This post on design-thinking originally appeared in my newsletter. For more on the topic, I recommend the book The Achievement Habit: Stop Wishing, Start Doing, and Take Command of Your Life by Bernard Roth.

I have a confession to make. Even though I write content for other people’s websites for a living, writing for my own site felt like an impossible task.

For starters, I knew I’d have to put my name on it.

I also knew that over 3 million blog posts get published each day, and it kind of feels like half of them are about marketing. What could I possibly write that would be valuable to anyone?

I really got stuck. I drank some wine. I applied Design-Thinking to my problem.

And I got unstuck.

When we’re taught problem-solving strategies in school (at least in California public school), we’re trained in vertical thinking. That’s the logical, top to bottom, step-by-step way of working through a problem. It’s great for linear processes like driving, baking, algebra, etc. But not always great for the bigger decisions in life.

Design-thinking embraces lateral thinking, where instead of working through a problem from top to bottom, you attack it sideways!

3 Ways to Use Design-Thinking to Solve Problems

design-thinking reject the obvious

1. Completely get rid of the problem. Try rejecting the obvious assumptions that make up your problem first. Simply throw them out of your thought process. For example, I had to ask myself: what if the internet didn’t exist? How would I communicate and which ideas would I want to share? Who could I help?

Doing this allows you to identify the real questions you should be asking, instead of worrying about the smaller stuff. It helps you get to the true heart of the problem you’re solving, so you can defeat it!

design-thinking ideate

2. Ideate like a hurricane. You think you’ve tried brainstorming before? This is brainstorming on a whole new level. In this exercise, you are not allowed to reject ideas. You have to write them all down. I sat down with my whiteboard and a stack of multi-colored post-its and tried this in two steps:

First, I created a mind map on my whiteboard. I wrote the problem down in the form of a question (“What should my website be about?”) and circled it, then I started branching off the main question with more leading questions, and branching off of them with more specific questions, etc. This helped me figure out the scope of my problem, and uncover the smaller questions I needed to answer first to in order to solve the bigger one in the middle. I came up with three big questions and four little questions.

Second, I wrote a lot of post-it notes. One question at a time, I put 2-5 minutes on the clock and wrote down as many answers as I could think of on brightly colored post-it notes. Then I spread them all out in front of me. Some answers were repetitive; some were kind of dumb all by themselves, but the important thing was that there were a lot of them, and frankly with all those colors, they were downright pretty.

design-thinking smash ideas together

3. Smash ideas together! Even if they don’t make a lot of sense, try grouping your post-its together in different ways and asking how they could work together. Or, if you didn’t do the post-it exercise, think up two random or opposing elements that make up your problem and connect them. It’s a surefire way to make new discoveries that will help you solve your problem in a creative way.

Now you’ve got another way to solve problems! If there’s something that’s been stumping you, give these exercises a try. I bet you’ll like what you find out!

Did you like this post? Check out more recommended books on productivity on my Resources page.

Post-it photo credit: @boetter via Visual hunt / CC BY
minimum viable product

I spent a lot of time working in and with startups in 2015. As it happens when you surround yourself with people who are constantly making things and coming up with ideas, I started to wonder what I could do to solve some problems and help people all on my own. Once I had an idea, I needed something to test it with: a minimum viable product.

What’s a Minimum Viable Product?

Even within the startup world, the term “minimum viable product” carries different meanings. It can refer to a prototype, an experiment or a feedback loop, but my favorite definition comes from LeanStack:

“A Minimum Viable Product is the smallest thing you can build that delivers customer value.”

My goal is to be able to reach more people and teach practical advice for marketing their ideas, because often the best solutions go unnoticed. When I started planning my website, I thought about creating interactive courses, learning-focused games and a large networking hub. Naturally, my site sat in cyberspace with a slick “coming soon” page for months while I waited for the time and resources to do all of these things.

My website idea certainly wasn’t viable for me to do all by myself, and it definitely wasn’t the “minimum.” It’s no surprise to me that I never started work on it beyond the planning phases… until I let all those bells and whistles go.

Why Create a Minimum Viable Product?

The purpose of an MVP is to provide value for and learn from your audience. Before you pour all of your time and resources into an idea, it’s smart to try it out in the real world on a small scale. If there’s something fundamentally wrong with your idea that you didn’t realize, you can correct a major mistake before pouring a lot of time and money into it.

An MVP is also an experiment. You have to go into the process with a hypothesis, such as “I think my idea will help people who need X to accomplish Y.” Then you test that hypothesis, measure it and decide what changes need to be made or features need to be added and why. You may start with one idea and leave with another, but you won’t figure out which changes need to be made until you send your MVP into the wild.

In short, you create an MVP to test whether or not your product or idea is as cool as you think it is… before you pour your life savings into it. It’s a way to validate your idea while minimizing risk.

MVP’s Aren’t Just for Startups

Whenever you decide to make a big change in your life, career or business, think about testing the impact on a smaller scale by starting with an MVP. If you think your business MUST be on Snapchat, for example, start a free account and post consistently for a month while measuring the impact. Just don’t start by hiring a team and pouring all of your ad dollars into the platform before you know you have an audience that will respond there.

What’s My Minimum Viable Product?

You’re looking at it. I decided to launch a website with the minimum amount of pages necessary to test my hypothesis: that there are people who need the advice I’m writing about. Rather than create a whole new interactive site, I am launching with a home page, a resources page, a blog and a weekly email newsletter.

I’m really excited to hear what you think, even if you hate it. I’m not afraid to fail because if I do, I’ll just learn how to do better next time. I’m also not a professional web designer and put this together with about $100 (template and hosting/domain/email tool costs) and spare hours on weekends over the last six weeks, so if you find anything buggy or broken, please let me know! It will only help me.

Thank you in advance, and if you’d like to read more about MVP’s check out Eric Reis’ book: The Lean Startup.