“People don’t buy what you do, but why you do it.”

Tip A:

Design Thinking and Human-Centered Design

We often refer to two methods for problem solving:

  • Human Centred Design: As the name suggests, this is about putting humans at the centre of every design step. We are not focused on making new technology or money. These are only means to an end. The purpose is to solve social problems.
  • Design Thinking: Design thinking is a formal method for practical, creative resolution of problems and the creation of solutions. Design thinking is solution-focused thinking; whereby one starts with a goal (a better future situation) instead of solving a specific problem. (This approach differs from the analytical scientific method, which begins with thoroughly defining all the parameters of the problem in order to create a solution.) Design thinking is a good method for solving “wicked” problems (complex irresolvable problems”.

Tip B:

Investigate the Causes of the Problem

You need to understand the underlying causes of a problem to be able to address it effectively.


    1. Write down your problem in the centre of a page.
    2. Ask WHY? See how many different reasons you can think of. Write these all around the problem in the middle of the page.
    3. Now for each reason, ask WHY again. Repeat this until you have asked WHY 5 times for each original reason.

Another way to dig into understanding the root of the problem is to flip the problem. For example, if our problem was gangsterism, we could ask “What is GOOD about being in a gang?” Answers might be being protected by the gang; feel cool; feel part of a group. What’s GOOD about taking drugs? Escape from memories; feel confident; escape boredom; feel part of a group. From this we can identify underlying human needs which are the root cause of the problem, protection, status, community, comfort, self-confidence, entertainment.

PRO TIP from South African-born, Canadian-American entrepreneur, engineer, inventor and investor, Elon Musk’s First Principle’s Thinking:
“Rather than taking what already exists as the basis of our thinking, we break the problem down to its most fundamental truths and examine each piece. Even though a problem has already been solved, we start from the problem’s most basic elements to re-examine whether a better solution might be possible.”

Tip C:

Understand who is involved in the problem.

Map the many different people involved in a problem and their priorities. Different people have different priorities and are motivated by different things.


  1. Map the people involved in your problem. Who is involved in your problem?
  2. What is each person’s role?
  3. What do you know about each person’s perspective?
  4. Fact vs. Assumption: What do you know to be true and what have you assumed?
  5. Ethnographic research is a great tool for finding out what people really say/do/think and feel. Ethnographic research methods include observing people and talking to people. Do you need to do any further research to validate your assumptions?

Tip D:

Synthesise information


  1. Look at the information you gathered during Story Telling, Why Why Why and mapping people involved.
    1. Did any themes start to appear?
    2. What underlying needs did you identify?
    3. What aspirations do people have?
    4. What barriers exist?

Tip E:

Articulate an actionable social innovation challenge to “IMAGINE A NEW AFRICA”

A challenge is a starting place for brainstorming, not a solution in itself.


  1. Define the challenge. The structure of a design/innovation challenge has the following elements:
    1. How might we…
    2. Specific action: “create/improve/connect…”
    3. A specific user
    4. A purpose

    “How might we motivate high school learners to access free learning resources, in order to improve matric results?”

    “How might we + high school learners + motivate to access free learning resources + in order to improve matric results”

    “How might we connect small-scale farmers to opportunities to sell their produce in order to increase famers’ income?”

    “How might we + small-scale farmers + connect to opportunities to sell their produce + in order to increase famers’ income”

  2. Watch out for challenges that are already solutions. A key part of creating innovative solutions is preventing yourself and your team from jumping to conclusions.

Tip F:

Brainstorming Tips:

  1. Get comfy and bring some food (for thought too)!
  2. You’ll need paper, post-its, colourful kokis, cameras….and lots of energy
  3. Stay focused on the challenge.
  4. Have one conversation at a time and listen to everyone’s ideas.
  5. Aim for as many ideas as possible…
  6. No idea is a bad idea; The team can comment on ideas by saying “Yes, and…”. Remember, no judgment, criticism or negative comments (“That will never work”). Build on the ideas of others, instead of blocking them.
  7. Encourage wild ideas!
  8. Have fun!


    1. Display the challenge – “Imagine A New Africa” – clearly in the middle of a page so everyone can see it loud and clear.
    2. Watch the “Imagine A New Africa” video: The Vice Chancellor’s Social Innovation Challenge
    3. Start off silent: Everyone in the team thinks of solutions on their own first
    4. The goal is to come up with as many ideas as possible. Be crazily imaginative and don’t limit your ideas – even if they seem unrealistic at this point!
    5. Think BIG. Start with “Imagine if….” Think ‘and’, rather than ‘but’. Stay open-minded, feel excited and optimistic.

Share: After a period of about 5 – 10minutes, the team shares their ideas. Allow everyone to share their ideas WITHOUT interrupting (write your comments down to remind yourself later). One person should capture everyone’s ideas on a board.

    1. Look at themes: What ideas are similar? Group similar ideas.

Start building ideas: Go over each idea again and start building on ideas.

  1. Document: Remember to keep writing down all these ideas the team is having.
  2. Capture and display your ideas during your brainstorm session to give you a clear direction and purpose for the next steps
  3. Which idea are you all most excited about?
  4. Summarize it in a single sentence
  5. Describe how your idea would work
  6. Do a reality check and be prepared to let go of any ideas that just won’t work
  7. Make your ideas actionable

Remember this is a SOCIAL INNOVATION challenge, so keep asking:

  1. How will your idea impact society?
  2. Who will benefit?
  3. Will it change thinking, behaviours and systems?
  4. What is its long term impact?

Concepts to help you stretch your brainstorming:

You can go through different rounds of brainstorming for each of the following questions:

    1. Connectedness of problems: Try to make connections between the problems. Do they relate in any way?
    2. Connecting the dots: What can you use in your toolkit to address these problems?
    3. Seeing the gap: Can problems be seen as opportunities? Example: power outages are a chance to sell solar lights.

Strength finding / flipping it: What hidden strengths do you see in people. Example: gangsters are great at event planning, communications and creating communities.

  1. Extending limitations: Brainstorm with each of the following scenarios:
    • If we had all the money in the world…
    • If we only had R50…
    • If we had all the time in the world…
    • If we had one day…
    • If we didn’t mind that people thought we were crazy…
    • If everyone in the city helped us…

Resources/References/Case Studies:

  1. Human Centred Design PDFs

Upstarts’ links:

  1. Week 5 Highlight video:
  2. Social Innovator Profile:
  3. Pro-Circuit Coach Profile: Emma Dicks: profile-emma.php
  4. Mindblowing Monday video:
  5. Workshop Wednesday video:Emma Dicks: (coming soon)
  6. Slide Share:
  7. a. Ulrich Meyer-Hollings:
  8. b. Dr Francois Bonnici: (coming soon)