Effective Problem Solving with Creativity

The preference to stay as we are right now is the norm rather than exception. The uncertainty and risk associated with new things and new ideas are the main reason for the avoidance attitude. We need to adapt and change to survive. Remaining status quo is not going to bring you anywhere. Organizations need to accept the truth - either they innovate or die.

Managers who wish to survive and grow need to adopt innovation as one of their basic strategies. Innovation demands that the people in the organization learn to THINK CREATIVELY, so that they are able to bring about new ideas. We are trained to filter and sort information. This makes the decision making easy. Solutions are brought to the surface from the past experience. This limits creative and innovative solutions to our work related problems.

Managers inclination to view creativity and innovation as the concerns of artistic and R&D department is one major reason for not seizing the full power of creativity. If we are serious about enhancing the overall quality of our problem solving then we need to incorporate creative thinking when managing decision making.

Problem solving process is normally seen as a logical and rational process. Most managers failed to recognize the need to incorporate creativity. The problem solving model is generally described as involving the following steps:

  • Identify the problem
  • Gather data/information
  • Clarify/diagnose the problem
  • Develop possible solution
  • Analyze each possible solution
  • Implement and Evaluate

The creativity component becomes a dominant element during developing possible solutions (step 4). At this stage of problem solving, we need encourage divergent thinking and insist on developing a whole range of diverse ideas and solutions to the well defined problem (step 3). Problem solving through creativity in managing step 4, simply means we are able to look at new ways of solving problems. This is particularly critical when you are not satisfied with the standard solutions - the byproducts of traditional linear thinking.

To take full advantage of creative development of ideas during step 4, we must train our employees on creative problem solving techniques. Only then they will be equipped with competencies and skills to develop new ideas, when dealing with problems in the workplace. You can start with simple tools you can access using the Internet as your source. Blogs such as http://lifeskills4success.blogspot.com/ list a number of tools you can use as part of creative problem solving.

Experienced managers who are involved in creative problem solving recommends training the employees in asking the following 2 questions, when developing new ideas:

  • What else can we .......?
  • What if, ......................?

To supplement the questions, they also recommend that we fill in the words from the SCAMPER model. The SCAMPER model, originally developed by Bob Eberle provides easy to follow prompters when you are keen to develop new responses to your problems. SCAMPER stands for:

  • Substitute
  • Combine
  • Adapt
  • Modify
  • Put to other use
  • Eliminate
  • Reverse

This would mean asking questions such as "What else can we combine or eliminate in managing the work process?". Another option is to ask question such as, "What if we reverse the process?". These questions invariably will bring the most new and innovative ideas and solutions to the problem. Just remember this - Creativity and innovation can be learned. After all the uncreative thinking is a learned behavior. We just have to unlearn and relearn to become more creative when managing problems at our workplace.


How To Identify Your Creative Employees?

Everyone recognizes the importance of creativity and innovation. It is the creative thinking that leads to innovation. Creativity is about being able to generate new, novel and unique ideas that are significantly different from existing situations. Using the ideas, we move on to develop new products, services or processes. While it is a fact that all of us are capable of coming up with new and innovative ideas, some do not think that they are creative. The truth is, all of us are capable of thinking creatively, but how sure are you that you are creative?

Though many argue that the creative potential in each of us is similar when we were young, the degree of creativity differs in adulthood. How do we bring back the high level of creativity juice in us? What can we do to unfold the creative potential in us? One way to get that done is to be with people who are more creative. The very fact of being in the presence of highly creative people will infect you with their creative idea virus. As managers you should identify the creative people with the right qualities and make them part of the team. Once you have a small group of creative pool of employees, you can bring in others to be with them. The challenge is how do we know a person is more creative than another person who is just averagely creative?

