What Problem Do You Want to Solve?


Problem: Our ideas aren’t in space yet. Solution! Make model rockets.

I just saw a simple but fantastic post on someone’s facebook feed: Don’t ask a student what they want to be when they grow up. Ask them what problem they want to solve.

What I like about this is that it illustrates the importance of asking the right questions. We cheat when we interact with each other. We ask simplified questions, without stopping to wonder what we are REALLY hoping to hear. When it comes to kids, we just want to be entertained when they tell us they want to be a fireman. It’s something we can reminisce about when they’re an adult. (My answer when I lived in the middle of the prairies as a kid, was marine biologist. I probably hadn’t properly considered the whole thing. But it sounded cool).

If we actually wanted to understand WHY we got the response, we could have started off with a more challenging question. We need to ask questions of each other to try to get to the root. Then we can start to apply solutions to it.

So, instead let’s ask, “What problem would you like to solve?” Fires. Cats stuck in trees. People who are injured. Retiring with a pension. With those answers, we’d all see “fireman” without just leaping to that point… and we’d get insight into the kid’s mind.

What relevance does this have to the business of design?

Let’s apply this to mentoring and staff development. For staff reviews, most firms have some kind of standard form that might include asking an employee to establish goals. But, prior to that question we’ve just drilled them on their utilization, their CAD skills and all of the other things that we need(?) to place focus on within assessments. By the time we reach discussing goals, we’ve already predisposed them to respond with goals that mimic the content of the review. Of course their goals relate to training, certification etc…

So… how about we start the discussion with: What problems would you like to solve?

  • Our CAD library is disorganized.
  • I’m concerned with the homeless problem.
  • Our city isn’t implementing Complete Streets very well.
  • My knowledge of permaculture is lacking.
  • I’m hungry.

These shake up the conversation, and give us the chance to really empower our staff within areas where they have passion. That’s our goal right? But have you tried asking people what their passion is? It seriously doesn’t work very well. Passion! is so loaded and huge that it almost feels egotistical to answer. BUT… ask them what they’d like to solve? It makes it easier and actually points to where their interests lie.

This is a new brilliant flash of the obvious for me. Such an amazing change to the way we get information from our staff, our students and the public in general.

What problems would YOU like to solve?

Then we have a great discussion.