User research, idea generation and Service Design, in general, is an art. It's the art of finding the right mix between digging deeper and digging beside. We always try to discover the whole complexity of a problem. We want to find the very substance of the issue we are trying to solve. But at the same time, we have to find disruptive ideas and solutions. That means that we have to dig beside the hole we are actually digging.
How to get the very substance
There is one method that is especially great for digging deeper in a problematic. We call this method The 5 whys. It’s a method created by Sakichi Toyoda for the car manufacturer Toyota. We could also name this method The Annoying Child method. We all remember moments when a kid asks us again and again «Why». This method is all about being like this kid. When you are in front of a problem, ask why it has happened. People usually have a straightforward answer. Then ask again why but using the answer as the basis for your question. Do this until people punch you in the face or until you discovered the root problem. The root problem is this single causes that generated the chaos. Once your face got punched, you have found the real problem that you should solve.
How to get innovation
Once a problem is clear we search for a solution in the same area. That usually works. But it can be interesting to search for innovation in other places. Sometimes, solving a problem is an opportunity to not only solve this particular problem. It can also be an opportunity to innovate a full part of a service.
There are plenty of methods that we can regroup under the term lateral thinking. The idea is to search for inspiration in unrelated fields. For Service Designers, this could mean, for example, to do a Service Safari. Service Safaris are field trips that you take in another service area. If you are solving a problem in the auto industry, go to IKEA. Test the service, ask how it’s build. Then ask yourself what could you import from there into your own problematic. You could do the same by reading a magazine in a completely unrelated field. Read a cooking or decoration magazine and see what you could import. If you are searching more tools to develop your lateral thinking, check out the Fast Idea Generator. This tool is a creation by the fine folks of Nesta. There is an a little web app I have created based on this tool to help you get started quickly.
So, next time you are about to doing user research or searching solutions, remember to dig deeper and beside the hole.