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Weekly 3: Solving problems

Summary: Trust your unconscious. Focus on the benefits your product or service offers. Look for oppor

Idea Journal Weekly 3

July 8 · Issue #42 · View online
We combine 3 ideas to help you think differently and be more creative.

Summary: Trust your unconscious. Focus on the benefits your product or service offers. Look for opportunities – not only problems. (~5 min read)

#1. Let your unconscious do the talking to come up with more solutions.
Creativity expert Michael Michalko writes in his book Thinkertoys that in our era of rapid change, intuitive skills are more important than ever.
To use your intuition to solve a problem, “you have to believe that you already have the answer in your unconscious.”
As Michalko points out, it’s as if you misplaced your watch in your house, and you know that if you keep looking you’ll eventually find it. The knowledge that the watch is there will lead you in your search to find it – this is different from the perspective: Is there a watch in the house?
One technique to solve problems using your intuition is an exercise he calls “brainwriting” – here’s how to use it in 7 simple steps:
  1. Find a quiet and relaxing spot.
  2. Write down the challenge you’re dealing with in 1 or 2 sentences.
  3. Spend a few minutes writing down some questions that are relevant to your challenge (e.g., What is in my best interest? What should I do? What are other alternatives? Which alternative do I prefer?).
  4. For each question, wait for the answer to come to you. It may come as a voice in your mind, and may even seem like you’re communicating with someone else.
  5. Write down all the answers that occur to you – don’t stop to analyze them. 
  6. Continue asking questions and jotting down your unfiltered answers until you can’t come up with any more responses.
  7. Finally, review what you’ve written – the answer to your challenge may be there. 
Michalko gives the example of an owner of a diet center who used brainwriting to come up with solutions to the challenge: In what ways might I develop a new diet product?
Two of her responses were:
  • People drink a lot of water when they diet.
  • People exercise with weights as they diet.
Together, these two responses sparked an idea for a new diet product: “One-pound water-weights that carry liquid in plastic bottles for exercise now and refreshment later.”
Note: We wrote about a similar technique, Claudia Altucher’s 10 ideas per day exercise, in a previous issue.
#2. If you are struggling to define the benefits of your product or service, imagine how your prospective customers must feel.
Author Zig Ziglar writes in his book Ziglar on Selling that the most effective salespeople sell benefits, not products.
When you’re presenting your solution to a prospective customer, you have to answer the question: What’s in it for them?
“Five inches of insulation mean nothing until you translate them into lower heating and air-conditioning costs.”
To help you stay focused on solving your customer’s problems, Ziglar recommends using the below features-functions-benefits template:
  • FeaturesWhat are the different aspects of your product or service?
  • FunctionsWhat does your product or service do?
  • Benefits: What are the advantages that someone gets from using your product or service?
To illustrate the point, Ziglar fills out the template with examples of features, functions, and benefits for the Ziglar on Selling book itself:
  • Over 300 pages
  • Summary pages with key points
  • Stories, one-liners, and analogies
  • Plenty of information available
  • Allows for quick review of the material
  • Keeps your attention and increases understanding
  • Gives you practical and action-oriented examples
  • Convenient and easy to use
  • Improves your effectiveness
#3. Look beyond problems to make more progress.
Technology expert Kevin Kelly writes in his book New Rules for the New Economy that problems are usually situations “where the goal is clear but the execution falls short.” For example: We have a reliability problem or Customers are complaining about our late delivery.
But in an age of accelerating technological change, there’s more to be gained by creating and seizing opportunities than by optimizing existing solutions.
For Kelly, to evaluate our overall progress, instead of focusing on the productivity of a given person, company or innovation, we should measure the number of possibilities they generate.
He recommends 3 strategies for seeking out opportunities:
  1. When there is pressure to increase the productivity of human workers doing a particular job, ask: Why can’t a machine do this?
  2. The key quality for succeeding in an increasingly dynamic technological environment is “a facility for charging into the unknown.” Look for instances where an innovation satisfies 2 or 3 wants at once, and creates new ones in the process.
  3. Maximize the “opportunity cascade” by exploring the question: How many other businesses or technologies can be created based on this one opportunity?
Note: We wrote about another one of Kevin Kelly’s ideas, the value of learning how to learn in an unknown future, in a previous issue.
Quote of the Week
“Problem solvers answer questions. Problem finders discover new questions, and then answer them. It is these new questions, even more than the answers, that distinguish the genius.”
- Author and researcher Eric Weiner in his book The Geography of Genius
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