Have you noticed that problem generation does not come easily to many people? They prefer to wait for others to surface problems and to take the lead in finding opportunities for improvement and new approaches. This applies to people at all levels of organizations, including leaders.

Creativity begins with generating problems. Organizations that opt to stick only with milking ‘what’s working’ to fatten short-term profits while ‘business is good,’ run the risks of reduced quality, increased costs, and loss of competitive edge.

They can be caught flat-footed by competitors that leap ahead in marketing new offerings developed by a process of proactively unearthing new customer needs. Companies that can’t actively generate problems also risk frustrating employees looking to do more than just collect a paycheck until the next business downturn.
Leading companies treasure problem generation. Some top Japanese companies place newly hired R&D engineers and scientists into the sales department. They want them to learn the problems of the customers, because they believe that is where innovation begins — “We want them to know we aren’t going to hand them problems to solve,” they say. Solutions to those problems are the birth of new products and services.

Similarly, 3M sets a corporate objective that 25% of its products must be new each five years.

This week’s MinSight: How might you take the lead in igniting the creative process in your department or organization?
How might you make problem generation a routine, valuable and rewarded part of everyone’s work?

MinCaveat: A word of caution: Problem finders are sometimes viewed as a breath of fresh air, but maybe seen by some as a pain in the neck. Try this challenge for yourself. “How might I propose exploring changes in creative ways which entice others to join up?”