“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.