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Problem Solving: Parallels Between the Digital and the Outdoors

The Reality

We live one life.

Many of us compartmentalize our lives, separating work from the weekend. In actuality, the two feed each other. That’s right, you can put your phone on airplane mode, but “unplugging” is a farse.

Heidi, my colleague, is a UX designer based in Denver. She also identifies as a climber. Let’s walk through how her approach to problem-solving in a digital context parallels her preparation for ascending a route.

The Prep

Begin with a plan of attack.

Implement process in your work. When receiving a brief, Heidi starts with asking questions and uncovering actionable insights, then gets into ideation. After, she edits her ideas to dive into user testing. There’s a pattern of iteration and failure till she reaches a desired solution.

Now, let’s jump outside. Prior to even getting on the wall, Heidi is preparing. Her process begins by warming up her body and transitioning into a focused mindset. She assesses both the route and its context. Similar, to attacking a brief, Heidi experiments and tests her preconceived hypotheses. In both environments, there is a deadline, established goals, and the plan is subject to pivot.

The Tools

To get the job done.

Now that we’ve covered the process, let’s talk about the toolbox. Heidi is blocked throughout her process if she does not have the tools she needs. I’ve listed below, the contents required for each setting.


Apple Computer, Dual Monitor, Sketch, The Noun Project, Google, Pinterest, Whiteboard, Sketch Pad, Sharpies, InVision, Nerf Gun, & Local Micro Brew


Scarpa Shoes, Mammut Harness, ATC — the belay device, Chalk Bag, Chalk, Rope, Stretchy Pants, Backpack, Water, & Local Micro Brew

The Team

Because problem-solving is collaborative.

The preparation is complete, processes are in place, and the toolbox is packed. What’s next? Establish a team to achieve your desired outcome considering culture and skill. In Heidi’s office environment, this might mean her project will require a frontend developer, two backend developers, a product manager, and a social media marketer on the project. All contribute their individual expertise, ideate together, and work towards a common goal.

Keep in mind climbing is also highly dependent on relationships. One, your life is literally in your partner’s hands via a rope and some metal bits. Two, it is crucial to be transparent about your actions through clear communication. This trust will in addition propel your success both outdoors and in the office. Building this trust leads to an understood comfort allowing the team to tap into their flow.

Working It

Time to do cool shit.

There you have it, Heidi is implementing elements of her “Nine to Five” to structure her weekend fun. Tackling problems both in the office and the outdoor requires preparation, the right tools, and a couple of good people by your side, thus closing your loop in life.

2015 Maddie Boatwright DSW Talk


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