How might we, as leaders, adopt a process of creative problem solving involving everyone, all the time, in everything we do?

Organizations must develop new ways of thinking and behaving in order to succeed in a turbulent world. While many organizations possess ample efficiency and analytical capability, successful organizations must also learn to integrate adaptability and innovative capability into their repertoires. Creative problem solving attitudes, behaviors, thinking skills and processes must be learned and developed to the extent that they become second nature. Organizations that adopt this approach will discover that creativity competency serves to complement analytical capability in building a highly effective operation that can thrive in today’s demanding business environment.

One of the goals of the Center for Research in Applied Creativity is to help the field of creative problem solving be better understood in its applicability to innovation and real world work. Adaptability is driven by a four-stage creative problem solving process composed of generating, conceptualizing and solving important problems and implementing valuable new solutions.  Generation is the proactive sensing of intriguing problems (trends, opportunities, and needs) and is sometimes called “opportunistic surveillance”.  Physical contact with, and involvement in, real world activities alerts the individual to inconsistencies and difficulties. These inconsistencies are then used to suggest new problem areas, to identify opportunities for improvement and innovation, and to propose projects that might be worth undertaking. The problems and opportunities are recognized, but are not yet clearly articulated or understood. The next step is conceptualization, which offers a more comprehensive analysis, definition and understanding of the opportunity. In Optimization, conceptualized alternatives are systematically examined in order to develop a plan for implementing an optimal solution.  The fourth stage, Implementation, consists of experimenting with the new solution, and making adjustments as necessary to successfully implement it. Individuals have different preferences for each stage and thus are said to have different innovation process “styles”.  An easy to administer psychological instrument called the Creative Problem Solving Profile (CPSP) measures an individual’s relative preferences for the four different stages of the process and thus enables the building of cognitively diverse, highly effective  teams.

Organizational leaders must recognize, nurture, reward and synchronize the different styles of creativity associated with the various stages of the creative process, particularly as different parts of organizations tend to prefer different stages and thus, contribute differently to the creative process. Gone are the days when a company could assign “creative work” to a select group of people, say, in the marketing or R&D department. Today, much more complex challenges posed by globalization of competition and technological advancement make it imperative for organizations to engage the creativity of all members, across multiple disciplines. No longer can the creative process be seen as a “relay race,” with one department handing off pieces of a project to the next. Rather than wait for others to “do their job first,” each department must be involved throughout the various stages of the creative process. By blending different kinds of knowledge and different kinds of cognitive problem solving styles, the entire organization can more quickly and successfully implement new solutions to newly discovered, well-defined problems and opportunities.

This knowledge also belongs at every level of the organization. By using this process, organizations can identify specific problems and challenges within a milieu of vague and wide-ranging issues. For example, issues are often identified with relatively broad statements such as, “Morale is bad here,” or “Communication is our biggest problem.” There is tremendous value in transforming such statements into more specific, simply worded challenges such as, “How might we help our employees take pride in their every day work?” or “How might we make it easier for every employee to create and implement improvements to our procedures, products and services?”

The success of the process depends on the skill of the participants in applying it. This skill includes being able to use simple and specific words in asking questions and providing answers. While leaders must develop their own adaptability skills, attitudes and behaviors, it’s equally important that they champion the development of those same skills, attitudes and behaviors for others throughout their organizations. Today’s corporate environment must welcome and incubate new and different ideas. It must nurture employees who challenge the status quo, perceive a different possibility, or simply look at things that aren’t and ask, “How might we?” and “What’s stopping us?”

The new business rule: the discomfort of disruptive creativity must be embraced.

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Filed under Business, Problem Solving, Simplexity, Uncategorized

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