Problem solving and innovation would be much easier tasks if problems would only present themselves fully formed and clearly defined. We’d know exactly what we were trying to achieve, and could leap instantly into finding a solution. In the real world however, no one presents us with problems; to keep ahead of the game, we have to go looking for them. And, no matter how we get them, we’re often facing ambiguous situations where the fuzzy outlines of intertwined problems and opportunities float murkily below the surface. We know that we need to act, but we’re not always exactly sure what we’re attempting to accomplish through those actions.
We expect a lot from our politicians. We demand that they simultaneously prepare for the future while preserving our heritage; protect the vulnerable while enabling the strongest among us to excel; and build tomorrow’s cities and countries while balancing today’s budgets. With challenges like that, success can only come when the brightest of minds are given the tactics, tools and processes that allow them to collaborate on solutions.
Promotions, raises, pats on the back and even just the regular paycheck are among the ways organizations show their employees that they are valued and their contributions are recognized.
But it’s not that uncommon for organizational rewards to be out of sync with the behaviors employees are told are valued. And when there’s a conflict between a company’s words and its rewards, want to guess what speaks most loudly to staff?
A Chinese proverb warns us to be careful of our habits, for they shall become our character. It’s a concept that I think captures the importance of routine in developing us into the people we become. If we habitually condition ourselves to reject the untried, the unknown or the unusual, we are doomed to action that is likely to be safe, predictable and reliable, but unlikely to be inventive or innovative.
The business world doesn’t expend much energy on problem finding. It’s an uncomfortable and often untidy process. And while many leaders consider themselves to be good problem solvers, most seem to find the idea of searching for new problems to be counter-intuitive. The “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” theory of management is alive and well.
Few organizational challenges are within the scope of a single individual to solve. Moving innovation from insight to idea to implementation usually requires a number of people, ideally working together within a well-functioning team.