When we are trying to generate ideas in order to solve a problem, whether through anticonventional thinking, brainstorming or another method, we typically distance ourself slightly from the problem. We look for ideas on how to improve our company’s product, how to deliver better customer service, how to cut costs or alternative business models. In all of these cases, we separate ourselves from the problem and, by so doing, we potentially limit our understanding of the problem. Why not take a different approach and become the problem?

This is a fantastic way to see a problem (or a goal) from a new perspective gain deep insight and devise more innovative solutions. Let us look at a few examples of how becoming the problem might work.

Become the problem: The product

For instance, if you are looking for ideas on how to improve your your company’s smart phone, become that phone! Imagine yourself being used to make telephone calls, find information, browse the web and so on. How do you feel about what you do? How do you feel about your owner? Why? If those feelings are negative, how might you make them positive? What would you like to be able to do for your owner? What would make you a happier telephone?

In a group of people, you can all become telephones. Get up. Move around. How do you interact with each other? How do you feel about it? How could it be better? In what new ways would you like to be able to interact.

Alternatively, you can become your customers using your telephone in various scenarios. How do you feel about the telephone? How does the telephone meet your wants and needs? What do you want to do with it? What else, unrelated to telephones, do you want to do now?

Better still, become the customer that does not want to buy your telephone. Why do you not want to buy it? What drives these feelings? What do you want to buy? Why?

Become the problem: Cost cutting

With a group of people, each of you become an aspect of your operations. In manufacturing, one person can be a product. One person can be a conveyor belt, one person can become a machine tool that assembles the product. One person can become the machine tool that packages the product and so on. Get up. Interact with each other. Feel your part of the production process. How do you feel about your role? Why? How could you feel better? How do you interact with other elements of the production line? How do you feel about each of them? Why? What are the problems? What are the weaknesses?

Become the problem: Improve sales performance

Divide yourself into teams of about four people per team. On each team, two are customers and two are sales people. Act out the sales process. In particular, act out scenarios you have experienced where sales were not made. As the customer, how do you feel about the situation? Why did you not wish to buy the product? How do you feel about the product? If you have negative feelings, why? How do you feel about the sales people? What have they done that discouraged you from buying from them.

Now, take it one step further. Two people are your product and two people are the customer’s need. Move around. Interact. How do you feel about each other? Why? How easy is it to interact? What prevents or might prevent interaction? Does the customer’s problem really exist – or is it a figment of your company’s imagination?

Facilitating it

This kind of problem solving can be fun and insightful. Because you become the problem, or at least part of it, you see the problem from a very different perspective. However, it is far more complex to facilitate than ordinary anticonventional thinking or brainstorming. People need to be able to relax and put themselves in the frame of what they are becoming. For groups, in addition to a facilitator expert in running idea generation/problem solving activities, you should have someone able to facilitate the action of becoming the problem. A dance or acting instructor is ideal.

By Jeffrey Baumgartner

About the author

Jeffrey Baumgartner is the author of the book, The Way of the Innovation Master; the author/editor of Report 103, a popular newsletter on creativity and innovation in business. He is currently developing and running workshops around the world on Anticonventional Thinking, a new approach to achieving goals through creativity.