Before You Find A Solution, You Have To Identify A Problem Very Clearly – (with insight from Ed Catmull of Pixar)


It is so difficult to identify a problem – THE problem – accurately. And until you identify the problem, there is not much chance that you will come up with a solution.

Creativity-Inc.-CoverHere’s a description about this challenge from Creativity, Inc. Overcoming the Unseen Forces that Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull, president of Pixar Animation and Disney Animation:

What makes Pixar special is that we acknowledge we will always have problems, many of them hidden from our view; that we work hard to uncover these problems, even if doing so means making ourselves uncomfortable; and that, when we come across a problem, we marshal all of our energies to solve it. This, more than any elaborate party or turreted workstation, is why I love coming to work in the morning.

You might use a different word, like pain (where is the pain?). But, the challenge is this – before you can come up with solutions, you have to properly identify the problems — you have to properly identify the source of your pain. You know, what actually is going wrong?; why are things not working?; why are so few buying your product or service?; why is there tension, and thus low productivity, on the team?; why is morale low? Problems – actual problems.

You ask questions, you identify problems, and then – and only then – do you look for solutions.

Now, some folks like to quote the old “cliché” that one should not point out a problem without having a solution. But, trust me, there are plenty of problems, within organizations and throughout the larger society, that have not yet yielded the proper, and workable, solutions. If there is a problem, it should be identified, talked about, worked on…

The lack of a solution is not reason to keep quiet about the presence of a problem.

In fact, it is in the pursuit of solutions to clearly identified problems that we find what we later call “great innovations.”

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