Before you can solve a problem, you have to understand it… And you can’t understand it if you are not sure what the words mean. When we are kids, we think simple and we talk simple. As we grow older, we start learning bigger and bigger words. Some of us are reluctant to ask for clarification for fear of appearing ignorant or unprepared. And sometimes we hide behind complicated language which disguises what we really mean.
Often we don’t make the effort to speak specifically—and in simple language. Ever hear the phrase “our biggest problem is communication”. Everybody in the world says this. But what does this mean in your situation?
• The phones don’t work?
• People don’t care what people in other departments are doing?
• Senior management does not pass down information?
• People send unclear email messages?
• We don’t know the company goals?
• We do not trust each other?
Watch out when people say “Oh, we all know what that means”. This is a clear signal that they don’t, and a lot of wasted time is in store for you. What we say represents what we think…and if the words are fuzzy, then the thinking is fuzzy.
This week’s Minsight:
Leaders can draw silent team members out; make it safe to share what they are thinking. Leaders can model the power of simple thinking when they find themselves un sure if a question they want to ask is a good one or silly, by taking the risk to ask it any way. Surprise! Half the group breathes a sigh of relief because they were thinking the same thing but have been afraid to ask! if no one asks these questions, we are likely to miss a vital piece of information or hidden idea.
Have you noticed that problem generation does not come easily to many people? They prefer to wait for others to surface problems and to take the lead in finding opportunities for improvement and new approaches. This applies to people at all levels of organizations, including leaders.
Creativity begins with generating problems. Organizations that opt to stick only with milking ‘what’s working’ to fatten short-term profits while ‘business is good,’ run the risks of reduced quality, increased costs, and loss of competitive edge.
They can be caught flat-footed by competitors that leap ahead in marketing new offerings developed by a process of proactively unearthing new customer needs. Companies that can’t actively generate problems also risk frustrating employees looking to do more than just collect a paycheck until the next business downturn.
Leading companies treasure problem generation. Some top Japanese companies place newly hired R&D engineers and scientists into the sales department. They want them to learn the problems of the customers, because they believe that is where innovation begins — “We want them to know we aren’t going to hand them problems to solve,” they say. Solutions to those problems are the birth of new products and services.
Similarly, 3M sets a corporate objective that 25% of its products must be new each five years.
This week’s MinSight: How might you take the lead in igniting the creative process in your department or organization?
How might you make problem generation a routine, valuable and rewarded part of everyone’s work?
MinCaveat: A word of caution: Problem finders are sometimes viewed as a breath of fresh air, but maybe seen by some as a pain in the neck. Try this challenge for yourself. “How might I propose exploring changes in creative ways which entice others to join up?”