5 different ways to look at a problem

posted in: Creative Solutions | 0

To find innovation solutions to improve conservation efforts for environment and wildlife, you could hold some creative sessions. You will come together with a group of people and you’ll start brainstorming. Maybe you’ll even hire a creative facilitator to make you think way out-of-the-box, so you get the most insane and absurd ideas, from which you can distill practical useful ideas.

What you could also do, is finding ways to look at a problem differently. If you change your perspective on a problem, then solutions will appear, which wouldn’t have appeared before. How you define and formulate a problem, determines how you will think and in which way the creative process will go. It keeps you from staring blindly at one vision of the problem.

Different ways to look at a problem, like with human wildlife conflicts Another advantage is that you also take in different perspectives at the start of your search for solutions. People look at problems differently, because they have a fundamentally different view on what is a problem and what isn’t.

An example of a problem is elephants in Kenya eating the crop of farmers. Farmers and their families who live off that crop become frustrated. They will guard their farmland at night to scare the elephants away, but that isn’t really an  effective solution. As a result, they shoot this threatened species – which isn’t really a solution either. This problem evidently has conflicting interests and needs an innovative solution.

The standard way of formulating the problem is:

How can we prevent the elephants from eating the farmer’s crops? 

Here are 5 different ways to look at a problem and reformulate them:

Different ways to look at a problem: formulate it in other words1. Reformulate the problem in other words
Make sure that words don’t lose their meaning.

How can we prevent big wildlife from going to people’s foods?

By formulating with just different words, you trigger new ideas and insights and you stimulate thinking of other solutions. In the above example, you won’t only think of elephants, but also of other big wildlife. You also make a difference in the food of people and the food of animals. It seems like a minor detail, but the smallest details can already trigger other ideas.

Different ways to look at a problem: Turn the problem on it's head2. Turn the problem upside down
Reformulate the problem in the opposite direction.

How can we make sure that the elephants will eat the crops?

Considering the diametric opposite view of the problem will make the hidden assumptions explicit and will show what could cause the problem.
If you would answer the above question, you will get a better insight in what is so attractive for the elephants about the crop. If you know that, you can think of ways you can seduce elephants to go to their most attractive foods, instead of thinking of ways to chase the elephants away.

Different ways to look at a problem: Take a broader perspective3. Widen your focus
Put the problem in a broader perspective
Is it really a problem that the elephants are coming? Or are the farmers the ones that are the obstacle?

How can we make the crops unreachable for elephants?

Different ways to look at a problem: Make the problem your strength4. See the problem as an advantage
Use a problem in a positive way and see it as a possibility. Maybe the elephants could stomp on something, which is useful for the farmland?

How can we “use” elephants in a positive way?

Different ways to look at a problem: Ask why it's a problem5. Ask why
Ask why on the first question and with that answer you will create a new question. Then you ask why again and make a new question out of that answer. Repeat this process a couple of times, until you get to the essence of the problem.

How can we prevent the elephants from eating the farmer’s crops?

The farmers and their families live from the crops by selling and consuming it.

How can we make sure that farmers and their families can keep living off selling and consumption of the crop?

Because farmers and their families don’t have another choice than selling and consuming their own crop.

How can we help farmers and their families have another choice than selling and consuming their own crop?

If you reformulate a problem in the way described above, then you go to the essence of the problem. It reveals different perspectives that we otherwise wouldn’t have seen. In the example you see that’s it’s not so much about the elephants, but about farmers who have created their life around selling and consuming their own crop.

If you reformulate a problem, play with the techniques mentioned above. Write the questions down. It doesn’t matter of it’s not exactly right or that the questions seem similar. It’s about changing your perspective, even when it’s only a little bit.

And really play: if you are searching for innovative solutions, you also have to be able to be not serious for a while (but do make sure that everybody knows this, in case you might disrespect people’s values). You can think and say anything about a problem. Don’t judge about the formulation. That’s the fun part about brainstorming: for a while, there are no ethics, and no right or wrong.


P.S. Luckily people found a creative solution for the farmers and elephants in Kenya. Researchers discovered that elephants are afraid of bees. By hanging up hives around the farmland, elephants will stay away, and the farmers have an extra income: selling honey! Read more about this innovative solution here.


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