Creative people demonstrate certain qualities. Creative people exhibit the following qualities:

  • Adaptable - creative people do not stay put with a fixed mindset. They are willing to go with the flow. They are highly adaptable to the changing environment and work situations.
  • Bring out highly imaginative ideas - their ability to synthesize and present problems and solutions in a new way is their prime strength of creative persons.
  • Challenge the status quo - while everyone finds comfort in a routine way of doing things, creative people are the first one to challenge the practice, policy or the assumption. If you do have a person who keeps on asking why or why not, he/she is the person you should bring into the team.
  • Demonstrate high degree of Curiosity - Creative people find everything fascinating. They are always curious, by asking why.
  • Emphasize the future oriented solutions - their action and thinking are very much future oriented. While they accept the usefulness of past and present, they use them to generate new solutions or ideas, without letting the past and present limit their options.
  • Follow their gut feelings - when every one view things from a firm mindset, they are prepared to follow their intuitive feelings without feeling guilty or uneasy about it.
  • Generate ideas by going beyond the normal idea - They insist on asking 'what else', even when they are presented with a good idea that almost appears to be the right idea.
  • Help others to see the link between ideas - asking open ended questions is one best way to let others see the link and relationship between ideas.
  • Initiate new ideas - most of the time it is the highly creative people who get the ball rolling by putting a unique and innovative ideas.

Creative people demonstrate a high degree of perseverance that enables them to remain focused on the task at hand. Creative people find it easy to break away from an existing connection and make new connections to ideas and thought processes that are completely new. While we would be able to use the above list to identify highly creative people so that we can make them as part of the team, it would be a great start to use the list to answer "Am I Creative?" If someone were to ask us 'How Creative Are You?" or "Are you creative?" we should be able to answer those two questions by saying 'yes', with confidence. Are you creative?


A Seven Steps Model for Sustaining Organizational Success Through Creative Thinking

In a rapidly changing world business leaders are finding it difficult to keep their competitive advantage on an on-going basis. Technology and cost control are no longer adequate to sustain the lead. It is the organisation's ability to innovate through creative thinking that makes all the difference. No one questions the need for innovation in the business. Organisations recognise the importance of creativity and innovation for acquiring and sustaining success.

While mission and vision statements are useful to keep the activities focused, the people in the organisation at all levels need to make the mission and vision real. A more focused and well written mission statement provides the employees much needed direction. An effective vision or mission statement should bring out the passion and commitment from the employees. In the process of their journey towards the mission and vision, employees need to think creatively, so that they are able to innovate the whole range of activities, including the processes and the products.

Successful organisations not only ensure that every employee is able to remember and passionate about the mission and vision, but provide adequate training and support to achieve the goal. Toyota's mission is "To sustain profitable growth by providing the best customer experience and dealer support." It is the passionate employees of Toyota who are willing and ready to take the challenge to make the mission a reality.

Paul Sloane in his book titled 'The Innovative Leader' in discussing on how to inspire and drive creativity in the workplace suggests that leaders in the organisation must explain to their people how their 'role is crucial in fulfilling the vision'. In the case of Toyota, the organisation decided to identify major sources of waste that prevent the company from achieving its mission. It identified seven major sources of waste. Using the seven sources of waste, Toyota moved forward to eliminate them. The list provided a more focused approach for employees to work towards a common goal. By making every idea count and encouraging the employees at all levels to use their creativity to the fullest, Toyota was able to become one of the best manufacturers.

Shoichiro Toyoda of Toyota Motors views creativity, challenge and courage as 'the 3C's of Innovation'. You need employees who are passionate about what is going on before they are willing to challenge the current processes and practices that prevent the organization form moving forward. Courage demands commitment. When an employee has the courage to challenge what goes on, aimed at bringing out better results, is only part of the answer for acquiring and sustaining success. Moving from the status quo is innovation and that requires a different style of thinking. The creative thinking enables and encourages every employee to contribute new ideas that will make it possible to launch new products or services and eliminate the sources of waste. In the 21st century it is creativity through innovation that will add value. Only then you can sustain success in the market place.

What is so special about the organizations that are able to sustain success through creativity and innovation? They train their employees on creative problem solving skills and empower them, so that the employees make the right decisions to put their ideas to work. There is high degree of trust among the employees right across the organization with minimal status differences. Employees are challenged to generate high quality innovative solutions through creative thinking. These organizations also believe that creative thinking is a transferrable skill that can be acquired in the right work environment. Recognizing the characteristics of successful organization that managed to sustain success through creative thinking is the best way to get started.

Any business organization can acquire and sustain success through creative thinking by adopting the following practices in the workplace:

1. Let each employee understand about the organization's mission and vision and how they can make that mission and vision a reality.

2. Communicate enthusiastically sharing the best practices, so that they will continue to seek out even better solutions to take full advantage of business opportunities. In the presence of Open communication employees become passionate about the mission and vision.

