Becoming Better Problem Makers

April 2016 | Neal Fairfield

This month’s theme focuses on the need for us all to become better problem makers.


Let’s push ourselves to get to more potent start points. Because the more potent the start point the more powerful the creative solution. And the more our industry, our agencies, our clients, and our careers will benefit.

Week 1
Inspiring things that have captured my attention over the past few years
Week 2
An introduction to CX Mapping
Week 3
Robots: walk backwards into the future
Week 4
Random thoughts about today's problems
Show More

If problems are the lifeblood of our industry are too many of us are working with those on the periphery of what really matters?

Do we too often take the start point at face value without going beyond the obvious and the what’s gone before?

Is our industry’s output becoming increasingly unoriginal as a result? And is it our fault?

I’d like to open up the discussion of how we can get to better problems by becoming better problem makers. What tools we can use? What resources and sources?

Why? Because I believe we are currently working in a golden age for planners and strategists. And I want us all to make the very most of it.

Forrester, and others, have coined it the ‘age of the customer’, a period of empowered customers demanding ever-increasing levels of service and understanding.

Leading clients are fast recruiting Chief Customer Officers in a drive to become fully customer-centric with Forbes reporting 22% of Fortune 100 companies having already adopted this role.

Given us lot have been pedaling our ‘customers are important’ wares since 1979 in the long shadow of Pollitt and King, some might be so bold as to say its taken 36 years for the world in which we operate to truly catch-up.

So, with this more widespread customer obsessed focus in our customer obsessed sails, let’s get to better problems to get to better work.  


Inspiring things that have captured my attention over the past few years

2 April 2016


Hello and welcome to April. The theme for the month is how to get to better problems, because if we do we get to more innovative solutions.


So, with the first quarter of 2016 behind us the first week of the second quarter will be all about inspiration. Looking at things that have captured and kept my attention over the years. And will hopefully do the same for you.


First up is the VIP Fridge Magnet from Red Tomato Pizza in Dubai. It’s old (2012) but still good. Good because it looked beyond your standard ‘sell more pizzas’ and looked for a way to solve the more interesting and chewy problem of how to deal with so many foreign languages in such a multi-national city. It cost too much for the pizza company in question to hire staff fluent in multiple languages so they smashed marketing and technology together to come up with a pioneering world-class solution.

Bluetooth linked the fridge magnet to the users smartphone, on which the app already had the favourite pizza selected and linked to a standard payment method.


It’s also a UX dream – one push of a button and pizza gets delivered to your door.


What’s not to like. Check out more here


The second is of the moment and from my old friends at Saatchi & Saatchi Sydney. It’s so good that WARC placed top of its WARC 100 annual ranking of the WORLD’S best marketing campaigns that “make a difference, driving a business performance or changing consumer behavior.


It’s called Penny the Pirate. And in short it used a storybook and app to increase the number of children’s eye test. On the face of it not the immediate award winning brief but when you dig a little deeper and find out the real problem great creativity is the result.

The original problem was how tackle the important issue of children’s vision by getting more children to the optometrist’s room. The better problem was how to defy the laws of physics and take the optometrist’s room into the homes of Australian families, and more importantly do so in a way that demanded no more time from busy families already busy days.


Third up, fittingly is what3words. You could say better problems are easier to find when you’re solving the world’s problems. But the world’s problems don’t come much better than this: How to give every place in the world an easy-to-understand address when the vast majority of the world is not built to accept an address in the way that addresses are commonly attributed and understood.  Mind. Blown.

What3words state around 75% of the world (135+ countries) suffers from inadequate addressing. Worse still, 4 billion people are invisible, unable to get deliveries or receive aid, and unable to exercise their rights as citizens.


The solution: Every 3metre by 3metre square, anywhere, gets a unique 3-word identifier. That, my friends, is genius. 


Read all about it here and have a play to find out your 3 words here.


I know my home’s 3 words and scarily it’s as if they know me too well. It’s almost biographical.

