A dilemma suggests a choice between two or more equally undesirable alternatives. It’s a frequent managerial situation where a decision, and ultimately trade offs must be made to solve a problem. The real problem is not the lack of attractive alternatives, but a lack of understanding of the problem itself.
Innovation, Creativity, and Creative Problem Solving: Perspectives, and essential skills for individual and organizational differentiation.
A truncated quote is often attributed to Peter Drucker, “You can’t manage what you cannot measure.” The continuation of that thought continues, “You can’t measure everything that matters.” The first half has become embedded into our DNA. The second half is simply false. You can measure what matters, but not by the same metrics as everything else.
Our culture has created problem solvers. Identify the problem and solve it quickly. The result may create more downstream problems. Solve them later. This is our business nature. But, it’s not our human nature,
Every organization wants people with answers. I prefer people with questions – specific questions like: What if? Why not? Then what?
Questions do more than seek response. They provide direction. A question well asked is half answered. Ask “Then what?” and you’re exploring beyond tactics to the strategic potential of the solution.
Some solutions only postpone the problem. Some offload the problem without really solving it. Some solve one problem but create another downstream.
After months of cutbacks, reductions and layoff, is your organization ready for an economic rebound? Emotionally? Probably yes.
Strategically? Probably no. Managing in a downturn requires the most from the least. Efficiency is king. Innovation, strategic visioning? Minimized or eliminated altogether. Your decision clock is ticking.
Situation: Your organization is burdened by a series of new rules with which it must comply. All organizations in your industry are subject to the same rules. The simple solution is to identify the path of least resistance – the solution that creates minimal disruption. That solution will probably be predictable. It will meet the requirement and probably nothing more.
The path of least resistance is also the path of least responsibility for protecting long term stakeholder value. The predictable path is the one that trades short term compliance for future competitive advantage.
An innovative organization, however, will see the problem differently. Instead of a restriction, it will identify the emerging industry pattern and will find the path which creates differentiation. Exploiting this path leads to new opportunity.
Over the past few years, I’ve seen many excellent speakers on the topic of breakthrough innovation and creative problem solving. Among the more interesting were: Claudia Kotchka, Clayton Christensen, David Swift, Renee Mauborgne and Vijay Govindarajan. What intrigued me about these speakers was their focus on shifting the frame of reference in order to identify breakthrough innovations. Innovation and strategy are not separate steps, but create a dynamic platform
I see it this way: If innovation is not strategic, it’s not innovative enough. If strategy is not innovative, it’s not an effective strategy. It’s that simple.
Bill McKibben, in his book, Deep Economy, illuminates several excellent perspectives on the state of the globe. More interestingly, he addresses the responsibility of innovation.
He begins with an analysis of “more and better.” These two foundation principles of progress part ways once a stable quality of life is achieved. Beyond that, he says, more is not necessarily better. More does not guarantee happiness, but at some point conflicts with it. The average home in the U.S. is double the size it was several decades ago. The number of occupants has dropped. The storage industry has grown and prospered because in spite of the vast amount of space we live in, we still don’t have enough room for all the stuff we have acquired.
That hunger for more is driven globally by media images promoting lifestyles that worship more. More is at the root of a growing imbalance.
He cites numerous innovations
In sculpture, it’s the negative space – what isn’t there – that makes what IS there so powerful. Negative space, also known as white space, is where nothing appears to be. In an object focused society, we see what is, and rarely take the time to consider what isn’t. We focus on the solid and tangible, forgetting that it is the intangible compliment that completes the whole picture. Think yin yang. Positive and negative are rarely equal in size and shape, but always equal in importance.
In bonsai, it’s the space between the branches that creates a sense of movement. The mass of positive areas (the branches) define the negative areas. It’s this dynamic relationship that attracts and holds a viewer’s attention.
Creativity for some comes as a flash of inspiration or insight. For people who consistently generate creative ideas, that flash is no coincidence, but the result of an awareness of intersecting paths. By focusing our attention on information that does not fit accepted pattterns, we force our brain to lower its associative barriers and establish new meaning. In the process, new realms of possibilities unfold.
Think about the holes we dig ourselves into with the assumptions we make every day. In a rush to make timely decisions, meet inflexible deadlines, or conserve our limited time, we default to reliable decision-making patterns. The result is a failure to differentiate ourselves, our projects or our organizations. Our decisions follow a very calculated and very predictable course of action.
I recently connected with Lea Redmond, the insightful writer/artist and founder of Leafcutter Designs. We share a common interest in David Abram's book, The Spell of the Sensuous. Abram succeeds in connecting the patterns of organic energy with speech, the alphabet, written language and scientific explanations. He weaves this incredible string into a rich path that includes anthropology, ecology, philosophy, mysticism and science. It is not a simple journey, but an enlightened one. The depth of his research and breadth of his references gives this book a magnitude of uncommon proportion.
"Our understandings rest upon our presuppositions which filter how we see the world," says Redmond. Abram's book begins with his surprising experience of an Indonesian ritual. Leaves are folded into little boats, filled with rice, and given to the "house spirits," (which end up being ants). In Lea's thesis, she takes a close look at Abram's experience by considering the relationship between presuppositions and insights - mistakes and possibilities."
With her permission, I am including an excerpt from her thesis:
There is not a “right” and a “wrong” way to see because there are no neutral interpretive categories. This is because interpretation involves the projection of a certain range of possibilities that will cut off other possibilities.
Read the summaries from 10 speakers at The Front End of Innovation - Europe. The conference was held 28-31 January, 2008 in Vienna, Austria.
Knowledge worker is a misleading term. When Peter Drucker first defined it, he elevated information and those who handle it to a new level of importance.
Knowledge implies value and validity. History provides dozens of examples of “knowledge” reduced to quaint anecdotes after innovative ideas have overturned how we interpret that knowledge.
Knowledge workers for the most part are baggage handlers, porting information from point to point with little comprehension of the contents of the baggage they handle. When tasked with thinking outside the box, few are comfortable or even capable of seeing beyond the surface of the knowledge which boxes their imaginations.
Knowledge is backward-facing information. The unfortunate fate of many organizations will be a lack of ability in combining knowledge with imagination to generate alternate scenarios and opportunities. Extracting concepts from existing knowledge and integrating it with information from diverse exterior sources is a vital to innovative thinking. Identifying unique alternatives for processes, products or services is the foundation of future competitive advantage.
Knowledge can blind people to alternate possibilities. Leveraging knowledge by challenging its value and validity can create opportunity. An organization that manages knowledge but fails to challenge the meaning is on a one-way trip to the walled space of mediocrity. Differentiation and competitive advantage will continue to remain beyond its grasp.