Uber, Dyson and a new front door.

What do these three things have in common? They are solutions to “wicked problems”*, and the more straightforward the solution, the better.

In the last post I highlighted the need to do your research – theoretical, document, artefact and field research. From these enquiries, the big questions and the big problems that require your attention should emerge.

The mythology that surrounds the origin of Uber is well documented but suffice to say, Uber solves the problem most of us have experienced with a solution that utilises a free resource in plentiful supply – other peoples’ cars. The story goes that a group of tech-entrepreneurs were tossing around start-up ideas and among the many schemes was the notion for an on-demand car-service app. Except for one person, the idea did not particularly stand out. That one person did pursue the idea and eventually Uber was born.

Dyson is famous for rethinking the familiar – be it the wheel barrow, the vacuum cleaner, the personal fan or more recently, the hand-held hairdryer. Dyson starts with the original purpose of these common household items and seems to pretend the item has never been invented or its look never designed – in James Dyson’s words, “Our motto remains fairly simple, we constantly question the things that exist and we think about how we could improve them…. We are only seeking to improve the common objects that surround us …” (2014 – http://www.plastics-themag.com). The new Supersonic Hairdryer is amazing, both in terms of what it promises to deliver but also in its daring to rethink what we presume the solution should look like. The brief was to produce a hand-held dryer that was more compact, more powerful, more efficient than any other on the market. Dyson spent four years in a special lab producing 600 prototypes of an object that we though had been designed as much as it could have been. No longer is the dryer shaped like an oversized pistol but instead it looks more like a bubble-blowing machine.

Now, to the door. The problem I was trying to solve was how to create a more positive and welcoming experience for our students and parents and visitors. The office was small, cramped and with only one entrance. The solution was simple. We created a community reception area that was more effective and a better experience for users. This was achieved with the installation of an additional entrance door, the removal of a wall and the sacrifice of one private office. Within a few days we had created two reception areas, one for staff and one for our community. Most schools and organisations with more contemporary facilities have these double receptions but for those without, I would encourage you to think about creating these two distinct zones. It demonstrates thoughtful respect for the needs of two different groups of people and allows the opportunity for you to create two different approaches to the services that support them.

Finally, selling the solution is key. Not only do you need to present the advantages of the new idea but you also need to be mindful that your solution may be addressing a problem that others have not yet articulated. If you feel you have solved a problem, then present your solution as a positive and timely innovation that will build on the benefits enjoyed by the previous situation. For those who shared your concerns, they will be relieved to see the “wicked” problem solved.

*A wicked problem is a problem that is difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements that are often difficult to recognize. The use of the term “wicked” here has come to denote resistance to resolution, rather than evil.