3. Train your employees on creative thinking skills, so that they understand the power of creative thinking.

4. Empower the staff at all level, by getting rid of micro management style in managing your operation.

5. Create a dynamic work environment that encourages trust and commitment across departments and work units.

6. Provide the required resources (manpower, money, methods, materials and machinery) so that the employees are able to implement creative and innovative processes.

7. Continuously work toward creating and sustaining creative work environment, so that everyone is enthusiastic about demonstrating commitment and innovation in their work practices.

In the process of attempting to create and sustain success of your business through creative thinking, remember the three C's of Innovation - Courage, Challenge and Creativity.


Decision Making Made Easy

We face problems and opportunities all the time. This would mean we need to make choices. Making choices is about making decisions. Unfortunately making decisions is not always easy, unless we master the skill using some reliable tool. In meetings we are always under pressure to make decisions. Unfortunately, when inadequate time is spent in problem identification and solution development, the quality of decision making suffers.

Are we ready for the decision Making?

When you have to make a decision in your next regular management meeting, because it has been in the agenda for some time, just ask "Are we ready for making a decision?". Unless everyone can answer with confidence that they are in a position to say 'YES' you should not rush into making a decision. A quick check list comprising the following questions is the best way to get started:

  • Was a brainstorming conducted to gather as many alternatives as possible?
  • Did we spend adequate time to understand the consequences of the various options?
  • Do we have all the required data and information?
  • Was the problem identification and solution generation handled by competent people?
  • What happens if we choose not to make a decision on this issue today?
  • Are we under pressure to make a quick decision that is likely to prevent us from making a good decision?
  • Are we in a position to make a decision without any restrictive and limiting assumptions that are basically not right?

Do we have the decision criteria?

Answers to these questions will make the next step much easier to manage. Most often, we ignore these questions and eventually we pay a price. Once we complete this part of decision making aspect, we should move on to critically evaluate each option we have developed earlier. This will only be possible if we have a comprehensive checklist. Criteria that are too general and inadequate are not going to be of any help here. Spending adequate time at this level is critical. We may depend on the following checklist to make this step a meaningful one:

  • What are the key success factors?
  • Have we identified the most critical criterion that can be used to evaluate the effectiveness of the choice?
  • Do the identified criteria recognise the resource limitations we are experiencing?
  • Should the list of criteria include financial elements?

Do we have the tools to evaluate the alternatives?

While most of us simply use the decision criteria on an ad hoc basis, without using specific decision-making tools. Adopting appropriate decision-making tools will enhance the overall effectiveness of decisions made during meetings. Learning to use the right tools is the best way to make right decisions. There are a number of choices as far as the decision-making tools are concerned. Some of the commonly used tools by effective decision makers include the following:

  • Forced-Field Analysis - This model developed by Kurt Lewin, enable us to identify the factors/forces that will enhance/facilitate changes as well as the forces that will restrain that are likely to oppose the proposed solutions. This tool enables the decision maker to seek new ways to manage the opposing forces.
  • Pros and Cons Analysis Model - the advantages and disadvantages of each option is identified. In the process the decision maker should be able to determine possible solutions to the problems identified, thus making the final choice more relevant.
  • Prioritisation Matrix - a simple tool to use that will allow the decision makers to prioritise the options developed during brainstorming/idea generation stage. This model is a powerful tool to sort the various alternatives into a meaningful order of importance.

Using some of the reliable tools is critical to make sure the decisions we make in our meetings remain relevant and effective.


Managing Workforce Diversity for Better Corporate Results

While diversity is a problem for most organisations, successful corporations learn to manage to their full advantage. By adopting new structures and work practices that are radically different from traditionally minded management, these organisations managed to acquire a competitive advantage in the global marketplace. The whole purpose of managing diversity is to bring out the best of employees Talent, Abilities, Skills and Knowledge for the benefits of individual employees as well as the well-being of the corporations. When workforce diversity is well managed, no employee in the organisation feels disadvantaged.

Business firms are beginning to recognise the power of workforce diversity as a competitive tool. Cascio in his book 'Managing Human Resource: Productivity, Quality of Work life, Profits (published by McGraw-Hill in 2006) recommends asking the following questions in order to justify that diversity is, in fact a competitive factor:

  • How can diversity help business corporations expand their operation into global market?
  • How can diversity help to build and sustain brand equity and improve consumer spending?
  • How does workforce diversity enhance an organisation's HR strategies?
  • How does the diversity element build corporate image among the consumers?
  • Does diversity improve operational efficiency?How?

