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  • Rowan Norrie

Solve the Right Problem

Innovation is as much about problem solving as developing a solution. As Einstein once said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.”

Problems are difficult to articulate; it’s much easier to jump in and come up with a solution.

“My golf scores are slipping; I need to get myself a coach.”

“The attendance at the company training courses is very poor; we need to incentivise more.”

“My weight is going up; I need to stop eating chocolate.”

Although it is easier to come up with courses of action, this doesn’t necessarily lead to success. We may, in fact be solving the wrong problem.

So, what’s the best approach?

The answer is Design Thinking to frame the problem in the customer’s terms, develop a concept and validate. This is a five-step process: 1) Empathise, 2) Define Problem 3) Ideate, 3) Prototype and 5) Test.


Empathise is about gaining a deep understanding of your users, their needs, and the problems that they are currently experiencing. A curious mindset, observations and asking questions will help develop a better appreciation of the situation from the customers’ perspective.

The Problem Definition stage is critical for the success of the project. Problem statements are an easy and effective way to capture user needs and communicate understanding to your team.

Problem statements have three parts – 1) a user, 2) a need and 3) a goal.

For example:

Thomas, a non-tech savvy man of 57, needs a way to track his vital health signs because he wants to have better control of his health.


Jennifer, a busy mother of two toddlers, wants to find out what is available locally for young mothers, because she is new to the area and would like to get out and be more social.


James, owner of a small business, would like to find a way to promote her business to new customers, because she would like to grow her business.


Dorothy, a clinician in a large regional hospital, would like a faster way to receive diagnostic test results, because waiting for results often delays patient treatment.


Creating problem statements allows you to focus on the customer, rather than solution. It helps align the team to the same goal. And at the same time leaves room for creativity during the Ideate stage.

And it lays the path to solving the right problem.

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