Are you an innovator? Looking to make ethical, compassionate design that support a diversity of thinking? Hoping to harness emergent technology, enable your algorithms to listen and adjust to people? Need a strong focus? Or a way to bridge between divisions and work with your peers more successfully?
developers • product owners • user experience designers • market strategists • team leaders • entrepreneurs
Your team is probably laden with skills at fixing things, solving problems, and making things work better for the people. Your team can conceive sophisticated hypotheses and ideas born from research about users as well as from group history. But users are people with a relationship to your organization; they fall within the solution space. Undeniably, there is another side to solution-making: seeking to understand the full human situation before jumping to remedy it. The problem space is about understanding people and their larger purpose–and it has nothing to do with your organization or your offerings. It’s not “reserve a campsite” or “plan a vacation” but “make family memories that are as quirky as we are to keep our connections strong.” Internally, it’s not “request a meeting with executives” or “get people excited about my plan for changing the work process” but “enable my team to contribute to product strategy rather than respond to requests.”
The problem space does not come first, before the solutions. It comes at any time. Turn to the problem space when you need broader perspective, new thinking styles, and oblique ways of approaching things. For a short time, maybe once a year, you turn away from your solutions and toward the people you serve to soak up a deep understanding of their inner reasoning and the way their reactions and guiding principles guide their decisions.The mindset of problem space research is about letting go of thinking of solutions for a time.
It’s challenging to get away from thinking about solutions to spend resources in the problem space, but developing this foundational knowledge is key to making changes to the way your organization will support people in a world of machine learning, emergent interactions, and data-guided experiences. Problem space knowledge is evergreen and you add to it over the years, making it broader and deeper as your organization tackles upcoming challenges.
Organizations are starting to realize they’ve not invested enough in understanding the problem space. In addition to budgeting to study their solution’s design and use, now leading-edge organizations are also investing in problem-space research. Not every organization understands the risk of their own assumptions, the misleading correlations they steer by, nor how confidence in data is achieved in the social sciences. But when they do, they realize problem-space research is necessary. And they educate themselves about when it’s needed and when it’s not.