Whether at work or at play, in a social setting or alone, we all have to solve problems. As soon as we frame something as ‘a problem’ however, we create a barrier for ourselves.
How do you go about solving a problem?
To be successful, we need to remove the barrier. We’ll look at a simple yet powerful way later. But let’s start with the question of how you solve a problem. Dr Michael Kirton identified a continuum of styles that people use, when tackling problems.
At one end of the spectrum is an Adaptive Style. People whose preference is towards this end like a structure within which to solve their problems. They will favour a formal problem solving process like the Eight Disciplines, the Simplex Method or DMAIC.
Adaptive Problem Solvers
Discipline and incrementalism characterise these problem solvers. They like to ‘do it by the book’ and avoid taking risks. They are less likely to find the radical solution, but also less likely to crash and burn with a way out solution that fails disastrously.
Radical solutions are more likely to be found by people who favour the Innovative end of the spectrum of styles.
Innovative Problem Solvers
Innovative problem solvers like risk, experimentation and radical solutions. A formal process will leave them feeling constrained and all they will want to do is subvert it. They will question anything and often do things differently just for the sake of it. Irreverence is their middle name!
Commonly, Adaptive problem solving goes along with careful attention to detail, whilst at the other end of the spectrum, an Innovative style shuns detail in favour of a wider view.
Innovative problem solving often looks like ‘creativity’. This is perhaps a false equation. Styles across the whole spectrum can be creative; the continuum helps us understand the conditions that best foster that creativity for each of us.
The Best of Both Worlds
Is there a way of working on problems that can allow people who favour both Adaptive and Innovative styles to work together and thrive. Jonne Cesarani is an expert on helping stimulate creativity and his Problem Solving Pocketbook, may well hold the answer.
Throughout the book, Jonne makes good use of a very powerful approach to problem solving, called Synectics.
Developed from observation of what does and does not work in problem-solving groups, Synectics offers a clear nine-step process for solving problems that will certainly appeal to the Adaptive thinker in any of us.
But the way that it does so is to foster stages of controlled challenge and radicalism. It offers flexibility and a variety of tools that stimulate thinking in metaphorical, absurd and imaginary ways that will also appeal to the Innovative thinker in you.
The Nine Step Model
It is well worth checking out the nine step process, which Jonne sets out and documents extremely clearly. As a taster, there is Step 1.
This is an astonishingly simple way to overcome that barrier of ‘having a problem’. In Synectics, we start by re-writing our problem in the format:
‘How to …’
What this does is focus you, right from the start, on the solution, rather than the problem. Brilliant!
So here’s the deal
Don’t force a problem solving process on people with an Innovative style, but do offer one to people who are more Adaptive. For teams, favour an approach that allows members to combine a clear process with the freedom to subvert it.