Monday, January 10, 2022

Warming Up Before Solving a Tough Problem

Source: NY Times

Suppose your team has a very challenging, complex problem to solve.  You would like to generate some creative solutions to that problem.  What might you do BEFORE you gather the team together as a mechanism for stimulating more innovative thinking?   You could encourage the team to warm up before tackling the issue together.  What types of "warm-up" should you engage in before "running the race" together?  

1.  Physical activity:  As Annie Murphy Paul notes in her fabulous new book, The Extended Mind, engaging in some physical activity can be an effective way to enhance your brainpower.  Moreover, getting outdoors for that activity can be especially powerful.   Getting the blood moving is essential to thinking clearly and creatively.  

2.  Be an anthropologist:  Rather than simply immerse yourself in spreadsheets and data, go out into world and observe some actual customers.   Watch how your firm's products and services are actually being used, and watch for those pain points experienced by your customers. 

3.  Imagine someone else tackling this problem:  Scholars Evan Polman and Kyle Emich have shown that research subjects are more likely to solve a challenging problem if they imagine someone else faced that particular predicament (rather than being in that situation themselves).   

4.  Engage in an improv exercise:  A simple "yes-and" exercise can be a powerful way to get people to lower their inhibitions, think more freely, and become more comfortable offering bold and original ideas despite some reservations or concerns.  

5.  Brainstorm questions, not answers:  Ask the team to come up with different questions that they would like to answer regarding this problem.  What might they like to learn more about in this situation?  These efforts can be effective at helping people reframe the problem before the team in a manner that may stimulate more creative thinking.  In many cases, the initial frame may be too narrow, and therefore, it may constrain the range of options considered.  

6.  Gather some physical materials:  We can think more creatively if we have objects to touch, feel, and work with along with our team.  They might enable us to build mock-ups as we later brainstorm together, or we might use the materials to illustrate a customer pain point more clearly (rather than simply using words spoken or on a page).  

7. What would we never do?  Ask the team to generate a list of solutions that your company would NEVER choose.  Then ask the team to explain WHY these options would not be considered.  What orthodoxy or conventional wisdom does that reveal? Should that conventional wisdom or these assumptions be questioned before trying to solve this problem? 

No comments: