This is a story about how my difficulties with standard methodology led me to invent a new approach to thinking about applied problems, with the goal of solving complex problems more easily and effectively.
It’s ironic: In industry we strive to create the best possible experience for our clients and end-users, but our own experience of the problem solving process is often painful.
Even when we’re passionate about our career, doing the work can be a struggle. The more complex the challenge, the easier it is to get blocked and lose motivation.
At a certain point in my previous career as a UX designer, after 15 years of experience, my work methods just stopped making sense to me. I was excited about user experience design, but I was miserable using the methodology.
Why did I have difficulty with my methods when other people seem alright with them? I think differently than other people, and things don’t automatically make sense to me. I often have to figure things out for myself from first principles.
But the fact is, I’m not that different from other people. My difficulties with methodology were just an exaggeration of the same problems that most practitioners have every day. The difference is that whereas other people are able to gloss over those problems and push forward, they were too painful for me, and I had to confront them directly.
After analyzing my methods carefully, I came to several conclusions about UX methodology, which also apply to many other problem-solving fields in business:
Standard methods and work cultures don’t play nicely with our motivation system -- in fact they tend to undermine motivation.
Standard methods don’t fully support connected thought and mental flow. For example you sometimes don’t get all the information you need for the next step, and it’s often not clear what to do with it in the next step. You get all these mental speed bumps and some stretches of the road aren’t even connected.
Standard methods explain how to understand and solve a problem in a basic way, but they don’t explain how to generate deep creative insight about a problem and about highly effective solutions.
Standard methods don’t tell you how to recognize and overcome blockages in the problem solving process. They present an idealized understanding of the work process, as if the method always worked perfectly. As a result when you get stuck, you blame yourself instead of the method, and you don’t know how to move through the blockage.
When I understood why I was having difficulties with standard methods, I decided to start over from the beginning and build a new practitioner-centric way of working and thinking about difficult challenges, with the goal of improved quality of thought.
I was trained in cognitive psychology and human factors, so that was a valuable starting point for creating a cognitively ergonomic method. And my scientific training in experimental design taught me how to design methodology. Still, I was in uncharted territory.
Because I was starting from scratch, I was able to start with a new question. Instead of asking what is the best series of steps for solving problems, I asked myself, what experience of solving complex challenges do I want for myself as a practitioner? What mental superpowers do I want to develop? The answers were clear.
I wanted to experience joy in my work processes -- to have as much fun in solving difficult problems as playing an addictive game or watching a riveting movie.
I wanted to reduce the stress of handling complex challenges.
I wanted to grow mentally and personally, beyond the boundaries imposed by standard domain silos.
I wanted to achieve game-changing insights that reframe how I understand problems and that provide clarity into powerful and innovative solutions. In other words, I wanted the mental superpowers of creative insight and clarity of thought.
To design these goals into a thinking methodology, I had to look far and wide and connect concepts that hadn’t previously been connected.
I initially created my practitioner-centric methodology just for myself. When I applied it to my work, my motivation and enjoyment shot through the roof, and I started getting much better results. Eventually I realized I could also apply it to my personal life. When I did that, my personal life and health also started to improve, and so did my mental outlook.
Working with this way of thinking is so enjoyable and addictive that I can’t go back. Hard problems have started to become enjoyable, and now I look forward to them.
I love teaching, so I’ve started to share my practitioner-centric methodology with others through a training program that I call Advanced Applied Thinking. It’s advanced because it helps you think more effectively than standard thinking methods and solve difficult challenges more easily.
The training program focuses on achieving creative insight and clarity of thought, supported by mental flexibility.
The approach empowers and inspires practitioners to think more effectively about difficult challenges.
THE PHILOSOPHY BEHIND ADVANCED APPLIED THINKING
We assume that standard best-practice methods will guide us to success. But any method can succeed or fail. No matter how good our standard methods are, the quality of results is ultimately determined by our quality of thought.
When quality of thought is low, even the best standard methods lead to mediocre and uncreative solutions.
Quality of thought is a blind zone. Standard work methods and standard training don’t cover it.
Advanced Applied Thinking raises quality of thought. It’s about using the mind effectively and flexibly.
This approach generates creativity from core mental processes. Compared to standard creativity hacks, this type of creativity is stronger, deeper and more continuous.
Whereas standard methodology is imposed on us from outside, advanced applied thinking is an expression of the self. It acknowledges the practitioner as a whole person and prioritizes their need to achieve creative insight, mental flow and connected thought.
When applied too literally, standard methods can disempower practitioners by suppressing independent thought. This puts practitioners into a state of mental “cruise control” where they just follow the method. This passive and compliant state of mind interferes with innovation and solving complex problems.
Advanced applied thinking empowers practitioners to come more fully alive by bringing their center of control back to the self and the fully activated mind. This is the necessary starting point for better success with standard methods.