers tend to use physical models, also known as design artifacts, to explore, define, and communicate. Those models—primarily diagrams and sketches—supplement and in some cases replace the spreadsheets, specifications, and other documents that have come to define the traditional organizational environment. They add a fluid dimension to the exploration of complexity, allowing for nonlinear thought when tackling nonlinear problems.

For example, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Center for Innovation has used a design artifact called a customer journey map to understand veterans’ emotional highs and lows in their interactions with the VA….

In design-centric organizations, you’ll typically see prototypes of new ideas, new products, and new services scattered throughout offices and meeting rooms. Whereas diagrams such as customer journey maps explore the problem space, prototypes explore the solution space. They may be digital, physical, or diagrammatic, but in all cases they are a way to communicate ideas. The habit of publicly displaying rough prototypes hints at an open-minded culture, one that values exploration and experimentation over rule following….(More)”

Open data can unravel the complex dealings of multinationals

 in The Guardian: “…Just like we have complementary currencies to address shortcomings in national monetary systems, we now need to encourage an alternative accounting sector to address shortcomings in global accounting systems.

So what might this look like? We already are seeing the genesis of this in the corporate open data sector. OpenCorporates in London has been a pioneer in this field, creating a global unique identifier system to make it easier to map corporations. Groups like OpenOil in Berlin are now using the OpenCorporates classification system to map companies like BP. Under the tagline “Imagine an open oil industry”, they have also begun mapping ground-level contract and concession data, and are currently building tools to allow the public to model the economics of particular mines and oil fields. This could prove useful in situations where doubt is cast on the value of particular assets controlled by public companies in politically fragile states.

 OpenOil’s objective is not just corporate transparency. Merely disclosing information does not advance understanding. OpenOil’s real objective is to make reputable sources of information on oil companies usable to the general public. In the case of BP, company data is already deposited in repositories like Companies House, but in unusable, jumbled and jargon-filled pdf formats. OpenOil seeks to take such transparency, and turn it into meaningful transparency.

According to OpenOil’s Anton Rühling, a variety of parties have started to use their information. “During the recent conflicts in Yemen we had a sudden spike in downloads of our Yemeni oil contract information. We traced this to UAE, where a lot of financial lawyers and investors are based. They were clearly wanting to see how the contracts could be affected.” Their BP map even raised interest from senior BP officials. “We were contacted by finance executives who were eager to discuss the results.”

Open mapping

Another pillar of the alternative accounting sector that is emerging are supply chain mapping systems. The supply chain largely remains a mystery. In standard corporate accounts suppliers appear as mere expenses. No information is given about where the suppliers are based and what their standards are. In the absence of corporate management volunteering that information, Sourcemap has created an open platform for people to create supply chain maps themselves. Progressively-minded companies – such as Fairphone – have now begun to volunteer supply chain information on the platform.

One industry forum that is actively pondering alternative accounting is ICAEW’s AuditFutures programme. They recently teamed up with the Royal College of Art’s service design programme to build design thinking into accounting practice. AuditFuture’s Martin Martinoff wants accountants’ to perceive themselves as being creative innovators for the public interest. “Imagine getting 10,000 auditors online together to develop an open crowdsourced audit platform.”…(More)

Innovation Experiments: Researching Technical Advance, Knowledge Production and the Design of Supporting Institutions

Paper by Kevin J. Boudreau and Karim Lakhani: “This paper discusses several challenges in designing field experiments to better understand how organizational and institutional design shapes innovation outcomes and the production of knowledge. We proceed to describe the field experimental research program carried out by our Crowd Innovation Laboratory at Harvard University to clarify how we have attempted to address these research design challenges. This program has simultaneously solved important practical innovation problems for partner organizations, like NASA and Harvard Medical School, while contributing research advances, particularly in relation to innovation contests and tournaments….(More)

Service Innovation Handbook

Book Description: “Intrigued by terms such as design thinking, service design and experience design? Lucy Kimbell’s Service Innovation Handbook brings together the latest academic research, and leading examples of innovative service organizations and the consultancies they work with, to outline what is involved in designing innovative services.

This book provides a language and practical concepts to help readers start brining these approaches into their own organizations. It’s aimed at people studying or working in contexts trying to tackle complex challenges through service innovation, who might come from backgrounds in design, user research, IT, management, policy or entrepreneurship.

Organized in eight chapters, Service Innovation Handbook includes 15 practical tools to stimulate creative approaches at the early stages of designing innovative services and 16 cases describing how different organizations have designed services.

Examples come from big firms such as Google, Microsoft, Barclays and Capita as well as start-ups, small businesses, social innovation and policy contexts. Examples include Airbnb, the Danish prison and probation service, Kaiser Permanente, churn in mobile phone customers, voter registration, high end car servicing and the Frugal Digital initiative. Each chapter combines academic research from several fields to help readers make sense of why organizations design innovative services, and what is involved in doing this.

The book helps readers understand how designing innovative services is distinct from other kinds of innovation and designing. It also outlines the key activities they can undertake at an early stage of an innovation process that support collective action when ambiguity is high, the impact of changes is significant and investment is low.

