How to find counter-intuitive solutions
Creative thinking using psycho-logic
Most people and organisations apply conventional, spreadsheet based, logic to solve problems. Thinking more creatively and embracing human psychological factors makes otherwise overlooked solutions possible. The hugely entertaining book Alchemy by Rory Sutherland shines a light on this largely untapped source of gold.
Rationality has its uses, but you will improve your thinking a great deal if you abandon artificial certainty and learn to think ambiguously about the peculiarities of human psychology. - Rory Sutherland
Don’t design for the average
Models for problem solving often try to characterise and develop a solution for the mythical, average person. This approach often fails to meet the real needs of anyone. Instead, focus on edge cases. It is more likely that something that appeals to an extreme consumer will eventually make its way into the mainstream than starting with a non-existent average.
A case in point relates to the invention of the sandwich. The Earl of Sandwich was an obsessive gambler. He demanded food in a form that would not require him to leave the card table while he ate. The sandwich was the perfect solution.
Apply unconventional logic
In order to engage users we need to surprise and delight them. We should not exclusively use conventional logic in our decision making as our competitors will be able to predict our actions if we do. Instead, we should figure out the logic model of our competitors and find where their use of logic is too narrow. We can then exploit this in order to gain an advantage.
If you're looking to rent a flat in London, you may want to consider looking near railway stations instead of tube lines. Rental prices along tube lines are usually higher because many people have the same idea. Trains also get you into central London just as fast as the tube.
Test counterintuitive things
To be successful it is important to take risks and experiment with new ideas, even if they seem crazy at first. Your competitors are likely to be too cautious to take such risks, giving you an advantage. However, if your risky idea fails, you could lose your job. Partly because of this intolerance to failure, innovation suffers in most large organisations.
Stay hungry. Stay foolish. - Steve Jobs
The iPhone is a successful product because its development was steered by a maverick (with a phobia of buttons). Entrepreneurs are able to experiment with ideas that are off-limits to those in a corporate environment as they don’t need to defend their reasoning.
Inviting total strangers into your home does not seem like the greatest basis for a business. The success of Airbnb suggests otherwise.
Dare to look stupid
One way to solve a problem is to ask a question that no one has asked before. No one asked the question because they risk appearing stupid. We should not hesitate to ask these questions because the only reason they make us sound like an idiot is because there is likely a preconceived, rational answer to that particular question. Scratch below the surface, asking a series of why questions, and you might unearth a great idea.
People in organisations prefer to use a more rigid, structured approach to decision-making, even though this may not lead to the best outcome. It is easier to defend a decision that has been made using a logical model, even if it is not successful, relative to one that has been made using subjective judgement.
Life Lessons from an Ad Man TED Talk by Rory Sutherland
This is Marketing book by Seth Godin
How Innovation Works book by Matt Ridley
How I Generate App Ideas post by Phil Martin
This post suggests four ways to take your thinking off-piste, to discover otherwise inaccessible solutions. Next Sunday’s post will consider what Kevin Kelly, Wired magazine founder, calls his unsolicited advice.
Until next Sunday, try asking a series of why questions to unpick some conventional thinking.