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More on Visual Problem-Solving January 31, 2008

Posted by cjescribano in problem-solving.
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This morning, out of curiosity, I did a search on “visual problem-solving,” and lo and behold, lots of people are solving their problems by drawing pictures. There were a number of books on Amazon. The one that most interested me was: Rapid Problem-Solving with Post-It Notes by David Straker. I read the excerpt, and it sounded similar to what I do to figure out learning designs, but instead of using post-it notes, I use 81/2 X 11 sheets of paper.

Also, my colleague, Dan Campbell, pointed out that it seems like my approach works for very visual people, like myself. For him, my paper on the wall approach isn’t structured enough. But he agreed that being able to see relationships between things is often helpful to overcome cognitive load–that overwhelmed feeling you have when you’re trying to work with too much information at once. For Dan, an Excel spreadsheet is all the visual he needs to see relationships. I need color and large spaces to see things clearly.

I’m still intrigued by the idea of solving problems using a Visual approach. Dan mentions trying to solve emotional problems that way. I’m not sure about that, but I think relationship problems are a good candidate for this approach. It would let you look at the situation more objectively and see where and why the conflict was arising.

Anyway, the big “problem” facing me right now is what to do next for my daughter’s education. She likes her current school, but she isn’t challenged enough. So, I think I’ll start putting ideas up on the wall in the hallway and see where it leads us. If nothing else, my daughter will like the idea of taping brightly colored pieces of paper on a wall!

A Way to Solve All Problems? January 30, 2008

Posted by cjescribano in experiments, problem-solving.
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A Problem
Today, some coworkers called me in to help them with a sticky problem. They’d been working for weeks trying to figure out how to design a rather complicated simulation. They had finally finished one part of it, but they knew they couldn’t continue at the same pace. “Help us figure out how to speed up this process!” they said.

A Way to Solve Problems
For about 4 years now, I’ve used a very simple process to figure out learning designs. We call it Rapid Design. But basically, it involves jotting ideas on pieces of paper and then taping them up on the wall and moving them around like jigsaw puzzle pieces until the relationships and structure are clear. The power behind this approach is that it’s visual. You don’t have to try to remember all the relationships. You can see them. With this process, we’ve been able to compress into a day or two what could take weeks with a less visual process.

“I’m Beginning to Think There’s No Problem That Can’t Be Solved if You Make It Visual”
The progress today was phenomenal. The team started by telling me what had happened. I didn’t really need to know, but I knew they needed to tell me. Then I asked them to describe their current process, and as they talked I drew it on the whiteboard. As soon as they saw it, they suggested two fairly easy changes that will cut weeks off their development time. Within about 4 hours, we had defined a process that everyone thought would work both effectively and quickly. As we walked to our cars, I said to my colleague, “You know, I’m beginning to think that there’s no problem that can’t be solved if you make it visual.”

Potential Problems to Solve
It’s a hypothesis worth testing. I can think of a number of applications:

  • If my daughter comes home from school with a problem, I could ask her questions and put her answers up on the wall to consider
  • My husband and I could draw our finances out so we can see better where we can cut
  • If I have a problem with a relationship, I can draw it out to see why we’re in conflict.  If nothing else, I think the visual would give me the objectivity to stop defending myself and to start trying to understand the other person’s perspective.

A New Experiment
So, I now have another experiment to add to the list: Use the “Rapid Design” approach to solve any problem. I’ll keep you posted on what problems can be solved this way and which ones can’t.

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