Design as Problem Solving Tool

by Trudy on October 4, 2013

I recently went to hear my learner’s art teacher speak about their approach for the year. I was fascinated to hear her talk about exposing young learners to the concept of design as a problem-solving tool.

I sat up and listened carefully.

When I was in school, we learned skills of artistry. Fun, creative and a great way to get an easy mark. But this was something completely different for my beliefs about art in school, a strategic approach to creativity. A concept I had not discovered until mid way through my career. And here it is being introduced to pre-teens? Awesome.

PROVOKE has utilized a design process to problem solving since its inception fifteen years ago, so it was a real validation for me to read. (Understand, observe, define, ideate, solution, act, adjust). I know that following a thoughtful process is the right way to get to a good answer.

My ongoing frustration is with what seems to be more and more businesses choosing to move from problem to solution without understanding, observing and defining. There is such a rush to solve.

Combine this problem with our observation that many businesses in the world we live in today, particularly entrepreneurial, not for profit, and any organization needing to do a lot with less every day, is moving further away from large scale, protracted time thinking projects.

Which with reflection is……completely reasonable, and should not be unexpected.

Budgets are tight, timelines are shortened, innovation is expected – not many of us have the luxury of a long, laborious process anymore. This is simply the reality of the speed of business today. We need to be producing and creating constantly.

We need to find a way to do an accelerated version of understand, observe, define, ideate, solution, act and adjust. Move quickly through the problem solving phases rather than skip through whole parts believed to be too time consuming.

This brings me to an idea I came across that I found invigorating. A clever self-starter named Pete Smart set a challenge for himself 50 Design Problems in 50 Days. Essentially he traveled the world looking for problems he would solve in a DAY using the design process.

The lesson we can take from Pete, is to get out there, immerse ourselves in the problem and exercise our problem solving muscles. Focused, thoughtful, accelerated effort is a WAY better alternative to blind stabs in the dark.

I encourage you to check out his articles.


An A+ in Authenticity

by Trudy on April 26, 2013

I was perusing a favourite company’s materials recently and came across a note from its leader that made my strategic heart sing.

Mainly because what PROVOKE has always held to be true, and share with every client we work with, was in print right before my eyes, being shared with its customers:

  • The company is here to make a difference
  • The company is an authentic expression of who it is and what its beliefs are
  • The company is about purpose first, profits follow purpose

I was so in tune with this I could not wait to continue reading on, I was hooked.

This company laid out its vision statement:

To create an endless reflection of hope, inspiration and love that will ignite the human spirit and change the world.

My goodness, who could argue with that? It sounds like a beautiful place to set up camp.

Any idea who this might be? What category the company is in?

Would it surprise you to know it is furniture?

It is Restoration Hardware that stopped me in my tracks.

It got me thinking, as I relaxed on a piece of Restoration furniture, how will my simple act of repose change the world? Or should I settle for reflecting hope, inspiration and love. Dang it, I just wanted a comfortable place to sit. Now I feel pressure to make something important happen on that sofa!

But I digress.

Gary Friedman, the leader of the company (with the rather lofty title of Chairman Emeritus, Creator and Curator of Restoration Hardware, it gave me a giggle), went on to share that the company decided to eliminate the marketing department (because he says marketing can be manipulative), and replaced it with the Truth Group.

Umm, okay. I was with him up to here. This whole thing is smelling a lot like marketing to me, anyone else sniffing that too. Why? Because it IS the truth. I do think this is their beliefs, and I do think there is a customer group that shares it – this is the magic of marketing. Bringing these two together for mutual benefit.

Goodness sakes people, is anyone out there still thinking in this world of instant transparency/tattling (hello social media!!) that there is any other option but the truth in marketing? Claiming to be who you aren’t is the fastest way to halt a relationship in its tracks (and you may even be at risk of public spanking too!).

Personally, I don’t think you need to enlist a marketing ploy and change your marketing department’s name, that is trying to solve the wrong problem.

Just do the marketing right in the first place, tell the truth, add value to someone, reap the rewards.


Be Read, Be Brief

by Trudy on November 23, 2012

I am helping someone create a communication piece that will educate, inspire and rally people. The person creating the piece is deeply impassioned about the topic and is lost in the forest, which is why she turned to me. To get her focused.

She asked – “What needs to be in here for this to have impact?” What a great question, one we all need to take the time to consider as we put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard).

I have been thinking about this, and believe it boils down to a few things:

  1. Start where you want to end. Know the specific impact/outcome/action you need to achieve
  2. Know who you are talking to, and talk to them and their needs/interests. You need to know why they would have interest in reading your communication.
  3. Know the top 3 points you need them to know. Tell them these and no more.
  4. Include powerful, short facts, only the essentials. Fewer is better, more weakens.
  5. Provide some value to the reader, a reward for time invested (a benefit, new knowledge, etc.)
  6. Be explicit about what you want them to do
  7. We are all time crunched, and have become skimmers, so do yourself a favor and edit. Studies prove that conciseness and scan-ability dramatically increase the usability of communication.

Whether you are writing a media release, an email, a memo, you can use these steps to increase readership of your communication, and increase outcomes and actions. Give it a try.


The only surprises you should give are good surprises.

October 21, 2011

Truer words have never been spoken. This is something that I learned very young, when I worked in radio. Turns out there is no room for the “surprise” of dead air (Program Directors REALLY hate that). I also learned it as a young account manager in an ad agency. Clients so do not like to […]

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But I Know it is a Great Idea

October 14, 2011

Have you ever had a great idea, and maybe even had the opportunity to implement, but it didn’t take off like you expected or promised?  It has happened to me and I kept trying to explain myself to the audiences.  Why it was a great solution for the customer.  How it was good for profits.  […]

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