In his book The Concept of a Problem, Gene Agre defines a problem as “The gap between the current state of affairs and the desired state of affairs.” In other words, the “current state of affairs” is “the present”, or Point A. And, the “desired state of affairs” is “the future”, or Point B.
As it relates to communications, Point A is what the target audience thinks and behaves today, which is a result of their history, experience, expectations and background in relation to our company, reputation or product. Point B is what we want the target audience to think, believe or act. What prevents or dissuades the target audience from moving from Point A to Point B is the “problem.” The bridge between Point A and Point B are messages carried by the creative idea. (See the first picture, top.)
To solve a problem with creative thinking, it’s often helpful to understand what stage you are at in the problem-solving cycle. In one of the best books on creative thinking – Creative Thinking in the Decision and Management Sciences – author James Evans uses a simple chart to explain how problem solving occurs. (See the second picture, below.)
Working on a matrix, the left side of the chart is the current state of affairs (or “Point A”), and the top is desired state of affairs (or Point B). Both sides are divided into two categories – Known and Unknown – giving us the four levels of problem knowledge.
- In Box 4, you don’t know what the problem is (or may not be aware of the problem) and you don’t know what plan or action to pursue.
- In Box 3, you know what the problem is, but don’t know what plan or action to pursue.
- In Box 2, you don’t know what the problem is, but you (somehow) have already generated an idea or have created a plan of action.
- In Box 1, you know what the problem is and what to do.
To effectively solve a problem, you have to be in, or more to Box 1. You can’t solve a problem from any other spot, or if you do, you somehow have articulated the problem and/or developed a creative solution – which means you’ve moved to Box 1 without realising it.
How many times have you tried to solve a problem before moving to Box 1?
Or, how many times have you been in the dangerous position of Box 2? (“I don’t know what the problem is, but I have an idea!”)