Looking for solutions or ideas? A step by step approach

Ideas search


The other day I was talking to a friend who is currently trying to solve a major technical problem of a product. From what he mentioned this problem had already been challenging others for some years. He did not know where to start due to the complexity of the task. I am no engineer but at my work I have had to solve complex problems too, so I mentioned my approach to him.

Until today I had never thought about the process I followed since it always appeared to me as an exercise of common sense and keeping an open mind.

An Open Mind

Whatever you try to solve, start out with an open mind. I mean by this to start out with the following assumptions:

  • Everything can be improved but first it must be understood
  • You are not the first one who has had this problem
  • There may already be a different approach that can work
  • You do not know everything
  • Sometimes a good solution is better than a perfect solution
  • There is no such thing as a dumb question

By keeping an open mind and not taking things for granted you are capable of three things:

  • Maintaining perspective
  • Seeking understanding before implementing any changes
  • Going about solving the problem with a critical mindset

Common Sense or Just a Methodical Approach

The approach that has served me well can be described step by step as:

  1. Do your homework
  2. Define your desired objectives
  3. There may be already a solution out there
  4. Look at people & habits
  5. Assess the ideas realistically
  6. Implement change through people

Do Your Homework

By that I mean, gather all the necessary current information from all the parties involved. When speaking to each party have them explain their role, their available resources, etc.

Ideas through teamwork
Ideas through teamwork

The parties I would involve for example when trying to develop a new product or improve a supply chain are all those which take part directly or indirectly in the use or its creation or process. In the case of the product it would be customers, retailers, marketing, designers, engineers, manufacturing, suppliers, etc. As for the supply  chain, customers, transport companies, dispatch agents, suppliers, etc.

Define Your Objectives

Once you know the current situation define your desired objectives given the existing constraints and the parties involved.

There May Be Already a Solution Out There

Once you know what you want to achieve and what the full picture do some additional research online to see whether there is someone already working on what you are looking for, or who does it differently with better results.

Look at People & Habits

Focus on people and their habits. Look for each parties input making them part of the quest, ask for suggestions, ask whether they always do it the same way, ask whether there is any other who does it differently, if so how, etc. Ask yourself which habits are contributing to your goal and which are not? Which could be changed to suit you and how?

Assess Ideas realistically

Look for synergies and establish the realistically attainable objectives and the steps to be taken for implementation. Keep in mind when doing this that at times the perfect option is not feasible due to the necessary investments in time and other resources.

Implement Change Through People

Change through people
Change through people

If you do not involve people no matter how good the ideas you will not get anywhere. You have to involve people at every step to actively contribute and take ownership especially at the implementation stage.

No approach is perfect

I have applied this approach to redefine processes within companies to improve their internal operations with good results. No company is the same though but if you take one thing away from this article let it be this:

People are key, you need their input to produce good output, both when looking for a solution and implementing it.

Let me know what you thought. I do not consider my approach perfect so please share your thoughts with me. What approach do you have when looking for ideas or solutions? Which challenges have you solved this way?

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