It’s relatively common to hear workplace comments like, “She’s an idea person,” or “He’s a detail guy.” Intuitively, most people recognize that solving a problem or creating a product requires a number of different tasks to be completed, and also that different people prefer different tasks. But a vague intuitive sense is only vaguely helpful when building successful teams.
Understanding the key stages of creative problem solving is the first step to finding the right balance between generators, those idea people who are great at finding problems and recognizing opportunities, conceptualizers who are good at understanding and defining those problems and coming up with ideas for solving them, optimizers who like to evaluate the ideas to pick the best solution and implementers, who are good at the hands-on, detail-oriented execution of the plan.
Build a team with too many generators or conceptualizers and it will tend to get stuck at the idea stage, with little momentum for moving toward implementing a concrete solution. A team with too many implementers may be inclined to rush preliminary ideas into immediate use, without enough time for thorough development and evaluation.
The ideal blend of problem solving styles will vary from team to team, as well as across departments and organizations. During uncertain economic times, the need for innovation and for optimally-designed teams will be most evident. But even in the most stable and prosperous of times, organizations will benefit from helping employees to recognize their own preferences and learn how to most successfully integrate their styles with those of their teammates.