2 min read

How to Solve a Problem

Seth Godin's problem-solving approach involves four steps: Step 0: Problem identification, Step 1: Brainstorming, Step 2: Development, Step 3: Specification, and Step 4: Launch. Note that it's a one-way process: once a step is completed, there's no going back.
How to Solve a Problem
Photo by Olav Ahrens Røtne / Unsplash

Seth Godin’s problem-solving process:

Everything we develop is going to go through four steps. The thing is, it’s a one way process. After we finish a step, we don’t go backwards.Step 0: Problem Step 1: Brainstorm Step 2: Develop Step 3: Spec Step 4: LaunchStep 0 doesn’t have a number because it exists before the process starts. This is my description of the problem we’re trying to solve. This step is often overlooked and more often done wrong. We won’t start a process until we can agree that step 0 is worthwhile and adequately described.The first step is the most difficult, but not because we’re not creative. It’s difficult because it requires a great deal of discipline. In the first step, we brainstorm approaches, solutions, words, concepts and ideas. And you’re not allowed to hate any ideas. You’re not allowed to say “yes, but”. You’re not allowed to criticize an idea, even subtly. The antidote for bad ideas is more ideas. Write them down.Don’t argue for them and don’t argue against them. Just an idea and enough explanatory material to make it clear. Next!Step 2 is where we get to be negative. Not about people, but about ideas. We get to look at our resources and our choices and our priorities and narrow down the field. There are plenty of ways to do this and we’ll work on them.Step 3 is where every single hard decision gets made. Nothing is saved for ‘later’. Step 3 is a screen for screen, contact for contact, word for word, assignment by assignment description of what’s going to happen and who’s going to do it.And Step 4 is then easy, except for most organizations who don’t do the other steps, and then it’s hard. Step 4 is following the plan.When the plan doesn’t work (which happens sometimes) we go back to step 0, not to step 3.

The best thing about this is how much it encourages a free flow of ideas. As soon as I read that you couldn’t criticize until Step 2, I suddenly became aware of how many times I’ve mentally shut down while listening to someone’s idea. For instance, my friends and I are making a movie for a film festival, and our entry has to be at a PG-13 rating or lower. One of my friends mentioned a funny idea that incorporated drugs into the plot, and I mentally gave up on the idea instead of hearing it out and finding a way to tweak it later on.

It’s hard to create. When you think you have a good idea, all you tend to see is its potential. Cynicism comes naturally to those hearing your idea because they are looking for its flaws. If you can eliminate criticism in the idea-development stage, your team can focus more on improving ideas, not just making them fail-proof.