Illustrated and designed by Andrew Boag, the book makes complex ideas accessible, making it a practical resource for managers, designers, technologists and entrepreneurs….(More)

Design in policy making

at the Open Policy Making Blog: “….In recent years, notable policy and business experts have been discussing the value of design and ‘design thinking’ as an approach to improving the way Government delivers services in one form or another for (and with) citizens.  Examples include Roger Martin from Rotman Business School, Christian Bason formerly of Mindlab, Marco Steinberg of Sitra, Hilary Cottam of Participle, and many more who have been promoting the use of design as a tool for service transformation.

So what is design and how is it being applied in government?  This is the question that has been posed this week at the Service Design in Government conference in London.  This week is also the launch of some of the Policy Lab tools in the Policy Toolkit.

The Policy Lab have produced a short introduction to design, service design and design thinking.  It serves to explain how we are defining and using the term design in various ways in a policy context as well as provide practical tools and examples of design being used in policy making.

We tend to spot design when it goes wrong: badly laid out forms, websites we can’t navigate, confusing signage, transport links that don’t join together, queues for services that are in demand. Bad design is a time thief.  We can also spot good design when we see it, but how is it achieved?…(More)”

Using Crowds for Evaluation Tasks: Validity by Numbers vs. Validity by Expertise

Paper by Christoph Hienerth and Frederik Riar:Developing and commercializing novel ideas is central to innovation processes. As the outcome of such ideas cannot fully be foreseen, the evaluation of them is crucial. With the rise of the internet and ICT, more and new kinds of evaluations are done by crowds. This raises the question whether individuals in crowds possess necessary capabilities to evaluate and whether their outcomes are valid. As empirical insights are not yet available, this paper deals with the examination of evaluation processes and general evaluation components, the discussion of underlying characteristics and mechanism of these components affecting evaluation outcomes (i.e. evaluation validity). We further investigate differences between firm- and crowd-based evaluation using different cases of applications, and develop a theoretical framework towards evaluation validity, i.e. validity by numbers vs. the validity by expertise. The identified factors that influence the validity of evaluations are: (1) the number of evaluation tasks, (2) complexity, (3) expertise, (4) costs, and (5) time to outcome. For each of these factors, hypotheses are developed based on theoretical arguments. We conclude with implications, proposing a model of evaluation validity.”

City 72 Toolkit

“An effective preparedness platform customizable to your city. City72 is an open-source emergency preparedness platform that promotes community resilience and connection. This Toolkit is designed specifically for emergency preparedness organizations and provides the information and resources to create a customized City72 site for any city or region. It includes: how to create localized content, access to the code to build and install your City72 website, and tips for how to manage and promote your site.”

Digital Government: Turning the Rhetoric into Reality

Miguel Carrasco and Peter Goss at BCG Perspectives: “Getting better—but still plenty of room for improvement: that’s the current assessment by everyday users of their governments’ efforts to deliver online services. The public sector has made good progress, but most countries are not moving nearly as quickly as users would like. Many governments have made bold commitments, and a few countries have determined to go “digital by default.” Most are moving more modestly, often overwhelmed by complexity and slowed by bureaucratic skepticism over online delivery as well as by a lack of digital skills. Developing countries lead in the rate of online usage, but they mostly trail developed nations in user satisfaction.
Many citizens—accustomed to innovation in such sectors as retailing, media, and financial services—wish their governments would get on with it. Of the services that can be accessed online, many only provide information and forms, while users are looking to get help and transact business. People want to do more. Digital interaction is often faster, easier, and more efficient than going to a service center or talking on the phone, but users become frustrated when the services do not perform as expected. They know what good online service providers offer. They have seen a lot of improvement in recent years, and they want their governments to make even better use of digital’s capabilities.
Many governments are already well on the way to improving digital service delivery, but there is often a gap between rhetoric and reality. There is no shortage of government policies and strategies relating to “digital first,” “e-government,” and “gov2.0,” in addition to digital by default. But governments need more than a strategy. “Going digital” requires leadership at the highest levels, investments in skills and human capital, and cultural and behavioral change. Based on BCG’s work with numerous governments and new research into the usage of, and satisfaction with, government digital services in 12 countries, we see five steps that most governments will want to take:

1. Focus on value. Put the priority on services with the biggest gaps between their importance to constituents and constituents’ satisfaction with digital delivery. In most countries, this will mean services related to health, education, social welfare, and immigration.

2. Adopt service design thinking. Governments should walk in users’ shoes. What does someone encounter when he or she goes to a government service website—plain language or bureaucratic legalese? How easy is it for the individual to navigate to the desired information? How many steps does it take to do what he or she came to do? Governments can make services easy to access and use by, for example, requiring users to register once and establish a digital credential, which can be used in the future to access online services across government.

3. Lead users online, keep users online. Invest in seamless end-to-end capabilities. Most government-service sites need to advance from providing information to enabling users to transact their business in its entirety, without having to resort to printing out forms or visiting service centers.

4. Demonstrate visible senior-leadership commitment. Governments can signal—to both their own officials and the public—the importance and the urgency that they place on their digital initiatives by where they assign responsibility for the effort.

5. Build the capabilities and skills to execute. Governments need to develop or acquire the skills and capabilities that will enable them to develop and deliver digital services.

This report examines the state of government digital services through the lens of Internet users surveyed in Australia, Denmark, France, Indonesia, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Russia, Singapore, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the UK, and the U.S. We investigated 37 different government services. (See Exhibit 1.)…”