5 Steps for Creative Crowdsourced Problem Solving

BY REBECCA CULLEN | 4 min read

“If I had an hour to solve a problem I'd spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.”  

― Albert Einstein

The 5 steps of problem-solving are a great framework to use in tackling challenges on the heroX platform. And although the structure helps teams of innovators get started on a challenge, we must always remember that complex problem solving is not a linear process, it is an iterative process. 

The purpose of 5 steps of problem solving is not to create rigidity, rather it is to allow for a scope of creativity, which is hard to get to when your problem solving is muddled. With that in mind, using these 5 steps as a guideline helps get our teams moving together cohesively in the right direction. 


Step One: Analyze the problem 

Take the time to do some thinking, as Albert Einstein said.

Distinguish between the symptom and the problem 

A challenge must be centered around a problem and not the symptom. For example, take the problem, “Our company is not profitable.” Yes, that is a problem, but it’s more of a symptom of an underlying issue. In order not to waste resources solving this problem, how about trying to dig a little (or a lot) deeper to get to the root of the problem. If you create a challenge around the real problem, you’ll be looking for the right answers. 

In The Road Less Stupid, author and business coach Keith Cunningham talks about ways to figure out what the obstacles are that are causing the symptom. One device he suggests is to frame the problem as a “How might I . . . so that I can . . .” question. I.e: “How might we generate an additional $20,000/month in profits so that we can afford to invest in a new building and double our capacity?” Now that we’ve got specifics to deal with, it’s a lot easier to start generating ideas. 

Break the problem down into subcomponents. Zero in on who the problem affects, and how they could be helped. As you break the problem down and isolate the issues, you will make next steps easier, and increase the chances of success in addressing those specific areas. 


Address the scope of the issue

When it comes to issues like global warming or world hunger, you may be able to come up with solutions to start moving the needle in the right direction, but obviously, understanding your human limitations in a crisis so enormous is important. When you have some perspective, you will understand that any advance toward alleviating these problems is excellent progress. Expecting to eradicate those conditions would be setting yourself up for some delusional disappointment! 


Step Two: Brainstorm/prioritize solutions 

“Be a generous listener to be a generous contributor.

We often listen to respond instead of listening to relate.”

― Janna Cachola

Tap into the three C’s:

Participants in HeroX challenges come to this platform seeking intellectual stimulation, and possible prize money. They are an incredibly diverse collection of innovators who usually have three things in common: 

  • Creativity
  • Curiosity
  • Competitiveness

These are the traits that fuel inspired ideation, which is exactly what is needed at this stage of problem-solving.

Big picture thinking

While you’re thinking of granular solutions, it’s important to always take the long view, and keep the big picture in mind. Solving for one or two little issues may not make a dent in the overall situation. 

As we mentioned, it’s always important to keep in mind who this problem affects, and exactly how that person or group will be helped by your proposed solution. 

Generate interventions and disruptions

Brainstorming unleashes all kinds of fresh ideas and new angles. And since two (or many) heads are better than one, the members of a team should build on each other’s ideas. Respect all the individual voices and allow your fellow team members the space to think outside the box and feel comfortable throwing any idea into the mix. 


Step Three: Generate Hypotheses and Prioritize Proving Them

Photo by pixabay for pexels

This step requires forward movement, testing ideas--eliminating some and choosing others. Now that you have laid out all the issues, you can begin to address each one. 

Once you've created various hypotheses that could solve these problems, you need to prioritize your efforts. 

This step may involve:

  • Design thinking
  • Forecasting
  • Prediction
  • Project design
  • Project planning

As you begin to eliminate obvious paths to a solution that are not viable, you will zero in on the right choice. 


Step Four: Decide on a solution  

“Decision making and problem solving are not the same. To solve a problem, one needs to find a solution. To make a decision, one needs to make a choice.”

― Michael J. Marx,

As a group, you will ultimately decide what you are going to do. The narrowing down process has to involve all of the following criteria: 

  • How will it be implemented?
  • Is it practical?
  • Is it cost-effective?
  • Is it a quick fix, or a viable long-term solution?
  • How long will it take to implement?
  • Will resources for the solution be readily obtained?
  • Is there a clear and obvious choice?
  • What are the risks involved?
  • Is this solution manageable?

A decision matrix is a great tool to help the team evaluate close-competitor choices. The matrix allows you to rank choices on how they meet the objectives that are laid out.

When you present a solution, make a concise argument and present your core analyses without overwhelming people with every single experiment and spreadsheet that was created along the way. 


Step Five: Lay out a plan to implement the solution 

When you make your final recommendation, write up a clear storyline to help your audience understand what the problem was that you identified, how you addressed it, and how this solution meets all the criteria involved.

The solution should now manifest in a step by step execution plan which is realistic in terms of resources, functionality, and time constraints. Bear in mind the various systems that will be involved in implementing the change. There are likely many moving parts, so do the research and be as specific as possible when laying out the roadmap. If possible, note who is responsible for each stage of implementation and when. 

The 5 Steps of problem-solving are not foolproof, and they are certainly not set in stone, but they are a tried and tested guideline to encourage innovative ideation, research, and successful exploration of new ideas. 

Since our inception, HeroX teams have had the privilege of taking part in some exciting, cutting-edge challenges. When people find a common purpose and join minds to innovate together, there is no limit to what they can achieve.


more like this
The Power of Design Thinking
Design Thinking is at an exciting pivotal point in its evolution right now. Read about The NFL Helmet Challenge and other examples of how great minds come together on the HeroX platform to create meaningful solutions.
3 min read
How HeroX is Leveraging the Crowd to Make History
Technology has opened up exciting new avenues for innovation. Find out how organizations like the Department of Energy and NASA are leveraging creative minds on the heroX platform to crowdsource viable solutions for generations to come.
3 min read
5 Reasons Why Crowdsourcing is the Secret Weapon Your Organization Needs to Thrive
Steve Jobs recognized the inertia that can befall companies that try to do new things the old way. Crowdsourcing brings a breath of fresh air to that dynamic. When you open up a challenge to a team that is assembling around a love of innovation, you get new and different ideas.
2 min read