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Need a new idea? Try this method used by Steve Jobs.

When I get stuck for breaking through with a new idea or original thought one of two things happen.

  1. I get frustrated and worry that my best ideas are behind me and all that is left are stale thoughts.
  2. I go for a walk. Yes, walking is the lifeblood of all of my creative thoughts.

But sometimes neither option is available to me because I am in a workshop, on billable time… Now I am not going to labour on about how workshops can be in some cases a bad place to generate new ideas, instead, I am going to offer a solution.

The solution to bad ideas:

So what would Steve Jobs do in the situation of needing a good idea? Well, I asked myself a question that led me to an interesting answer.

Steve Jobs is admired for good reason as one of the most original thinkers of our time. He was able to bring to market truly revolutionary ideas and concepts and get the most out of people in his team. His secret was a magic formula called — Reframing the problem.

And this is true for most of us. As you may have experienced when we look at a problem from different angles or perspectives we start to see the problem in a different way.

The re-frame brings new insights and different approaches which enables a compelling solution.

Steve Jobs points out that in the re-frame of the problem “The solution itself might not be innovative, but reframing the problem allows people to see old reality with a new set of eyes — and that is an important innovation”.

How you can do it.

To do this successfully you need to jolt the direction of the conversation. Lead it to a new place. This is done by:

Moving off the solution: Humans like certainty which means we quickly try to move to a solution rather than spend time in ambiguity. The task is to embrace the unknown and ask “what if” questions without providing a solution.

Looking at it from a different perspective: Walk in someone else shoes. Apply a different lens. Find the perspective of the user, customer or someone in a different field. How would they approach this? If they saw this problem for the first time what would their reaction be?

Ask questions: Become curious. Ask What if, How might we, could we, and why, to keep looking for different ways to look at the problem from different perspectives.

Bring in a different perspective: Ask an SME for their opinion, and have someone who is removed from the problem talk about how they view challenges in their own life. Look for books, YouTube videos or anywhere you can find a challenge broken down using a different methodology.

Where have we seen this work?

Examples of big reframes can be found etched in history. Instead of leaders coming out and saying we will do X to solve Y, inspirational leaders start by reframing the problem with a different perspective and communicating this vision outwards.

Think of the famous “I Have a Dream” speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It became a defining moment in the American civil rights movement as it put pressure on the Kennedy administration to move the civil rights legislation forward in Congress. Dr. King reframed the up-to-then political battle for civil rights as a dream that could be realised.

When Steve Jobs returned to Apple as the CEO in 1997, the company was reportedly very close to bankruptcy. Jobs strongly believed that innovation was the way to make Apple successful and he did say so in one of his interviews: “The cure for Apple is to innovate its way out of its predicament, not cost-cutting.” This creates a new way of thinking. Much of Job’s reframes led to the innovations such as the iPhone, combining, a camera, keyboard and telephone into one device.

Both state a problem is a way that brings about different thinking. Is the problem with your client that they don’t generate enough revenue which means they need to attract more customers? Or is the actual problem, the need to create deeper value and connection with a customer, which then leads to more engagement and spending?

Try and to refrtame the problem and see where you get to.

Thanks for reading, Luke

Get in touch on Twitter and LinkedIn Access Free and Paid tools and services on GumRoad I help founders and agencies grow their businesses. Previous clients include Google, Meta, and Airbnb.

Design Thinking
Product Management
Product Innovation
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