Writing down the problem was a problem-solving technique I discussed in a previous post. Attacking definitions is another that complements this one. For instance, consider the problem: Making a better window.
We now attack what we mean by “making,” “better,” and “window.” For example, by making do we mean create, produce, deliver or service? By better do we mean cost, maintenance or longevity? By window, do we mean a current offering or a new one? Through this attacking, we begin to attack our definition of the problem, stimulating our thinking and opening windows to potential solutions.
We can visualize what’s happening with a castle. Its walls define what comprises it while at the same time what it doesn’t. However, if we need to repair a building inside the castle, the materials might not rest within the castle walls but outside them which the walls don’t allow us to see. Definitions work the same way: they define what a word comprises and doesn’t comprise. While they help to focus our attention by erecting walls to keep out confusion and vagueness, they also hinder our ability to see solutions resting beyond their walls.
Thus, the solution to our window problem might not be a window with enhanced qualities. It might be one easier to install and service, or one quicker to produce or less costly.
We can also apply an intuitive approach by asking, “Does the window need to be objectively better or just perceptually better?” If so, the solution might be as superficial as having a better advertising campaign to point out its advantages. All of these might solve the problem depending upon how we define the words. In short, it might be as simple as defining the problem better.