Problem Solving the Cause or Effect1
Understanding and articulating the problem (“a less than ideal state”) is a crucial step in creative thinking, but it’s also important to know if you are ‘fixing’ the cause or the effect of the problem.
One of my favorite brainstorming techniques helps do exactly that – and, it has a great name to boot: Stop It or Mop It.
Originally created and defined by Dr. Robert Harris, a retired professor of English at the University of California at Riverside, Stop It or Mop It is based on the two primary ways of problem solving the cause (‘stop it’) or focusing on its effect (‘mop it’).
Cause addresses head-on the source of the problem, including the reasons for the cause.
Effect addresses the result or consequence of the problem as well as its symptoms.
This is arguably one of the best pieces of business advice: prevention is best. It’s cheaper. It’s more efficient. It links to higher customer satisfaction. There’s long-term savings.
There are many tools out there which can help you do this: a personal favourite is scenario thinking or scenario planning. This approach also works in developing issues or crises management plans. As part of this, a good approach to start this type of planning is researching best practices, both from within your industry or those who are similar to yours metaphorically.
Of the six approaches, ‘Eliminate it” sounds ideal. While it’s a common approach to brainstorming overall, it’s also important to discuss beforehand whether or not the problem can be eliminated. Sometimes a complete removal of the problem is expensive, time consuing, Of the six approaches, Eliminate It is perhaps most ideal. The problem isn’t just solved, it’s dissolved. It’s also the most common approach in brainstorming overall – that is, if the problem can be addressed, attacked or removed. That’s not always the case as 100% elimination of the problem can be extremely expensive, time consuming and politically sensitive, not only with the public and key opinion leaders, but also internally among senior executives or the board of
That said, I’ve also seen this approach used in humorous ways. When the caffeine beverage Mother changed its taste due to customer feedback, the PR team very publicly destroyed the old bottles with a tank. Regardless of whether it’s humorous or serious, tactics in this approach tend to be extremely visible: public events and stunts, followed by intense traditional and social media relations.[/toggle]
Harris goes on to say there are three ways to address Effect: treat it, tolerate it, or redirect it. In communications, these approaches might be taken as passive, so the tone and style of the campaign should be overtly proactive.
The problem with spin generally is two-fold: it makes it harder for the listener to determine what it true, and the opposing point-of-view often feels like an accusation or blame. For example, when I was a MasterCard spokesperson, I was often attacked by reporters for not taking full responsibility in encouraging teens to spend beyond their means. They were loath to acknowledge our opinion: that the parent must shoulder some of the burden in teaching their children
If I learned one thing about this approach, it only works when you – as a spokesperson, as well as the overall campaign’s tone – is transparent, lucid, sensitive,
and offered as another perspective. It works less well when the messages are “we’re the right position” vs. “you’re the wrong position.”
Dr. Harris’ website – Virtual Salt – is a brilliant resource, so please visit when you have time. Here’s the direct link to his article on Problem-Solving.
What other approaches or strategies have you used to address problems in your campaigns or projects?
You can read about other brainstorm techniques by visiting the category of Brainstorm Techniques, Games and Icebreakers.
Great thank to Dr Robert Harris for formulating these helpful approaches in any problem solving