Learning to Think Systems

If you ever went to study business, chances are you have learned some math, some economics. If you found yourself in a business person shoes, chances are you were doing sales.

Few of us in business started with a simple idea in mind: a system.

In startups, there’s a saying which is sometimes forgotten: “The purpose of a startup is to find a repeatable scalable process”.

Think about systems when you are in business.

Who Needs a Brand?

When building a new business, you’re quick to think you need a brand. Are you ready? You have a brand when you have a product valued by someone. A brand is a conversation people are having about you. Not the other way around. No talks about you yet? Perhaps you don’t produce any value. Yet. Show up. Show your product, no matter how raw it is, and let people decide, whether it’s good or not.

Math Can Teach You Something

When I sat down to write, all the questions, thoughts and ideas seemed to be gone.

“What’s on your mind?” The sneaky Facebook question popped to my mind. What’s on my mind? What a brilliant question. I like questions. Something to think about. And I like thinking. Writing is a way of thinking. When I start to write I don’t know where it will bring me. We’ll find out in a few minutes.

I ask a lot of questions. I’m glad I got my curiosity and creativity back. Sometimes I wonder, what shall I do with all these questions and ideas? I’d like to make use of them. I often think that startups create lots of applications, although, do they solve real problems that people have? Maybe what, we, startup people, need is the better methods for problem solving? How do we know what people need?

Last month I met JC (I like using abbreviations instead of real names in my writings). We spoke about innovation and technology. And systematic problem solving. One of the problems we discussed was synthesis. When we go through a pile of ideas, how do you find an idea which is good enough?

I decided to look for answers in math. A smiley professor from an introductory video got me: “Thinking is hard, people want magic. Thinking creates magic.”. I spent quite a few hours going through the module 1. It was frustrating. An inner fight against my mind when trying to solve a quiz.

I learned a few things:

  1. Struggle leads to new ideas. You develop new concepts.
  2. Rule 1: Try something and see if it works.
  3. Draw a picture. Situation “Now “and Situation “Future”. Have concrete situations. Be specific and systematic. Take steps you can take. What do you need to know at each step?
  4. Cannot find a solution? Start from scratch.
  5. Try something what is not a smart idea and see consequences.
  6. Drawing helps to find a solution. List all the good and bad solutions and explain why they are good or bad.
  7. Be methodical. Explore all the possibilities. Keep track of all your learnings.
  8. Have a positive attitude. Learning (problem solving) is not a torture. “We don’t want pain.”
  9. Go and try things.

These might seem obvious but when you go through an actual struggle of trying to solve a puzzle, they mean so much more. What we hear in startups is “fail fast”. Solving a puzzle and having a math wizard showing how to do it simpler speaks to me so much more than “fail fast”. Well we never ask a question: “What’s the process of failure?”, right? It’s an important question to ask, I think. Maybe more people would try following their passions, setting up companies, failing and trying again.

And that’s how we innovate, right?

I’ll see how my math course goes in the next few weeks and what’s an impact on my thinking habits.

Stay tuned!


P.S. “Being methodical embraces failure, and then failure leads to innovation.”

Innovation starts when people have a conversation

“What universities could do better to be more innovative?” a new friend asked me yesterday.

“Rethink professional development for educators,” I said. “Bring diverse people together into one room for an open conversation.”

Innovation requires new ideas blending together. Good ideas appear when diverse people connect, talk and share. Simple.

Ways to connect people online

A few years back I co-founded an online community for teachers as part of the Connected Educators movement, which brings together educators from all around the world to learn new methods of teaching by simply chatting and sharing online.

If a community effect helped thousands of teachers overcome their fear of technology and brought innovative ideas into classrooms all around North America, the same principles of a community-led learning can help any organisation breed innovation.

If you struggle to innovate, create a community platform where diverse people can connect and share.

Ways to connect people in a real world

Last weekend we applied the same method and brought diverse people together for 54 hours of brainstorming and making. The first ever education technology hackathon in Ireland (Startup Weekend Education) aimed to solve problems in education by connecting educators, entrepreneurs and technologists.

Amazing things happen when diverse people meet in one room. As organisers, we were impressed by the quality and diversity of ideas. ‘Education’ became a synonym for lifelong learning, questioning how we want to learn today and tomorrow.

7 learning technology startups were formed during 54 hours out of 15 ideas pitched on Friday:

7 ideas came out from 54 hours brainstorming to solve problems for human resources managers at organisations, parents homeschooling their kids, girls learning to code, parents connecting with teachers and kids learning by doing with arduino.

Join Community for Lifelong Learners

They say education is hard to change. Education as any other institution needs more interaction between people with diverse skills.

I can’t wait to see what the seven new edtech startups will bring to the education ecosystem in the next few months; to make it easier to bring innovative ideas into education we launched a new community – Learning Technology Ireland. We’re growing fast, so join us.

How are you innovating in your organisation? I’d love to hear.

3 Approaches to Systematic Problem Solving

At startups, we all are passionate about problem solving. Original ideas are hard though.

My biggest learning this year was, startups miss a process. As Andy Weissman has nicely put it:

So you need a framework, a set of first principles. That then guide your decision making and problem solving.”

I am often amazed how quickly the startup ecosystem is booming, although, collaboratively, are we solving the right problems? It’s hard to come up with an original idea. Most likely we come up with an idea that solves our problem. Does it solve a problem for anyone else?

They say that if you face a problem, most likely your problem was solved somewhere else. If I could save time and find a solution to my problem in less time, I’d like to do so. TRIZ framework promises to do just that.

TRIZ (or TIPS) Framework

The model says problems and solutions are repeated across industries and sciences. (I think so too!)

View more at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TRIZ. 

The Disney Method

This strategy involves parallel thinking to analyse a problem, generate and evaluate ideas, construct and critique a plan of action.

When approaching a problem try adopting a new thinking style:

  1. Think as an Outsider to gain an analytical, external view of the challenge.
  2. Think as a Dreamer to brainstorm and to conceive creative and radical ideas.
  3. Think as a Realist to review ideas, select the best idea and construct a plan for it.
  4. Think as a Critic to review and improve the plan, to identify weaknesses, obstacles or risks.

If I were given one hour to save the planet, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute resolving it,” ~ A. Einstein.

Cynefin Framework

The name serves as a reminder that all human interactions are strongly influenced and frequently determined by our experiences, both through the direct influence of personal experience, as well as through collective experience.

How do I approach problem solving?

I find myself coming up with questions, thoughts and ideas constantly. I probably am at the chaotic stage. Most of the ideas have one direction, they all are around knowledge sharing, learning, personal development. To find a solution, I started to use a simple framework F(X)=Y, where F equals my current resources, Y, my goal or desired outcome and X, actions I have to take to get there.

Have you thought about the steps of problem solving?