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