Cascio citing studies done by several researchers, answers each of the above questions with examples to make a business case for diversity. In the process of discussing the business case for diversity, the author want the readers to ask an important question - 'What steps can you take as a manager to become more effective in a work environment that is more diverse than ever?".

Workforce diversity should be seen in terms of age, gender. Race, ethnic composition, religion and nationality. Successful 21st-century corporations no longer view diversity as a problematic issue. They view diversity as an opportunity that can be utilised to compete more effectively in the local and global markets.

According to Cascio (2006, p.119) managing diversity means aiming for a 'heterogeneous workforce' that is capable of achieving its potential in a non-discriminatory, fair and just work environment.

What are the reasons for diversity being considered as an important activity in managing the human resources? Cascio lists the following 5 reasons as to why diversity has become an important activity:

  • Shift from manufacturing to a service economy
  • Globalization
  • Innovative business strategies that demand teamwork
  • Mergers and Alliances
  • Changing labour market conditions

Unlike the jobs in the manufacturing industry, service industry (banking, financial services) job holders need to maintain close and constant contact with their customers. Service industry employees are required to understand the needs and expectations of their customers. With increased customer base that is diverse, no business firm has the luxury to ignore the customer groups. To take full advantage of the opportunity corporations need to bring employees who understand and can relate to the diverse customer base. This is to ensure in the words of Cascio "workforce should mirror their customers". This enables smooth operations and more cordial interactions between the business firms and their customers.

Recognising the limited market locally, more and more corporations look at the global market for sustaining and enhancing the market share. With the Globalization of markets, business corporations should learn how to manage the workforce diversity. Successful corporations try to learn from their colleagues around the world. This will enhance corporate performance. That would not be possible without a system to manage diversity.

In their attempt to cope with the problems and challenges facing their corporations, managers realise the limitations of the traditional forms of organisational structure. The strategies that need to be put in place can no longer be managed by the traditional hierarchy based command and control system. For these strategies to work, you need a team effort. Teams basically mean diverse labour force. Successful team management is about successfully managing workforce diversity. To emphasise the usefulness of teams, Cascio (2006, p.123)quotes the words from Ted Childs, vice president, IBM Global Workforce Diversity: "When a company's vision includes the growing mix of the talent pool and the customer base, then the real argument for diversity is the business case".

Mergers, acquisitions and alliances are becoming more common than ever before. When two business corporations decide to pool their expertise and other resources following mergers, acquisitions and alliances know the difficulties they will face, if they do not have an effective system in place to make them work together. The cultures of merged companies differ. The strategic partner's way of doing things may be different. The values, beliefs and the norms may not be a 100 percent match. To avoid culture shock and clash of culture, organisations should put a system in place, so that employees at all level understand and accept their differences while working towards taking full advantage of diversity that came about following mergers, acquisitions and strategic alliance. Here the focus is on seizing the opportunities arising out of diversity and being proactive in managing the diversity-related issues. To make this work, managers at the top level must be convinced of the competitive advantages of workforce diversity.

The labour market is changing rapidly. More women are entering the labour market and they continue to remain in the labour market for a longer period of time. Business corporations should adopt appropriate measures to meet the unique needs of the women. Balancing work and life appear to be the main focus when it comes to managing the female workforce. Cascio's Managing Human Resources: productivity, Quality of Work Life, Profits lists the following six ways that corporations may adopt to take the interests and well-being of their women employees:

  • Alternative career paths
  • Extended leave
  • Flexible work scheduling
  • Flexi-time
  • Job sharing
  • Tele-working

Organisations need to train their employees about diversity and its usefulness to the well-being of the corporation. Diversity training is a critical part when managing diversity. According to Cascio (p.124) employees need to 'understand and value' the differences among them. The acceptance of differences in a positive manner is critical if the corporation is keen to enable innovation through creative thinking in the workplace.


Enabling Your Employees To Think Smart - Seven Principles of Creative Problem Solving

When faced with a problem, our instinct is to attempt to solve the problem straight away. A Smart Thinking strategist is likely to adopt a different approach. They ask: Should I really solve the problem, diverting my energy, resources and time towards it? If the problem is insignificant or if it is a problem that is not worth the effort, why waste the resources in the first place? The most important benefit of this type of thinking is you are able to maximise the use of your resources. According to Nadler and Hibino in their book titled Breakthrough Thinking: The Seven Principles of Creative Problem Solving, they argue that competent people approach a problem by 'questioning the purpose of solving it'. This strategy enhances the effectiveness of managing the problems.

