Creative Problem-Solving in the Digital Age

Knowledge

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At Yoyo, we work with our clients to solve their real-world problems. Sometimes, when the answer to a problem isn’t immediately obvious, it takes some creative thinking to suggest a new way of tackling the problem or simply trying something different for the first time.

There is a myth that creative problem solving is best done by creative types who spend all day thinking about creative things and don’t care about operational realities or commercial constraints. As an agency it’s not uncommon to be asked by clients to “push the boundaries” or consider the “art of the possible”, only to be told you’ve gone too far and need to be reined in. Almost predetermined to fail, not because the idea was wrong but because the client hasn’t gone on the journey with you and doesn’t see the value.

In fact, everyone can be a creative thinker. The key is to have a systematic approach to problem-solving that facilitates idea generation and, importantly, validation. This is even more important in the digital age where reach, engagement, impact, value and ROI is becoming more and more inherently measurable.

At Yoyo, we implement a unique creative problem-solving process with our clients, where we deliver a tried and tested approach to enabling creative thinking from the outset and everyone involved goes on the same journey together, client and agency alike.

The key steps in our process are:

  1. Problem statement
  2. Research & insight
  3. Focused brief & KPI definition
  4. Creative brainstorming (divergence)
  5. Validation, prototyping & testing (convergence)
  6. Development & rollout
  7. Measure, analyse & learn

Problem Statement

We start with defining a top-level problem or issue that needs to be addressed. It should be clear enough to understand by everyone involved and specific enough to keep the whole team on track during the whole process to make sure the main objectives are being met.

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Research and Insight

We conduct desk-based research around how the issue/problem has come about, previous attempts at trying to address it and any subsequent learnings already gleaned from those past efforts. We look at sector and non-sector specific examples of how others have addressed or avoided the same issue and any industry best practice on the matter.

Also, depending on the nature of the problem at hand, understanding how it fits into the wider strategies of the organisation and who it’s affecting. For example, internal staff, customers, key stakeholders, etc. Understanding what research and insights have already be gleaned from talking to the appropriate key audience groups and if more is needed to garner further feedback to drive the process forward in a meaningful way.

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Focused brief & KPI definition

Next, we take the research and insight gathered in the previous step and distil the problem statement into a detailed, concise brief for the project team to act upon and validate against in terms of a KPI framework from which success or failure will be judged.

Creative brainstorming (divergence)

We then run a structured brainstorming session, or sessions, exploring possible ways to tackle the brief, without being overly concerned with feasibility or capability at this stage.

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Validation, prototyping & testing (convergence)

Next, we sanity check the ideas and compile a list of feasible solutions, based on strategic alignment with the brief and the operational realities and constraints associated with implementing them.

Part of this process might involve taking the top 2 or 3 ideas, if feasible, and scoring them against some set attributes to see which one best fits the brief. This takes the process from qualitative ideas generation and moves us into a more quantitative approach based on measurable criteria. At Yoyo, we have an exercise based on Top Trumps which does exactly that. It’s important to note that scoring criteria should map against your KPI framework as much as possible, to keep everyone focused on the objectives of the brief.

Another advantage of this type of activity is that it can highlight the veritable strengths and weaknesses of each idea and can possibly lead to a hybrid solution that takes the best of elements of them all.

Once the results are in, you have one idea to take forward and develop further by conducting a series of rapid prototyping. Prototyping is a great way to validate the technical feasibility of the solution and garner further feedback quickly from the key project stakeholders, before committing to a more lengthy phase of development.

Development & rollout

Prototyping over, the fully fleshed out concept can be developed to completion, either in its entirety or in phases, ready to be rolled out. Roll out can be in the form of a soft launch to a subset of your audience to gain further feedback prior to go-live, or a full-blown release to your entire audience. A soft launch is usually wise in order to iron out any initial teething issues and to gather some critical early performance measurements.

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Measure, analyse & learn

Once live, or in the domain of your users at least, you want to be gathering data around the performance of your solution. Ultimately, you want to measure success against your KPI framework and that’s likely to involve data of some description.

The gathering of the data itself should be ongoing but analysis and learnings taken from it should be scientific enough to be meaningful. That is, action should be taken only when you have enough data to act upon, rather than take knee-jerk reactions to either favourable or unfavourable data signals - especially initially when you might be working from a small misleading set of data.

Once you do have enough statistically significant data to work from and some clear indication of areas of improvement, make small incremental changes to your solution and wait to see the impact of those, rather than change ten things in one go. Otherwise, it’s harder to ascertain which change has worked and which one hasn’t.

Rinse and repeat.

Conclusion

Creative problem solving, as a widely recognised process, is not new and has been around since the 1940s. In the digital age, it is too often seen as being firmly in the domain of the digital experts and creatives but it needn’t be solely.

Furthermore, there are many variations on the theme from strict CPS to Design Thinking to brown bagging sessions and everything in between.

I’d love to hear your challenges or thoughts around this so feel free to contact me directly or DM me on Linkedin.