Ladder of Abstraction

Clarify the scope of the problem prior to taking generative leaps

A well-framed problem statement can serve as a springboard for teams to clarify the right level of problem to solve for and guide the ideation session that follows. Making your problem statement too vague can lead to ideas that are scattered and broad. Too specific and there isn't enough room for creativity. Use the Ladder of Abstraction to find that sweet spot of generative thinking when working on brief development or problem framing.

Get Ready

Select the topic

Identify a topic for this session and craft a problem statement that's framed as an inspiring goal. i.e. "How might we support women who are Black, Indigenous or People of Color looking for local, social support resources?" Pre-populate the statement into the Ladder of Abstraction template as a starting place for the group session to follow.

 

Include people with diverse perspectives

Diversity drives creativity. To help ensure you are thinking broadly about potential impacts, make sure you include people with diverse perspectives and experiences as a part of your session.

Live Activity

Explain the purpose of this exercise and review team insights

Share the Ladder of Abstraction template with the team, and explain that this tool will be used to help right size the problem area of your project or program. If available, have the team review main points from the project work or research so it's top of mind for everyone.

 

Review session problem statement for feedback

Share the problem statement that's been created and invite the team to build on or finesse the statement (if needed).

 

Right-size your statement by laddering up and down

Get your problem statement just right. "Ladder up" by asking why-type questions to broaden the statement when needed, and "ladder down" by asking how-type questions to narrow its focus. Repeat until your statement feels like it can inspire a diverse array of ideas, while also providing enough focus to set a clear directional path. When you are able to repeat this exercise for multiple statements, your team will end up with a collection that feels conducive to provoking a clear and exciting direction for the person/group you are designing for.

Next Steps

Determine next steps

If your team completed multiple exercises, vote on a set of statements that seem most clear and inspiring to clarify the opportunity space. As a next step, consider using the Conducting a Brainstorm exercise to transform these statements into big ideas.

Tools you may like

Problem Statements
Lateral Inspiration
Journey Storming
Rapid Experimentation

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