Breakthrough Ideas

With the right process, breakthrough ideas can go from haphazard to habitual. sporadic to systematic.

I know it’s possible because I’ve used this one tried and true process with clients and projects for years.

I had a person book a coaching session with me recently. She has plenty of professional success, but after some life events, she found herself questioning what her next career step should be. She found herself in a life transition, and while she had lots of options, she was struggling to choose where to start.

So I went to my tried and proven method — my four-step framework for helping people with solutions.

My framework is based in design thinking. I learned about the practice while doing project work with IDEO in a previous job. (One of the highlights of my career.)

I’ve simplified it somewhat to help me solve any problem with a little creative thinking mixed in.

(Fun fact: Mike and I like it so much that we named our company after it. Each step of the framework starts with the letter “D”, hence the name “D4”.)

This process can be scaled to fit the size of problem you have.

Note: If you’re trying to make a decision about what to do on a date night, it can take minutes. If you’re trying to redesign a city with urban sprawl, well, that’s going to take a little longer.

So what is the four-step framework for solving problems and creating solutions?

Here it is - the D4 framework.


Define. Define what the need and problem really is.

Before you start jumping to conclusions or brainstorming solutions, define what problem you are trying to solve. Put parameters around what it is, and write it in a problem statement.

When I was coaching this recent client, I began to ask her where she was in life, and what she wanted to accomplish. I began to try to define how it was I could best help her, and what the real problem was.


Discover. Ask questions to discover what you don’t yet know.

Be curious to learn more about the problem, its root causes, and what has been tried before. Take inventory of the resources available or needed. Listen for context before you leap to a conclusion. Be an active listener.

As I asked this client questions, I began to make note of words she used, emotions she conveyed, and passions she identified. Then I began to group and sort them to synthesize the information into meaningful categories.


Design. Armed with clear definitions and newly discovered information, you are ready to brainstorm. Now’s the time to generate new ideas. Get creative with new connections or pairings of ideas. Build on ideas as you go.

Working with the client, I started to suggest some of my new ways of lookng at her challenges. I gave her new filters and frameworks that could help her make decisions — all based in what she had told me mattered most to her.

It was about this time when she asked me, “How did you get all of this out of me in such a short time?” (At this point, we were about 45 minutes into our session.)

It was because I was using this process to fuel new ideas and breakthrough moments of clarity.


Deliver. Once you have potential solutions in front of you, it’s time to select one (or two) to test. Don’t think you have to implement or develop it to its fullest extent of perfection. Try it out in some partially developed form and get opinions of others first.

In about an hour, I had used this four-part framework to help a client get new perspective, find clarity and have two new filters for decision-making for her career. It was now up to her to take the next step.

Just like it is with you.

Are you stuck right now? What problem are you facing?

Maybe it’s time to use a new framework for generating new ideas.

Our D4 framework can help you understand the real problem, learn more about the context, and then generate new ideas.

I’d love your feedback.

How can you see the D4 framework helping in your situation?

Micah Ray

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