The kinds of problems we work on in business today are fuzzy, complex, and challenging.
- How do we target an emerging consumer segment?
- How do we assess and prioritize our portfolio of innovation initiatives?
- How can we roll out a new digital service to existing customers?
These are multifaceted problems. It’s hard to know how or where to get started.
By dimensioning and diagramming your problem, you create clarity and structure of an ambiguous problem. You can begin taking action with a strong hypothesis and focus.
“Whoever best describes the problem is the most likely to solve it.” -Dan Roam
Uncover the existing structure (dimensions) of your problem
The term “dimension” may be unfamiliar in this context, but it isn’t actually a new behavior! At its core, dimensioning is the process of identifying and structuring important facets of any problem.
And you already know how to do it. Whenever you have a big project or an important decision, you probably identify and assess different dimensions.
Which job should I take? Which college should I go to? Which apartment should I rent?
Let’s take the apartment example. How do you approach this problem? I’m sure some people pin up pictures on the wall and throw a dart. But most of us begin to look at different dimensions of the problem.
- Distance to transportation
- Size of the place
Each of these is a dimension that can be researched, assessed, made tangible and compared. You could literally map the options, use sticky notes to label attributes, and plot the route to work, stores, and recreation.
By doing this you give your problem clarity and structure. You help yourself see the problem more clearly and get your brain working on it in new ways.
Ultimately, you make a better, well informed decision. You seen the problem more holistically. You’ve considered more aspects.
We organize information in a particular way to make it more useful for accomplishing our goals.
What the “dimensions” are will vary widely given the problem, so be sure to try organizing the information in multiple different ways. Nobody’s first attempt leads to the most insightful categorizations. Try, try again!
Use diagrams to unlock deeper insights
Diagramming makes information visual. You don’t need to be an artist or a designer to create a meaningful and useful diagram.
It’s challenging to see relationships in your data when it’s in the form of words and numbers, but adding a visual component can give you a new perspective on the information. That’s why graphs are so commonly used to present data.
Diagrams unlock insights you wouldn’t have by just reading or discussing the data. Your visual system uses a different part of your brain. That’s why you can see new relationships and come up with different ideas when working visually.
Consider London’s infamous cholera outbreak in 1854. It was thought the disease was spread through the air. One physician, John Snow, plotted the cholera cases on a map, which revealed a concentration around a specific water source, the Broad Street Pump. Using a combination of data and diagramming it, he identified contaminated water as a primary cause of the illness.
Present this same data in a list or a table and the relationship would never be seen.
Get started with these techniques
First, make sure you’ve dimensioned your problem and gathered data and information about them. Start playing with them visually. Be prolific — you’re goal is not the visual or diagram itself, but to see your problem in an interesting way.
As you are playing with the dimensions, you’ll start to recognize relationships that might matter. Sketch some possible diagrams.
Your diagrams can be much simpler than Snow’s map and still yield powerful results. Start with 2×2 matrices, venn diagrams, and spectrums.
See if you can use the diagram to show and describe interesting facts and relationships. Are there groups, overlaps or gaps? A pattern? An outlier?
The act of dimensioning (and re-dimensioning!) helps you locate the most important pieces of a given problem, and creating diagrams enables you to see patterns and relationships in data that you wouldn’t see otherwise.
Get started today with a deeper dive into the 2×2 Matrix, one of our favorite diagrams.
We’d love to hear how you use Dimension and Diagram in your work! Reach out to us on Twitter @gravitytankinc with photos and comments.