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Your main objective here is to define the problem or problems you are facing. It’s important to clearly establish what the problem is, and what your purpose is for solving it. Likewise, you must also specify the criteria you will measure that will tell you whether or not you have successfully solved your problem.

It’s important to note here that how you define your problem will determine how effectively you solve your problem. Alternatively, if you don’t yet know what problems you are going to be solving, than simply define the goal that you would like to achieve. This goal will in some way connect to problems you will encounter along your journey.

Finally, keep in mind that you are only making observations at this point, and nothing else. Make no evaluations and no generalizations. Simply spend time describing and making your descriptions concrete and clear through the use of visual techniques and tools.

Let’s now explore this sub-step in a little more detail.

Describe Your Goal

Whether you know what your problem is or not, it’s important to establish a goal that you will be working with throughout this visual thinking process.

Take time now to identify and then define the goal that you would like to achieve as clearly as possible. This in essence becomes your desired outcome — the outcome that you would like to achieve at the conclusion of this visual thinking journey you are about to undertake.

When setting your goal, make sure that it follows the SMART FOR ME goal setting process and has a high pay-off and reward. In other words, the goal needs to be meaningful and it needs to also be motivating — worth your time and effort. Ask yourself:

  • What goal would I like to achieve?
  • What am I trying to accomplish?
  • What potential problems are associated with this goal?

Keep in mind that every goal you set has a set of problems that are likely to stand in your way. Brainstorm what these problems are and define each of them clearly within the next step outlined below. To identify these problems you must observe and look for patterns.

Describe Your Problem

Your next step is to identify the problem you are facing and phrase it in the form of a question.

Once you define the kind of problem you have, you will be better able to ask other relevant problem related questions that will enable you to find an appropriate solution as you continue to move along The Path. Moreover, you need to define the problem from a multi-dimensional level. Ask yourself:

  • What kind of problem do I have?
  • What is the key issue that needs changing or improving?

Underlying Factors

Now consider the underlying factors that could be contributing-to or prolonging the current problem you are experiencing. For all we know, the surface problem could only be a symptom of an underlying problem that needs to be solved.

These factors could indicate that there is more to this problem than can be seen on the surface. It could indicate that there is an underlying problem which you must deal with, and that the surface problem will only get resolved once the underlying problem has been successfully tackled. The key is to get to the root cause. Ask yourself:

  • Is this the real problem, or is there an underlying problem?
  • What is the root cause?

What is Good?

Every problem we encounter has both positive and negative elements. When coaching clients through such issues, it’s important to consider what is actually good about this problem you are facing, while also considering aspects of the problem that you might like to keep. Looking at your problem from this perspective can immediately bring to mind possible solutions that you might not have considered otherwise. Ask yourself:

  • If there was something good about this problem, what would it be?
  • Is there anything about this problem that I would like to keep as is?
  • Would solving this problem allow me to keep these things?

Describe the Job to be Done (JTBD)

Your next step is to define the job/s you are trying to accomplish but can’t because of the problem you are facing. In other words, you are effectively trying to identify what specific jobs your current problem is preventing you from achieving or getting done.

It’s important to gain clarity about this, because it will help you to pave a way forward to possible solutions to the problem/s you face. Ask yourself:

  • What is the problem preventing me from doing?
  • What will happen if I do nothing about it?
  • How much is the problem costing me?

Keep in mind that your problem is interfering with a job or set of jobs that you want to get done. You must therefore clearly determine how it’s interfering and then outline the consequences that may result if you are unable to solve this problem successfully.

Create a Metaphor

Now comes time to create a visual metaphor that represents your life, the circumstances and the problem. As you move along The Path you will adjust this metaphor accordingly to help you solve the problem more effectively. Ask yourself:

  • What is a simile I could use to represent this problem?
  • What does this problem remind me of?
  • How does this problem relate to my life?
  • How can I turn my life, circumstances and this problem into a metaphor?

Clarify Your Purpose

Here you must come to understand what your purpose is for solving this problem. Without a purpose you will have very little direction. Moreover, you must think through why this is the right problem to be solving in the first place, and why it must be addressed now. Ask yourself:

  • What is the need for change?
  • Why must I solve this problem?
  • Why must I solve it now?
  • What is my purpose?

Create a Challenge

Now take the problem and the purpose you have clarified above and turn it into a challenge that will motivate and inspire you as you work towards your desired outcome. Be sure to use vivid and inspiring language to craft this challenge.

Keep in mind, that the stronger your purpose, the more reasons you will have to meet your challenge.

Specify Gravity of Problems

The gravity of the problem is determined by the impact that it has on multiple areas of your life or business. It’s unlikely that you will fully understand the impact of the problem at this early stage, however you will over time as you move through the other stages along The Path.

Specifying the gravity of your problem is paramount when working with multiple problems. Even though some problems might be interrelated and intertwined, there will be problems with a higher gravity rating. It is these problems that you must work on tackling first and foremost.  However, please keep in mind that under most circumstances you should always prioritize top level problems over lower tier problems. Deal with the cause first, and the “effects” will often take care of themselves. Ask yourself:

  • What is the gravity and impact of this problem on my life and business?
  • Is this a top level problem or a lower tier problem?
  • Out of 10, how important is it that I solve this problem?

Define the Criteria

It’s important to establish key criteria that will help you to clarify whether or not you have solved your problem as you work your way along The Path. You are basically defining the key measures for success or KPI: Key Performance Indicators. The more thoroughly you define the specific results you are trying to achieve, the better direction your will have as you move through the visual thinking process.

How can I visualize this?

Integrated into this stage is a set of visual thinking techniques, strategies, tools and processes that you can utilize to help you visualize your thoughts on paper or in physical form. These techniques will be revealed and integrated into each stage along The Path over time.

Everything you read here is part of ongoing research and experimentation within the visual thinking arena. The goal is to create a comprehensive framework for visual thinking that encapsulates creativity, problem solving and critical thinking skills. Your comments, ideas and suggestions are most welcome.