The authors citing research that document the breakthrough solutions to problems list the following seven basic principles for effective problem-solving.

  • Each problem should be seen as unique - Despite the presence of similarities between problems for each encounter, we must learn to recognise that when solving each aspect of the problem we must consider the uniqueness of the situational needs (context). Only then we will be able to develop solutions that will meet the unique situational needs.
  • Focus on the reasons for solving the problem - This is essential if you would like to minimise the waste of resources - money, materials, manpower, machinery and methods. Only when we are able to focus on the purpose(s) we are in a position to view the larger picture of the situation. Instead of asking what is going on here and what is wrong, learn to ask what are we attempting to achieve out of this situation. This will trigger our mind to seek a large number of desired solutions. To keep going for more and more solutions, we should learn to ask: "What else...?". This will help us to develop as many solutions as possible.
  • Seek solutions with a long-term perspective - Whenever possible identify the ideal and desired solutions and then work backwards so that you can work on practical short-term solutions that will become part of the long-term solutions. The authors describe this practice as 'The Solution-After-Next Principle'.
  • View the problem(s) from a systems approach - Once we learn to view each problem as part of something else, we are beginning to adopt a systems approach to managing problem. The realisation that each problem we face is part of larger problem enables us to anticipate the problem(s) we may face when implementing the solutions. This will enable us to develop appropriate strategies we are likely to encounter in implementing solutions.
  • Learn to work with minimal information - Many of us are trained to seek out a full set of information that is complete and comprehensive when managing problems and work-related challenges. Having too much of information in hand may prevent us from considering new and innovative solutions. The intuitive element goes missing with too much of information.
  • Keep the people factor in mind when developing solutions - As far as possible, involve the people in developing solutions. Their participation and involvement are critical to the overall success of the proposed solution. Keep the solutions broad and flexible so that those who will be managing the solution will have some degree of flexibility. A Standard Operating Procedure type of solutions should be avoided.
  • Incorporate timeline principle - Each purpose developed to manage the problems should be in the right sequence. Only then we can maximise the outcome of the breakthrough solutions.

Enabling employees to think smart should begin with focusing on the purpose of solving the problems. While most of these do adopt some of these principles, sometime in managing some of our problems, for the benefits to be realised we need to learn to use these principles in all our decision making. It is only through a consistent and coordinated approach that we will be able to make the breakthrough thinking as part of our decision-making process.

Enabling Our Employees To Think Smart is about encouraging them to adopt the above seven principles in a consistent and coordinated manner. We need to let our employees understand the importance of defining the purposes of working on a problem. The emphasis is to find out what are we trying to accomplish with the problem situation. The problem(s) should be seen as situations that require some changes. The best way to bring out the change is by asking: What are we trying to accomplish here. That is about bringing effective and meaningful change to our life.


Make Room for New Ideas

Managing productivity, profits and people is not always easy. While successful corporations adopt a whole range of strategies to become successful, almost all of them focus on their employees. Managers attempt to build practical skills covering all areas of operation. What employees basically need is a core skill that will enable them to manage and succeed in the very diverse work situations and challenges of the 21st-century workplace. They need to learn to THINK. The smart and creative thinking is critical to bring out new and innovative products and services. Managers should 'Make Room for New Ideas'. Managers need to create the right work environment to 'Make Room for New Ideas'. Why is it some employees are able to come up with new and innovative ideas, while the majority is unable to think even one idea to improve the work practices. The problem does not lie only with employees alone. Their colleagues and their supervisors have a significant effect on the creative and innovative behaviours of the employees.

It is true to say that individual personality and attitude play a dominant role in creating innovative ideas. That is not the only component in the creativity and innovation process at work. The colleagues (peer) and the supervisor with their own personality and attitude have the potential to influence the final outcome. In other words, an individual who is talented with the gift of creative personality and attitude eventually may not contribute any new ideas, simply because of the absence of favourable work environment.