The penultimate piece of inspiration is a tool that’s as much fun as it’s useful – IF THIS THEN THAT, or IFTTT as it’s known. Download straight away and have a play.


This lot decided the entire Internet wasn’t useful enough so set about ‘making the internet work for you’.


Have a look and make a few recipes here and search for IFTTT and recipes for more than you’ll ever need.


My personal favourite is turning on my house lights at the time when my alarm is set to go off. No more stubbed toes early in the morning.


Finally, for this week, if all else fails and the problem is just too big, use a laser.

Mosquitoes have been dubbed the “world’s deadliest animal” with Malaria still killing more than 600,000 people every year. Bed nets, insecticides and antimalarial drugs have helped keep the disease in check but when all else fails Intellectual Ventures, backed by Bill Gates, decided to go Rebel Alliance on them and use lasers.


Have a look here.


And here for the other things they do.


An introduction to CX Mapping

12 April 2016


Hello and welcome to week two of this month’s theme: the need for us all to become better problem makers.
We need to collectively push ourselves to get to more potent start points. Because the more potent the start point, the more powerful the creative solution.

To do so requires some tools and frameworks to work with, and the backbone of uncovering better problems is the CX map. This visual device uncovers all the interactions a customer can have with a client’s product or service in order to identify weak points in the experience and pain points the customer may have.
Looking at the customer at this level forces us to think outside any strategic niches we may find ourselves working within.
Here are a couple of respected sources that generously share their thinking and are a great place to start:

Adaptive Path

Recently acquired by Capital One, Adaptive Path are Service Design Experts who describe themselves as “a diverse team of human-centred designers charged with re-imagining end-to-end experiences”
They define Experience Mapping as “the process of capturing and communicating complex interactions in order to illuminate the complete experience a person may have with a product or service”
Check out their PoV here
They also go into further details with nice examples of:
The baseline journey
A playbook for improving customer journeys
Their guide to Experience Mapping
And, new ways of visualizing the customer journey map

Opinion Lab

An early pioneer set up in 1999, Opinion Lab was to founded to bring to market the fundamental concept that listening to your customers is important (!), they have recently published a handy guide to six customer journey mapping best practices.
They are:

  1. Create customer personas

  2. Develop a customer research protocol

  3. Baseline with intensive qualitative research

  4. Co-create with customers (and in my experience, also clients)

  5. Hold internal stakeholder workshops

  6. Triage your CX pain points.

Have a good read, soak in all the knowledge and most importantly, practice how you can improve CX mapping in your agencies. Let us know how you go and also of any other great resources you think would benefit the APG community.


Robots: walk backwards into the future

21 April 2016


It’s week 3 and this week the plan is to explore in more depth why I’m on a mission to make all of us better problem makers.
There’s a lovely saying, that I’ve used more than once, which is most of us are conditioned to walk backwards into the future.

The drawback to this is if we do we unintentionally limit innovation because we base our actions on what has been done before.
Instead of walking backwards into the future we need to turnaround and embrace all the positive change we are lucky to be part of and take action based on what could be possible, not what is.  Giving up what you’re comfortable with and embracing change has never been more important.
Why? Because we’re working in a period where the worlds of marketing and technology have never been so intertwined nor have they been moving as fast.
One consequence of this is the ever-increasing influence of machine learning. Whatever the label (e.g. Artificial Intelligence, Machine intelligence, or simply Bots), or how the ‘machine’ is built (e.g. Classic AI, Simple Neural Networks, or Biological Neural Networks)  all iterations are impacting our day-to-day today.
This gets me back to the theme. If, in the very near future, machines will have the intelligence to answer any problem we throw at them, our roles must adapt.
We need to move from being strategists that solve clients’ problems – our traditional default - to strategists that uncover new problems which will better benefit the businesses we work with – our new and much needed default.
Simply put, we need to become better Problem Makers because machines will answer our problems for us. And they’ll answer faster, for less.  
This shouldn’t instill fear, rather liberation. Because if we have such amazing capabilities at are disposal we should all be able to create more positive change.
Let’s take a look at some of the current applications.
First up, one of the more famous is IBM’s Watson.

