Problem Solving: A Double Diamond Approach

Whether you’re designing a new product or solving a personnel problem in the bullpen, there is an optimal process for arriving at a workable solution. Of course, the optimal process is not always the same, and it’s not always followed. This is especially true when it comes to solving people challenges. In fact, when a worker is out of line or conflict erupts, the most common response is a rush to solution: tackling outward behaviors without adequately assessing underlying causes.

Some of the most difficult challenges we face in the workplace are people issues. Speaker and therapist, Connie Podesta, puts it this way, “Life would be easier if it weren’t for other people.”  But, as her keynote presentation soon reveals, people challenges are seldom about what (or who) we think they’re about. Just as pouring water on an electrical fire makes things worse; responding to the symptoms of a people problem often causes things to escalate or worse, go underground.

When Albert Einstein was asked about his approach to solving difficult problems, he responded: “If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.”  He also said; “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.”

When you put these two ideas together, it’s clear that a different approach to problem solving and some new ways of thinking are needed.

During a workshop on design thinking the other day, I learned about a process that has potential outside the realm of design. It’s called the Double Diamond approach and it looks like this.

Diagram of the Double Diamond approach to designSource: The Design Council

First Explore, Then Assess

The shape of the image has meaning. From the starting point of a recognized problem, a root cause analysis begins. From that point of origin, the emergence of the first diamond represents the exploration of possible causes and requires the conscious use of divergent thinking.

Divergent Thinking

The goal of divergent thinking is to be creative and generate as many ideas as possible without imposing boundaries or judgment. As the discovery process continues the diamond expands.

Once the possibilities have been fully explored, it’s time to sort through them and determine the underlying cause that seems most valid to everyone involved in the process.

Convergent Thinking

The second half of the diamond requires convergent thinking and the application of judgment, assessment and critical thinking skills, all in pursuit of fully understanding the problem before considering solutions.

The first diamond is not complete until:

  • everyone involved has been heard,
  • underlying causes have been fully explored, and
  • there is agreement on the problem definition.

The Second Diamond

The next step involves switching back to divergent thinking in pursuit of all possible solutions and the second diamond emerges. The intent at this stage, once again, is discovery; the process is free-flowing, without boundaries until the possibilities are exhausted. Only then can the task of weighing the options and sorting through potential solutions begin. Switching back to convergent thinking for the final stage, solutions are evaluated and an optimal approach to solving the problem is chosen.

Seek First to Understand

The Double Diamond process is not time-bound because solving complex challenges can’t be rushed. This is especially true during the problem definition stage: the first diamond. Einstein knew that truly understanding a problem is the most important part of the process. Although widely seen as a genius, Einstein himself said ““I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.”

When it comes to resolving people challenges in the workplace; putting a Band-Aid on symptoms rarely succeeds. Being “passionately curious,” striving to understand what lies beneath the surface, and helping people reconcile the varying perspectives contributing to the problem—this is how you create workable solutions to complex problems. Perhaps polishing your Double Diamond approach is a good place to start.


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The Design Council:


University of Washington

Idea Generation: Divergent vs. Convergent Thinking

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