Attributes of an Effective Problem Statement

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In Life Design, while the exact structure and focus of a problem statement can vary, there are a few things to keep in mind when you are trying to define the problem. I’ve already covered the 5 common pitfalls to avoid, so now I want to address what makes for an effective problem statement.

An effective problem statement is one that is:

  1. Rooted in empathy. Designers call this being “human centered.” Hopefully you not skipped over the empathy step, having taking plenty of time to assess your current situation and feelings; reflected upon your strengths, values, and goals; have come up with a Workview and a Lifeview; and have designed a compass to guide you in the direction of your own personal True North. Your problem statement should reflect these insights.
  2. Generative of new ideas and possibilities. Ideally, your problem statement should allow for several minutes of ideation that might produce a range of solutions, from obvious answers to “wild” or “unworkable” ideas. If you find yourself running out of ideas after only a minute or two, return to your problem statement and try to define the problem more broadly.
  3. Focused on the issue at hand. While you don’t want a problem statement so narrow that it doesn’t allow for sufficient ideation, you also don’t want to collect a whole bunch of ideas that aren’t related to the problem you are trying to solve.
  4. Self-explanatory. Since effective ideation relies on the principle of “radical collaboration” you will want to share your problem statement with others to invite them to contribute their own ideas and solutions. If your collaborators don’t understand your problem statement without you providing additional explanation, you will need to go back and rewrite it so that it is self-explanatory.

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