In my last post I wrote about how problem finding is an important precursor in solving medical product development problems creatively. One technique you can use to better understand the true problem you are facing is to “ladder up the benefits”.

The technique involves examining a problem in a step-wise fashion by asking, “If I could solve that particular aspect of the problem, what would that do for you?” Then, “if I could do that thing, what would that do for you?” And so on. Asking these questions helps you dig deeply into the problem to reveal possible solutions that aren’t initially apparent.

Here is an example:

The guests in a new hotel are complaining that the elevators are too slow. The obvious solution is to speed up the elevators. But, for a host of reasons, the elevators can’t be made to go faster, nor can more elevators be added. Is there another, creative way to solve this problem? Indeed, is the problem that the elevators are too slow, or is it that the hotel guests are complaining?

Using the “ladder up the benefits” technique, you would ask hotel guests, “If we could speed up the elevators, what would that do for you?” One possible response: “I could get to my room quicker.” Question: “If you could get to your room quicker, what would that do for you?” Response: “It would let me relax after a long day on the road.” Question: “If we could make it so you could relax as soon as you stepped into the hotel, what would that do for you?” Response: “It would relieve my anxiety and help me be refreshed for the next day.”

This line of questioning could go on, but let’s consider what we’ve learned and see if it’s allowed us to find a new problem – one that we can solve without having to speed up the elevators.

For this hotel guest, his desire is to relax. Slow elevators hinder that desire. Laddering up the benefits has revealed a different aspect of the problem that can be solved without having to speed up the elevators. One possible solution: Enable guests to relax before they’ve even reached their room. Perhaps the hotel could change the way they check people in. They could do away with the front desk and instead register all guests in a lounge area where they could be seated in comfortable furniture while enjoying a complimentary cup of coffee or glass of wine. Guests would be less inclined to notice the elevators are slow if their travel stress has already been relieved.

The value of the “laddering up the benefits” technique is that it helps you find problems that address base needs and motivations. Understanding those base needs and motivations will help you develop solutions that would have remained hidden otherwise.