Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Borrowing Borrowing Brilliance [Matt Schlegel]

In my previous blogs I have described a problem-solving process. By no means am I the first to describe a problem-solving process; there are many, many examples. In fact, I have recently come across David Murray’s book, Borrowing Brilliance, in which he describes a 6-step process. What is the same about Murray’s process and the one I have described in previous blogs? What is different? Why?

Murray provokes his readers by asserting that creativity is, in large part, simply borrowing ideas from others. He says that if you and your team allow yourselves to do this, you will enjoy much better solutions arrived at more quickly. Murray describes the first steps in this process by a series of four meetings:

So here’s how to incorporate the creative thinking process into the daily practices of your organization. Separate the concept development process into four different meetings, each with a different goal and different set of rules. These are:
1) a problem-definition meeting;
2) a borrowing-ideas meeting;
3) a new-idea meeting;
4) the judgment of these ideas at a separate time.

Holy smokes, these are exactly the same first four steps in the process that I have been describing! Coincidence? I hardly think so. If there truly is a fundamental method in the way that humans solve problems, and that method is somehow connected to the way the human brain works, then we would expect to see similarities in any problem-solving process described by a human. And, I think we do.

Here are the steps that Murray uses to describe his entire process:

The Six Steps to Business Innovation
Step 1: Defining ➜ Define the problem you’re trying to solve.
Step 2: Borrowing ➜ Borrow ideas from places with a similar problem.
Step 3: Combining ➜ Connect and combine these borrowed ideas.
Step 4: Incubating ➜ Allow the combinations to incubate into a solution.
Step 5 Judging ➜ Identify the strength and weakness of the solution.
Step 6: Enhancing ➜ Eliminate the weak points while enhancing the strong ones.

While Murray’s process gets off to a great start, it seems to get stuck in the latter steps. Incubating, Judging and Enhancing all seem very much part of the analysis process. Where is the part that the team makes a decision about the solution? Where is the part where the team sells that decision to management? Where is the part where solution is implemented and delivered? Murray’s process seems like a great methodology for an R&D department that is not required to deliver a final result but only well-formed ideas. The great clarity of vision with which Murray describes the first part of the process and the lack of clarity in the delivery part tells me much about Murray and what is important to him. It also provides me with clues about the part of the problem-solving process in which Murray excels – we all like to play to our strengths.

Every problem-solving process has its strengths and weaknesses (including the one that I have described.) In many cases, it is simply because the process is trying to solve only a very specific problem and not a general problem. In many cases, those strengths and weaknesses are attributable to the world view of the author. I love to analyze different problem-solving methods as I attempt to discover fundamental truths about human problem solving. Maybe you can help me? What is your favorite problem-solving method? The Scientific Method? A Bug Resolution Process? The Six-Sigma Method? Please share your methodology here and let’s discuss the similarities and differences between the different methods.

Matt Schlegel has been developing his problem-solving methodology over the past decade. He continues to use the process to help companies solve big challenges, and folds those experiences into the refinement of the process