By Renée Goyeneche—
What comes to mind when you think about the definition of innovation? We often think it is a result; a realized project that, through ‘out of the box’ thinking, stands head and shoulders above that of the competitor. However, innovation is more than that. It is the whole methodology of building new strategies to create better processes, products and services.
Because any groundbreaking project requires a departure from the norm, finding a new way can be difficult. We tend to get caught up in thought patterns and it is sometimes difficult to work our way through. Cognitive distortions, such as catastrophizing or confirmation bias, can prevent us from seeing the individual nuances of a situation, giving the impression that we have a problem that “cannot” be solved.
The good news is that we can use team dynamics to build skills that facilitate creative problem solving. First, though, we need to identify the barriers that could stand in the way of that growth and think about the constraints we’ve put in place to solve challenges.
If you feel like you’re stuck, consider these questions:
- Have you worked on building the communication channels needed to develop and maintain the interpersonal relationships that support innovation? It is critical that when we work as part of a team, all members feel comfortable bringing their ideas to the table. Innovation does not happen in a vacuum. It requires an exchange of ideas that outline a problem and approach it from different angles. Think of it like a numbers game: if you have more ideas to choose from, you increase the chances of finding a valuable solution. In addition, people who feel heard take more responsibility for the success of the project.
- What is your personal risk profile? If you are risk averse, working with people who can suggest taking calculated risk can translate into intrapreneurial success and vice versa. The best leaders integrate different points of view and work them into a solution.
- Do you accept and weigh reasonable suggestions? Or are you ignoring potentially viable solutions because they are imperfect? A solution may not provide a 100 percent solution to every aspect of a problem, and sometimes we have to live with some ambiguity or uncertainty.
- Do pre-existing ideas of how things ‘should’ be done limit the evolution of your thought process? Old ways aren’t always the best, and something that used to be true may not hold up today. Recognizing that the limitations of historical solutions limit our creative problem-solving skills helps break these thinking patterns.
How to apply innovative problem solving techniques:
- Identify the nature of the challenge at hand. Before you start brainstorming solutions, take a step back and look at things objectively. Have you identified the core problems or are you trying to solve one-off, fire drill problems that don’t move the needle? While any challenge may feel big right now, they generally fall 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 persist until you fix the core problem.
- Relax your assumptions to stimulate creativity. There is no one right way to a solution and there is no reason to approach every problem in the same way. If your company or industry has one way of doing things, consider going the other way and discussing alternative solutions. Creativity allows us to find value in novelties, which are crucial for innovative success.
- Ask the “dumb” questions. Let go of the expert’s ego and try to approach the problem as if you have no background information. What obvious challenges are there on the ground floor? Sometimes you have to let go of limiting knowledge to see new opportunities. A fundamental aspect of innovation is that it is a learning process.
- Challenge your perception of the rules. What’s the best (and worst) scenario when it comes to the challenge? How can you work backwards from the “best case” for a process that leads to the desired result?
- Make use of 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 that, we must first clarify the goal, then generate ideas, solve the problem and implement the solution. Often all the necessary elements are already present; we just need to change our approach.