Monthly Archives: May 2012

Nickerson offers a new approach to organizational design.

In the February 2012 Academy of Management publication “Perspectives”, Jackson Nickerson and his associates suggest that that management’s problem finding and problem solving ability is vital for organizational performance and provides a platform for scientifically  designing  organizations. Our own research and experience agree completely. See for example :

1.  Basadur, M.S. (1992).  Managing creativity:  A Japanese model. Academy of Management Executive, Vol. 6 (2), 29-42, which provided evidence that top Japanese companies deliberately induce problem finding perormance as well as problem solving and solution implementation performance as their approach to organizational design, performance and  motivation.

2.  Basadur, M.S. and Basadur, T.M. (2011).  Where are the generators?   Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity and the Arts, Vol 5 (1), 29-42.  How organizational sustainability depends on designing and  implementing a continuous four stage process beginning with problem finding is demonstrated. The first stage,  generation,   is disruptive, because it entails proactively and deliberately seeking and discovering brand new problems and opportunities leading to solving them. As a result , peoplewho prefer this kind of activity are often seen somewhat as misfits, and management must make this stage attractive and mainstreamed, rather than just give it  lip service.

At Basadur Applied Creativity, we have created an instrument by which an organization (or team or individual) can assess  its relative preferences and inclinations for problem finding , problem conceptualizing, problem solving and solution implementation activity. The instrument raises awareness of the power of problem finding and problem solving to organizational design  and  could be a big asset to  the important work of the Nickerson team. The measurement tool is called the Basadur Profile and can be accessed at http://www.basadurprofile.com.

This line of research offers a different , long overdue  approach to organizational design and organizational development. The Basadur Profile is the centerpiece of several publications about  organizational  problem finding and solving available at www.basadur.com .

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Vollmer newest research on Constructive Controversy for Innovation

Albert Vollmer , the chair of Work and Organizational Psychology at  ETH Zurich, Switzerland, is leading  an applied research project called “Constructive Controversy for Innovation”. The goal is to introduce the concept  of Constructive Controversy for resolving conflicts in team innovation decision making.  The core of the  concept is the intellectual, or task conflict which arises when different people have to combine their different knowledge into a joint decision. Dr Vollmer suggests that the reality is that  organizational people don’t employ  methods for  integrating different perspectives but  act ad-hoc or intuitively and hope to avoid or mimimize conflicts. They  either have  no  understanding of innovation as a  process, or  think of it as a linear model,  or don’t recognize that in every phase of an innovation process there are opposing forces of differentiation and integration which must be managed.

We have accepted Dr Vollmer’s  invitation  to join the project to integrate our  research and experience  incorporating   such opposing forces into innovation as a process and the  skills to implement the process. We have devoted a lifetime to raising awareness of innovation as a learnable process and increasing comfort with it by simplifying its understanding  as a fluid four stage  process  that includes continuously discovering and defining new problems, solving those problems and implementing the new solutions. We have created an instrument by which a  team or individual can quickly and simply experience the  process by assessing   its relative preferences and inclinations for problem finding , problem conceptualizing, problem solving and solution implementation activity..  The measurement tool is called the Basadur Profile and can be accessed at www.basadurprofile.com. Team members can learn to appreciate individuals’ differing preferences for various stages of the inniovation process and  encourage and enable people to think together in innovative ways.

There are also  attitudinal, behavioral and thinking skills that are required to make the innovation process work. We will contribute field  research  presented at an Academy of Management conference entitled“Facilitating High Quality Idea Evaluation Using Telescoping “.   In summary,   we report that traditional research studies of group creativity and innovation have commonly utilized the traditional two-step diverging (ideation) –converging (evaluation) thinking process .  This research has focused mostly on the ideation step using the tool of brainstorming to generate ideas to solve problems, with relatively little attention given to improving group skills in performing the evaluation step and understanding its role in yielding high quality creative solutions.  In our new  study, we propose that while the evaluation step is fundamental for making judgments and for the selection of ideas and options, when performed skillfully it can contribute much more to the creative process. These contributions include significantly improving the quality of the ideas being evaluated while they are being evaluated, creating emergent new and different ideas, and building consensus. A hands-on, effective, research-based cognitive evaluation tool called “telescoping” which offers the capability of evolving optimal decisions without sacrificing high levels of consensus is introduced. The decision making literature abounds with well known obstacles which prevent groups from achieving this combination.  How skillful execution of telescoping addresses these obstacles is shared. Field research is reported that supports the superiority of telescoping versus majority vote in real world idea evaluation. We hope to help Dr Vollmer provide valuable  insights into theory, research, and application recommendations for scientists, researchers, practitioners, and consultants.

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Wanted: CEOs who can find problems

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“Experienced problem solver” is a term one might expect to see on the resume of a corporate CEO. “Successful problem generator” isn’t nearly as likely. But maybe it should be.

Organizational creativity is a process with four separate and sequential stages – generation, conceptualization, optimization and implementation.  The generation stage, which launches the creative process, is where new ideas are developed – often by discovering problems that need to be solved. Not surprisingly, generation is usually chaotic, spontaneous and disordered.

The business world has increasingly come to value the results of creativity and innovation, but is often still uncomfortable with people who are considered creative. They may be stereotyped as oddballs in many organizations, which don’t perceive a positive relationship between creativity and wisdom, and may not believe individuals can possess both attributes. Not surprisingly, individuals who are skilled at the problem generation stage of creativity are underrepresented at the corporate leadership level. While generators like to start new things, discover new problems to be solved and find new opportunities to explored, they typically don’t fit the CEO stereotype.  It might be time to change the stereotype.

Organizations that consistently undervalue the creative contribution that can be made by people who are skilled at generating problems to be solved are neglecting an essential human resource in the new economy.  In our experience, most people understand the stages of problem solving and implementation, but fewer are skilled at problem conceptualization, and even fewer, at problem generation.

I was recently in communication with  Adriana, a young business school graduate beginning her third year of employment in a large multi-national corporation.  She was seeking some career counseling from me, her former professor.  She said, “I still belong to the generator group and I can see how people like me don’t feel like they belong in the business world, or they deliberately avoid it.  A lot of times in the business world or in large organizations, you don’t get a chance to start anything new.  You are just a link, a small part somewhere in the middle of a much bigger picture.  You are usually just doing routine things that you have done many times before.  You never get that fulfillment of having created something new or discovered a brand new problem to solve or new idea to pursue.”  Organizations that seek to become more innovative must nurture people like Adriana, who like to start new things, discover new problems to be solved and find the next new thing. .  Generators aren’t always comfortable employees. They may seem to be continuously dissatisfied. They can quickly become bored with work that requires applying routine procedures to increase efficiency, or executing already defined assignments.  They may be perceived to be somewhat unfocused or even disruptive as their behavior reflects more of an orientation to introducing (generating) a new problem and less of an orientation to defining, understanding, constructing or formulating (conceptualizing) an existing problem or developing (optimizing) or implementing solutions to an existing defined problem.  But by integrating problem generators into the workplace  CEOs will help their organizations become proactively adaptable. Innovative grows out of knowing customers’ problems, needs and wants before they do, and offering new solutions in advance of the competition – leading the pack rather than following it.   Organizations wishing to successfully compete on today’s global business stage, truly go “from good to great”, would be advised to embrace the discomfort of disruptive creativity that generators bring, along with, of course, the chance that they just might become the leader in their business world.

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