The Real Problem Is the Problem – Part 1

by Leo Frishberg.

The challenge for most of us, most of the time, is to create outcomes that matter to the people that matter in our lives. Whether that is a professional focus, such as creating “the next big thing,” or a personal endeavor, such as making a holiday event fun, inclusive and familial. In any case, the first step is to identify the problem we’re trying to solve – without defining the problem how can know we’ve solved it, right?

That seems like a stupid thing to have to say. How many maxims have been written on the topic?

“The formulation of the problem is often more essential than its solution, which may be merely a matter of mathematical or experimental skill.” ― Albert Einstein


“…a problem well put is half solved.” ― John Dewey

Yet, all too often, in many situations, we jump to create a solution without spending as much time understanding the problem as we should.

We once again, refer back to the UK Design Council’s “Double Diamond” diagram.

UK Design Council's Double-Diamond Diagram, with left-hand diamond annotated to denote "problem space exploration."

The left diamond is all about understanding the problem: you, or the organization you serve, have identified an opportunity (an “intention”) and are now trying to figure out how to address it. We refer to this area as the “problem space.”

The two diamonds, the right and the left, are each split in half: a divergent half and a convergent half. Before we can say we’ve “explored the problem space,” we have to agree both sides of the left-hand diamond have been explored. In our experience, this isn’t often the case.

For many organizations, the problem space is defined by the intention itself. “Let’s have a party!” but that is not even close to enough attention. The divergent (left) half of the left diamond expects us take a look at the intention and question it, poke at it, give some thought to it. Do we need a party? What kind of party? Who is it for? Why are we having a party?

Presumptive Design encourages, in fact, demands stakeholders ask and answer those questions during the early stages of the process—during the “Creation Session.” By design, Presumptive Design enables organizations to quickly and easily explore their problem space before committing to a decision. In Part 2 of this discussion, we delve into a little more detail about what it means to “explore the problem space.”

Contact us to learn how Presumptive Design shines a light on your problem space, or buy the book!