Where's Your Problem-Solving Process?
by Keith Harmeyer & Mitchell Rigie, Partners, SmartStorming.com
Not so long ago, a “successful business” was typically one that started with a good idea, executed that idea well, and then was effectively managed. That’s an oversimplification, to be sure; but if a business followed this basic model, it could potentially thrive for decades (and many did).
Today, the requirements for business success have become more complicated. In a world driven by a demand for continuous innovation, and where tumultuous change is the only constant, whether you win or lose in the marketplace depends less on repeatedly doing a “good job,” and more on your ability to successfully navigate the tsunami of unexpected challenges that present themselves every day.
Today, every business is under constant pressure. Pressure to deliver new and improved products and services to customers and clients. Pressure to respond instantly to shifting market conditions. Pressure to quickly adopt new, often unproven technology. Pressure to meet and exceed its own organization’s demand for excellence. Most companies understand this; but many don’t have a reliable process they can apply to problem solving.
Innovation, in practical terms, is really just solving problems (often before anyone even knows there is one), recognizing emerging trends, capitalizing on opportunities, and doing so in new or different ways that deliver greater value or benefit.
And so, highly effective and efficient problem solvers—the most nimble, adaptable, and creative organizations—are the ones that typically dominate their categories.
How Do You Approach Problem Solving?
Problem solving, as a business process, can be approached in a number of ways.
First, there is the question of how proactive or reactive an organization is in their approach. Do individuals and teams continuously look for ways to avoid problems and seize opportunities—even before the fire alarms sound? Or do they wait for the call, and frantically scramble for solutions?
Then there is the question of how organized and dependable their problem-solving efforts are. Is there a structured, step-by-step, scalable system in place and ready to implement when needed, that allows them to quickly and easily identify solutions? Or do they leave problem solving to chance, hoping that the smartest, most creative team members will ultimately be able to crack the code?
The problem-solving diagnostic quadrant pictured above demonstrates how each of these two variables manifests itself when it’s time to tackle a challenge—and the hurdles (or benefits) that typically result.
Chasing Your Tail—(Lower left) Not surprisingly, the least effective (and consistent) approach to problem solving occurs when an organization waits for challenges to arise before taking action, and then has no structured system in place for generating solutions. In this situation, problem solving is typically a chaotic and stress-inducing event. Teams waste significant time and energy scurrying to identify potential solutions. And then, even when they do, their results are often ineffective. Problem-solving is a haphazard, disorganized response to an inevitable challenge.
Death by Meeting—(Upper left) Organizations that generally operate in a structured and otherwise efficient manner may, in fact, have some type of process in place for addressing challenges (meeting protocols, communication guidelines, etc.) But if they aren’t proactively anticipating the continuous flow of change, challenges, and opportunities every team faces today (as do all highly effective innovators), they will still find themselves operating in “react mode,” more often than they should. While the organization might adhere to Six Sigma principles or other approaches to operational efficiency, they are still caught off-guard when unexpected issues arise, and can find themselves engaged in lengthy, often inefficient strategy discussions that drain precious time and attention. Problem solving becomes a highly-regimented activity that often results in too little, too late.
Hit or Miss—(Lower right) Because they are often inherently “innovation-focused,” many startups and “creative services” organizations are better at looking ahead and anticipating potential challenges and opportunities, even before they become problems. These groups are in the daily business of reinvention, and future gazing is a natural activity for them. But without a systematic, scalable process to apply, these organizations can find themselves doing far more work and spending much more time generating solutions than is necessary. “There’s never enough time to do it right, but always enough time to do it again” is a common maxim in such business environments. Every time they have a problem to solve, they find themselves reinventing the wheel, again and again.
Innovative Problem Solving—(Upper Right) When an organization adopts an “innovation mindset,” and proactively searches for game-changing solutions, even before challenges arise—and they also have a dependable problem-solving system in place, ready to put into action—they will typically experience the best possible outcomes. Such groups have a much greater chance of dominating their markets, achieving consistent and continuous growth, and actually enjoying the process along the way. When it comes to problem solving, they are well prepared and well-armed.
So where is your organization’s problem-solving process today? Where do you see your strengths? And where could you benefit from improvement? Identifying where you are, and where you need to go, can have a significant impact on your ongoing success.
Encourage your team to adopt a forward-focused, innovation mindset. Research, identify, and implement the best problem-solving process for your needs. And you’ll be on your way to transforming every unexpected challenge into a new opportunity.
SmartStorming Partners Mitchell Rigie and Keith Harmeyer are authors, speakers, facilitators, and consultants on the topics of innovative problem solving and idea generation.
Through their SmartStorming facilitated strategic work sessions, live skills development programs, and online courses, Rigie and Harmeyer have helped thousands of individuals at some of the world's most successful organizations, solve tough business challenges more effectively and efficiently.
To learn more about the SmartStorming Innovative Problem-Solving Process™, visit SmartStorming.com.