Thinking Tools: Rule Breaking

Ideas are one of those things that are completely obvious in hindsight but actually hard to come up with in the first place.  This tool is a ‘stimulus’ tool.  It’s meant to provoke your thoughts and help you come up with ideas.  Watch the video and then have fun generating ideas in the form below.

Problem or challenge statements

There is a lot to be said about defining a problem or challenge statement and we’re going to create a video on that soon.  For now, we want you to get the most out of this tool so we’ve created some guidance to help.

  • It needs to be clear and obvious.  There should be no room for anyone thinking it meant something else.
  • If it’s a problem it should start with “How do we…”
  • If it’s a challenge it should start with “We want to…”
  • It needs to state the problem (or challenge), not lead to a solution.
    Problem statement – don’t say: “How do we stop people stealing from the library?”  Rather say: “We want to make sure we maintain the book stock levels?”  Focusing on stopping people stealing suggests the solution straight away: anti theft measures.  But making sure you’re maintaining book stock levels could lead to replacing books with digital versions, amnesties etc.
    Challenge – don’t say “We need to increase sales by 20%”.  Rather say: “We want to make it easier for our customers to buy our products.”  Focusing on increasing sales suggests the solution straight away: incentives for sales people.  But focusing on making it easier to buy products could lead to all sorts of ideas around point of sale changes, customer support etc.
    This approach is meant to keep the doors open for original and creative thought.
  • If at all possible they should be stated in the positive.
  • It shouldn’t, if possible, have success metrics built in.  Success metrics should be used as a measure of the success of the idea, not as a measure of the problem or challenge itself.
  • A problem statement that is too narrow will drive your thinking down a particular path.  If you find yourself doing this, broaden it out.

Figuring out the rules

The rules for problem or challenge are often great fun to come up with.  However, a few people run into challenges with them.  To help you out we’ve got some extra tips to get the most out of them.

  • As we mentioned in the video, they should be absolute facts.  No guesses, assumptions or nice to haves.
  • These rules are to help you think of new ideas.  No one is suggesting you’ll actually break the rule in real life.  Used well, they take you out of the constraints you are currently under and figure out new approaches, solutions and methodologies.
  • Think of the attributes a typical solution to your problem or challenge will have in your organisation.
    For example, is the typical solution to an informational challenge (one that requires users to know something) a web portal they can go to.  Ok, so what are the rules to one of those in your organisation? (Online, text based, accessed through the company intranet, updated weekly etc.)   Breaking one of those rules could help you see a whole new world.  Think about a web portal that can’t be online, or isn’t text based, or has to be accessed through a mobile device, maybe using an app.  There are all sorts of ways even a tight challenge statement can open up.
  • If you’re trying to come up with a new process, list the attributes of the process as it currently is (again, in your organisation).  What must it achieve, who must it touch, what are the inputs or outputs.



Download the form to help you use Rule Breaking or just fill it in below.  Don’t forget to save or print it (right click on the form).

Please feel free to post your ideas in comments.


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