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Gardening for Solutions

Perth Innovation has developed a web application, consisting of a set of problem solving tools, which went live on 3rd May These are simple “thinking” tools that will help with the various stages of problem solving. The tools are available through the Concept Garden website (registraton is free). I will discuss the software and tools themselves in a later blog but let’s look first at the gardening analogy.

 When we have a problem we often just jump in, find an idea and then assume that the problem is solved. This is like deciding we want to grow something, taking one seed, planting it and hoping that we will get something to harvest. It might work but generally there is more to gardening than just planting one seed. We need to prepare the ground, plant the seeds, thin out the seedlings as they start growing, nurture the small plants as they grow and then finally harvest the fruit, vegetables or flowers.

Similar to gardening, when we solve problems there as certain stages we need to go through.

Preparation: When gardening we need to prepare the ground. Similarly, with problem solving we need to prepare before we start trying to generate solution ideas. We need to understand the problem, why we want to solve it and what the solution has to deliver.

Planting: In the garden, if we want to grow something we need to plant some seeds. Similarly, in problem solving, we need to find some initial ideas that we can grow into solutions. When we plant seeds in the garden we will usually plant many more than we will need and it is the same in problem solving. We need to generate many more ideas than we will need.

Thinning: Because we have planted more seeds than we will need, once they start growing we will need to “thin-out” the plants to give the remainder room to grow. With problem solving we need to remove the weakest ideas so that we can focus on the strongest – the ones most likely to lead to a viable solution.

Growing: Once the plants have started to grow, we cannot just leave them to get on with it. There are many challenges that they will face and we must support them in growing by weeding, watering and possibly pruning. Similarly, with problem solving, we need to nurture and look after our ideas as we try to grow them into concepts for a solution.

When gardening, the thinning and growing steps are cyclical. That is, we thin the seedlings, but as they grow we need to thin them further to allow more space for the larger plants. This continues until we have the ideal spacing for the plants. In problem solving the same process occurs. We generate the ideas and then select out those that are most likely to give us a viable solution, build those ideas then select out a smaller group for further development, and so on until we have a short list of detailed concept solutions that can be implemented.

Harvesting: Once the plants have grown and are able to provide us with what we need (fruit, vegetables, flowers etc.) we need to harvest them and present them in such a way that other people will want to have them. The same applies to problem solving. It doesn’t matter how strong the solution concept is, if we cannot persuade other people that it should be implemented, then it will not solve our problem.

When we are gardening, we have to progress in these steps. Once we plant the seeds, we cannot jump to harvesting. We need to carry out the thin and grow cycle before we can get the benefit of our efforts. To get the most useful solutions for problems we need to go through a similar process. We should not generate one idea and then rush of to try to implement it. We should focus on each step in turn – generate a lot of ideas, select out the most useful, build them, select, build etc. and finally implement.

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