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By Renee Goyeneche—
When you contemplate the definition of innovation, what springs to mind? We often believe it’s a result; a completed project that stands head and shoulders above a competitor’s thanks to “out of the box” thinking. Innovation, however, is more than that. It’s the entire methodology of building new strategies to create better processes, products and services.
Because every groundbreaking project requires a deviation from the norm, finding a new road can be difficult. We tend to get trapped in thought patterns, and it’s sometimes hard to fight our way clear. Cognitive distortions such as catastrophizing or confirmation bias can prevent us from seeing the individual nuances of a situation, leaving us with the impression we have a problem that “can’t” be solved.
The good news is, we can use a team dynamic to build skills that facilitate creative problem-solving. First, however, we need to identify the barriers that may prevent that growth and think about the constraints we’ve put on resolving challenges.
If you’re feeling stuck, consider these questions:
- Have you worked to build the communication channels necessary to develop and maintain the interpersonal relationships that support innovation? It’s critical that when we work as part of a team, all members feel comfortable bringing their ideas to the table. Innovation is not borne in a vacuum. It requires an exchange of ideas that frame out a problem and attack it from different angles. Think of it as a numbers game: having more ideas to choose from increases the chances of finding a valuable solution. Plus, people who feel heard take more ownership in the project’s success.
- What is your personal risk profile? If you are risk-aversive, working with people who can suggest taking a calculated risk can translate to intrapreneurial success, and vice versa. The best leaders integrate various points of view and incorporate them into a solution.
- Do you accept and weigh reasonable suggestions? Or do you disregard potentially viable solutions on the grounds they are imperfect? A solution may not provide 100 percent resolution to every aspect of a problem, and sometimes we have to live with some ambiguity or uncertainty.
- Are pre-existing ideas of how things “should” be done limiting the evolution of your thought process? Old ways are not always the best, and something that used to be true might not hold up under scrutiny today. Acknowledging that the constraints of historical solutions limit our creative problem-solving skills helps break those thought patterns.
How to employ innovative problem-solving techniques:
- Identify the nature of the challenge at hand. Before brainstorming solutions, step back and look at things objectively. Have you identified the core issues, or are you trying to solve one-off, fire-drill problems that don’t move the needle? While every challenge can feel large in the moment, 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 continue to present itself until you fix the core issue.
- Relax your assumptions to boost creativity. There is no one right path to a solution, and there’s no reason to approach every problem in the same manner. If your business or industry has one way of doing things, consider leaning the other direction and discuss alternative solutions. Creativity lets us find value in novelty, which is critical to innovative success.
- Ask the “stupid” questions. Let go of the expert’s ego and try coming at the problem as though you have no background information. What obvious challenges exist at the ground level? Sometimes you must 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 is the best (and worst) case scenario when it comes to the challenge at hand? How can you work backward from the “best case” for a process that leads to your desired outcome?
- Leverage 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 objective, then generate ideas, solve the problem and implement the solution. Often, all the necessary elements are already available; we just need to adjust our approach.
Renee Goyeneche: I am a writer and research editor focusing on information that benefits women, children, and families. Find me on Twitter and blogging at Imperfect Perceptions.