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History of Challenge Mapping

Updated: Nov 2, 2023

Coming Soon!

We love the history of innovation related methods and how it all connects to today and tomorrow!

Among the upcoming stories we are working on is the history of the Abstraction Ladder which started out as the Structural Differentiator and along the way became the Bessie the Cow Story, the Mousetrap Story, the CPS (Creative Problem Solving) Ladder of Abstraction...and ultimately what is known as Open Challenge Framing today.

Moving beyond Discipline-Based Challenge Framing towards Open Challenge Framing is key to becoming not only more strategic but much more adaptable in complex contexts of all kinds.

How this knowledge progressed is a great example of what Alfred Korzybski referred to as "time-binding" and a fascinating story.

Stay tuned!


(Please note Open Challenge Framing is NOT Root Cause Analysis!)

We teach Open Challenge Framing to organizational leaders in our Complexity Navigation skill-building program.

Shown below is real-time Cocreated Open Challenge Framing in New York City with multiple leader participants lead by Humantific.

Open Challenge Mapping In Context

The How Might We? Connection:

The CPS Ladder of Abstraction has a long history of research and developments accross many constributors spanning a period from 1933 to 2021...2023.


1. Hayakawa’s 1939 Bessie the Cow story (object-focused) was converted in the CPS (Creative Problem Solving) community to the Mousetrap Challenge story (challenge constellation focus) circa 1953 and then to the CPS Abstraction Ladder in 1959.

2. The now famous invitation stem: How Might We? was created and inserted into the CPS Ladder of Abstraction circa 1960 thanks to Sid Parnes & his associates.

3. The logic of navigating to a broader challenge within the ladder in cocreation by asking participants "Why?" was inserted into the CPS Ladder of Abstraction circa 1960.

The CPS Ladder of Abstraction has undergone numerous evolutions since it first appearred and it remains an active work in progress. It represents a way to step outside individual discipline based framing as in a Service Designer frames service problems etc.

Now known as Open Challenge Framing it is a form of strategic sensemaking that creates systemic pictures of challenge constellations, not found in traditional systems thinking or design methods.

Open Challenge Framing is among the most strategically useful tools in the Humantific Complexity Navigation toolbox.


Image Credits:

Image 1: S.I Hayakawa’s 1939 Abstraction Ladder. Humantific Collection

Image 2: Humantific Strategy Cocreation Session, NYC.

Image 3: Mapping Method Types from Rethinking Design Thinking: Making Sense of the Future that Has Already Arrived, Humantific 2020.


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