Thursday, 21 August 2008

Solving Problems

One of the things that everyone, everywhere has to do on a regular basis is solve problems. I thought it would be worth jotting down a few of the different ways you can go about solving problems from what I have learnt from my agency days (but I think that this applies to anyone in business - creative or otherwise).

So the first part of solving any problem is to question. The time honoured Who? What? Why? When? How? Is a great place to start. In advertising this could be are we talking to the right people? What are we trying to achieve? Why do we want to do this? When do we want to do this? How are we going to achieve it?

Each one of these questions can trigger a whole load of new questions that help to understand what it is your trying to achieve and the best way to achieve it.

Which takes us nicely on to arguably the most important part of solving any problem, working out what the problem or objective actually is. Often the problem you’re given isn’t the real problem.

The more specific the problem the better. It’s much easier to work out the answer to a problem when it’s absolutely clear in your mind. So rather than trying to solve “increase brand affinity by 10%” how about “help people to fall in love with the brand again”?

It’s often easier to solve a problem if you can break it down into more manageable chunks. For example, Sainsbury’s famously reframed their problem from “add £4 billion of sales annually” to a far more comprehensable “Increase the average basket size by £3.32″.

Now you know what your problem is you need to read as much as you can on the subject. James Webb Young, one of the greatest advertising men of all time, had a specific technique for generating ideas was:

1. Gather the raw materials - the immediate problem & your general knowledge
2. Work these over in your mind (To this I’d add: Write your first thoughts down, no matter how bad they might be. Keep on writing more stuff. Give it time. Write more stuff down.)
3. Do something else/sleep on it
4. Have the idea
5. Shape the idea to make it useful and practical.

He also believed that “ideas are new combinations”. So when trying to create that little bit of inspiration try combining two unexpected elements e.g. big but personal (HSBC The World’s Local Bank) or small but tough (VW Polo).

Another technique is to think of great ideas in other sectors and categories and apply them to your problem. So if there’s an idea that always works in fashion retailing you might want to think about whether it’ll work in publishing.

Once you’ve got your solution, remember to keep the explanation as simple as possible so that anyone can understand it and pass it on.

No comments: