Do you want to love being an innovative problem solver?
By Renée Goyeneche—
When you think about the definition of innovation, what comes to mind? We often believe it is a result; a completed project that far exceeds that of a competitor through “outside the box” thinking. Innovation, however, is more than that. It is the whole methodology of building new strategies to create better processes, products and services.
Because every innovative project requires a deviation from the norm, finding a new route can be difficult. We tend to get trapped in thought patterns and sometimes it’s hard to navigate. Cognitive distortions such as catastrophizing or confirmation bias can prevent us from seeing the individual nuances of a situation, leaving us feeling like we have a problem that “cannot” be solved.
The good news is that we can use team dynamics to develop skills that facilitate creative problem solving. However, we must first identify the obstacles that may prevent this growth and think about the constraints we have imposed to solve the problems.
If you feel stuck, ask yourself these questions:
- Have you worked to build the communication channels needed to develop and maintain the interpersonal relationships that support innovation? It’s critical that when working as part of a team, all members feel comfortable bringing their ideas to the table. Innovation is not born in a vacuum. It requires an exchange of ideas that frame a problem and attack it from different angles. Think of it as a numbers game: having more ideas to choose from increases the chances of finding a valid solution. In addition, people who feel listened to take more ownership of the project’s success.
- What is your personal risk profile? If you are risk averse, working with people who can suggest taking a calculated risk can translate into intrapreneurial success, and vice versa. The best leaders embrace diverse viewpoints and integrate them into a solution.
- Do you accept and value reasonable suggestions? Or do you ignore potentially viable solutions on the grounds that they are imperfect? A solution may not provide a 100% resolution to every aspect of a problem, and sometimes we have to live with some ambiguity or uncertainty.
- Are pre-existing ideas of how things “should” be done limiting the evolution of your thought process? The old ways aren’t always the best, and something that used to be true might not stand up to scrutiny today. Recognizing that the constraints of historical solutions limit our creative problem-solving skills helps break these thought patterns.
How to use innovative problem-solving techniques:
- Identify the nature of the challenge to be met. Before thinking about solutions, take a step back and look at things objectively. Have you identified the core issues or are you trying to fix one-off fire drill issues that don’t move the needle? While each challenge may seem important at the time, it generally falls into two categories: short-term and long-term. If you try to solve a long-term problem with an immediate short-term solution, the problem will continue to show up until you solve the main problem.
- Relax your assumptions to stimulate creativity. There is no single path to a solution, and there is no reason to approach all problems in the same way. If your business or industry has one way of doing things, consider going the other direction and discuss alternatives. Creativity allows us to find value in novelty, which is essential to the success of innovation.
- Ask the “stupid” questions. Let go of the ego of the expert and try to approach the problem as if you had no background information. What obvious challenges exist at ground level? Sometimes you have to let go of limited knowledge to see new opportunities. A fundamental aspect of innovation is that it is a learning process.
- Challenge your perception of periods. What is the best (and worst) scenario for the challenge at hand? How can you work backwards from the “best case scenario” for a process that leads to the desired outcome?
- Leverage past experiences. You have a history of accumulated knowledge that can come into play in unexpected ways. You may find the solution to a current problem in an unrelated but valuable lesson from your past.
When we engage in creative problem solving, we can redefine problems as opportunities to develop new and better processes, products, and services. To do this, we must first clarify the objective, then generate ideas, solve the problem and implement the solution. Often all the necessary elements are already available; we just have to adjust our approach.
Renee Goyeneche: I’m a writer and editor specializing in news that benefits women, children and families. find me on Twitter and blog about Imperfect perception.