Defining a Path Forward: Narrowing Down a Complex Problem
world we live and work in is rapidly changing, and while this is nothing new,
the current crisis highlights the need for cultural institutions to be
flexible, resilient, and creative in our approaches to these changes. But what
happens when the changes are coming at us so quickly and the scope of them
seems so overwhelming that they become paralyzing? How can we take the first
step towards problem solving, sustainability, and continued relevance?
Now! On to the business at hand. Defining is really
just a way of refining our focus. Overwhelming questions like, “How do
our organizations survive the COVID-19 crisis?” are paralyzing. They are too
big, too amorphous, and do not give us a clear path forward. Additionally, when
we dig a little deeper, we realize that while every organization might have
that same challenge, the realities on the ground are very different for each of
The first thing we’ll get you to do is to create a list of your institution’s needs. Needs are specific and factual. Rather than needing to survive the COVID-19 crisis, instead:
- You need to make up your budget shortfall.
- You need to reach a certain number of visitors to meet your grant requirements.
- You need to comply with your local COVID-19 protocols.
- You need to keep your subject matter experts on staff.
Next, make a list of all of the relevant insights, constraints, and organizational wisdom that you can think of:
- Your organization must see at least ___% of the visitors you saw last year in order to continue to be economically valuable.
- Your exhibits are hands-on, and cleaning them regularly is difficult and time consuming.
- Your budget for staff is $______.
- The community uses your festival as an important touchpoint.
- Your school programs make up a significant portion of your overall revenue.
Next, you will create ‘How might we’ statements that will allow you to start the creative problem-solving process. The ‘How Might We’ statement is a guiding question that you will use throughout the next steps of the process. This statement will take into account one or more of your organization’s needs while addressing your insights. Crafting this type of statement using the criteria below will give us a more manageable starting point with which to explore our options.
Why ‘How Might We’? The wording allows us to imagine the possibilities by not being constrained by them. It also implies that everyone in our organization is in this together, which helps to engage staff and encourages them to participate as relevant contributors to the process. The more minds we have engaged with a problem, the more creative our solutions will be!
Keeping these criteria in mind, it’s now time for us to start crafting our own ‘How Might We’ statements. We like the ‘Goldilocks’ approach for this step. Firstly, write out that initial big, amorphous, statement that is way too broad. Now, write a few statements that are too specific, ones that maybe even have the solution or course of action you’re thinking of taking baked right in.
Finally, we use the ‘too broad’ and ‘too specific’ statements to craft a statement that is just right! A good rule of thumb is, if your ‘How Might We’ statement can be addressed by all of your ‘too specific’ statements, then you are on the right track! This may take a bit of practice; the best thing is to remember the ‘How Might We’ statement criteria. Once you have a draft, have a colleague look it over – another set of eyes is always helpful.
So now you’ve defined the problem! Congratulations! However, this doesn't mean you're done. In fact, now is that time when you get to start the process of finding innovative, creative solutions!
Take a look at Part 2 to get started on the next step, ideation!