And if you’re a developer have a play with the APIs here.
What’s interesting about IBM, over and above their Smarter Planet Initiative of which I am a big fan, is their in-house agency; IBM iX has been acknowledged as the world’s largest global digital agency by adage. Expect great things from them with Watson.
Not to be left behind, Google bought Deepmind, in 2014, four years after in was founded in London.
With a mission to ‘Make the World a Better Place’, the algorithms they build are capable of learning for themselves directly from raw experience or data. Demonstrations of DeepMind’s capabilities so far include the serious – Google DeepMind Health - to the more playful – AphaGo, the first computer program to ever beat a professional player at the game of Go.
Then we have Facebook, who only last week at their F8 developers’ conference announced plans to expand the FB messaging app by providing tools to build chatbots. Businesses will be able to interact with Messenger’s 900million (and counting) users one-on-one, at scale. Check out the keynote videos here.
Let’s hope Facebook go better than Microsoft’s trial of their own AI chatbot, Tay, who quickly learned how to become a massive sexist racist. Not good form at all.
On a slight side note, check out Fjord’s piece on designing for voice here to prepare for the rise of the bot.
As with all advancements, certain industries benefit before others, and it is finance and healthcare leading the charge here. Many consumer facing products and services have launched with machine learning at their core.
In Finance our spending patterns are going to become ever more apparent with services such as Penny, your own personal finance coach who will send you real time analysis to keep you on track, and Digit that automates saving when you can afford to, so you don’t have to think about it.
In Healthcare one very relevant example to our industry given the under-reported cases of depression and anxiety is uses state-of-the-art predictive models developed by MIT scientists and engineers. Applying a combination of smartphone technology, data science, and clinical services it create a personalized, affordable way to deliver mental healthcare. People can analyze their mood over time, learn proven coping strategies developed by medical experts, and receive additional mental health support as needed.
Another great example is Medaware, which seeks to eliminate prescription errors. In addition to the billions saved it can only be a good thing to save the awkwardness of being prescribed Viagra when you thought you were getting Antibiotics.
The possibilities are indeed endless so let us know at the APG the examples you find most interesting and worth sharing with the community. 


Random thoughts about today's problems

29 April 2016


In the final week of this months theme – getting to better problems by becoming better problem makers – I’d like to focus on team dynamics and different types of thinking.
As an industry we know greater diversity drives greater creativity. And we accept we are not nearly diverse enough, most famously when it comes to natural balance of male and female leaders and a more accurate representation of all ethnicities throughout.
I would also like to add we are not nearly as diverse as we need to be in the way that we think. And we urgently need different thinkers to get us to better problems.
Rather than building teams based on what people do, I suggest building teams based on how people think.


There are many frameworks and approaches but this one by Bonchek and Steele and featured here is simple and a good place to begin.
To find out your thinking style, first, choose your usual area of focus. Then match that to whether you tend to choose the big-picture view of the details. Then make sure you surround yourself with other types of thinker to get to better problems.
Having people who, er, ‘think different’ works. In this month’s The Drum guest editor Trevor Beattie interviews Nils Leonard and asks:
“TB: You’re a designer by trade. How big a role does design still play in your thinking?”
To which Nils replies:
"NL: [Designers] don’t see the answer as the same every time. They are empowered, and remain open to influence and change. Advertising agencies are bad at that, so I try to bring that."
The full interview is here.
The turnaround at Grey has been impressive and its work is now varied and amongst the best in the World with LifePaint for Volvo being the lighthouse example. Clear evidence of what can be achieved with different types of thinking.
Which brings me conveniently to Design Thinking, an approach to problems very much has the ear of the more progressive clients and organisations. It’s certainly not new but it is becoming ever more prevalent in more agencies.
Ideo are one of the originators and some say coined the phrase, Design Thinking. Their CEO goes as far as to question whether it is still a competitive advantage before concluding it is, here.
They very generously share much of their IP. You can read up about the fundamentals here and in more detail here and here.

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