“All life is problem solving” wrote Karl Popper. In workplaces the world over, teams come together to solve problems of all sizes.
Photo by Emily Morter on Unsplash
Jumping into solution mode is a common challenge for teams seeking to be innovative in problem solving. The tendency to immediately see how to solve a problem can stem from existing knowledge, and assumptions – which more than likely won’t help us to develop new thinking.
Embedding an innovation process that starts with exploration of the problem before solutioning is a critical foundation.
Here are three “mindset” approaches we’ve used in innovation process design and facilitation practice at Creativer, to help teams excel in problem discovery.
We crave answers more than we do questions. To overcome that, we place a higher value on questions – we make it a “thing” to celebrate our ignorance.
Thinking like a beginner is easier said than done. Letting go of what we know, perceive and expect – to see the situation with fresh eyes. Some starting points that we use for opening up:
Embracing a muse can help with this. What would a child want to know? An investigator, anthropologist, or even an alien?
Taking this approach kick-starts curiosity, and a mindset of “being comfortable with the unknown” that goes along with creative thinking.
In his book Quiet Leadership, David Rock [i] shares five levels of focus. Rock points out the importance of choosing your focus in any process. The principle can be applied to problem solving, with each of these levels being a valid entry point for problem articulation. The five levels of focus are:
We may individually have a default level. One person might be drawn to the emotion of a problem, or more to the big picture. It’s not that any level is the right level. Rather, we should be conscious of our choice of focus.
Different levels were apparent among team members working on a marketing challenge in a recent workshop. The team had been surprised by a new offering launched by a competitor. As we developed challenge statements, the level of focus varied from drama “How might we fight back with a stronger proposition in response to ABC’s recent launch?” to planning “How might we engage our best customers with unprecedented, customised benefits?”
Creating awareness of the different levels of focus and agreeing the focus with the team was an important enabler for inclusive and effective creative problem solving.
These days it’s increasingly common to see known concepts turned on their head. In the last few weeks I’ve attended an unconference, read an article that referred to unbuilding and co-created an idea titled “the unlibrary.”
Janusian thinking is the capacity to hold two or more contradictory ideas or concepts at the same time. The term comes from the Roman god Janus, who had multiple faces, each looking in different directions. In Janusian thinking, we embrace both the library and the un-library.
The idea of looking in two directions at once helps us rationally suspend judgment on a solution we’ve already conceived, especially if we are fixated on that solution. We “freeze” that solution or known concept (we can always come back to it) and simultaneously explore the problem in an opposing, unknown direction.
We’ve found these three approaches help teams embrace problems, especially when “known” solutions are a roadblock to new thinking. Following a deliberate innovation process also means that we don’t dwell endlessly in the problem space. We emerge with a clear view of the challenge. Then it’s time to step into idea generation. For more on the creative problem solving process, click here.
[i] HRock, D. (2006). Quiet leadership: Help people think better — don’t tell them what to do : six steps to transforming performance at work. New York: Collins.