As managers, you need to make a concerted effort to reach out to all employees at all levels in the organisation. All activities and training programs should attempt to create the right environment that will encourage creativity. You may adopt the following measures to make way for new ideas:

  • Encourage employees to keep an open mind: this is the first step if you want to make way for new ideas. The individual employee, the colleagues and the supervisor collectively should be encouraged to adopt this mindset. When they show signs of rigidity in their attitude, encourage them to ask: What else ...
  • Do not micro-manage Any attempt to keep track of everything in the workplace. Provide greater autonomy to the employees, so that they are free to think out of the box.
  • Keep your S.O.P. Short and sweet: The presence of large, comprehensive Standard Operating procedures (S.O.P.) is the surest way to kill any and every new idea.
  • Encourage them to ask "What if...." When the team members are seeking creative solutions to a problem, encourage them to ask: "What if .....?". This is the best way to challenge the age-old assumption, the greatest barrier towards innovation.
  • Insist on more than one solution: Letting employees know that it is in the interest of the group and the business organisation to seek more than one solution to a problem. You may start with three minimum solutions and gradually increase it to 4, 5,6 and eventually 7. The moment they start asking "What if'..., generating more than 3 solutions shall not is a problem.
  • Make the group diverse: Ensure team members are from a diverse background in terms of age, gender, experience, culture, race and area of specialisation. Involving people from other units, departments is one of the best ways to seek new and innovative ideas.
  • Make the Idea Generating sessions FUN: start the session with some unexpected activities- distribute fruits, candies or chocolates. A pleasant positive emotional experience will bring out new ideas.
  • Conduct regular Brainstorming sessions: Make sure the facilitator is well trained in the art of conducting an effective brainstorming session.
  • Ask employees children for new ideas: What better way than tap on the great potential of your employee's children.
  • Provide creativity training: High performance in any areas depends on employees' Abilities, Skills and Knowledge. Getting their foundation right on these three areas is the best way to get started when trying to make way for new ideas.

'Make room for new Ideas' also require the managers to eliminate the old and useless practices and ideas that occupy the room. Review your current policies and practices and be prepared to get rid of them. Until you create adequate space, you will not be able to bring in new ideas. Get ready to 'Make Room for New Ideas. Master some basic techniques that will place you in a better position to get started.


Smart Thinking Techniques - Creative Idea Generation

In dealing with problems, we need to make decisions. When faced with a situation that warrants a response, we put on our thinking cap. We depend on our thinking skills. Few of us are fully aware of the need to stop and reflect on the situation. We tend to follow the easiest and least resistant thinking path. This is not necessarily always the best response. With smart thinking techniques, you will be in a position to respond more effectively to each situation.

Define the problem

When you visit your General Practitioner (Medical Doctor), because you are having fever, cough and sore throat. To you, these are problems you would like to get rid. However, to the Doctor, these are symptoms and he is interested in pinpointing the real problem. Through her questioning skills, the doctor attempts to diagnose your illness. Smart thinking requires similar strategy. Let us get started so that we are able to define the problem (Get our diagnosis right)

  • Define the problem by asking the following questions:
  • Who are the people most affected by this problem?
  • Who else is having a similar problem?
  • Why is this seen as a 'non-issue' by some?
  • What are the negative consequences, if the problem is not solved?
  • Who are the beneficiaries if the problem is solved
  • What are the root causes of this problem?
  • What are the major obstacles in managing the problem?
  • Where can we look for a possible solution?
  • When did the problem emerge in the first place?
  • How quickly we need to solve the problem?
  • How can we solve the problem?

Answers to these questions should provide adequate information in defining the problem. Defining the problem in writing enable us to understand the scope and the consequences of the unresolved problem. This also involves about defining the real problem. Write down the problem in concise terms with no more than 25 words. The emphasis at this stage is defining the problems. No references are made about possible causes or solutions 

Examine the root cause(s) of the problem

The purpose is to identify all possible causes. The energy and effort should be directed at identifying the root causes that are responsible for the problem. Experts recommend that yo ask the following questions to narrow down the possible root cause(s):

  • What are the possible causes of this problem?
  • Did any changes were introduced (new equipment, new work process etc), just before the problem emerged?
  • Were there any changes relating to people deployment - new employees, transfers etc.?
  • Is it possible to recreate the problem we are experiencing to enable us to pinpoint the root cause(s)?

Agree on the desired outcome 

A problem is defined as the discrepancy/gap between the existing situation and the desired state of affairs. In other words, we have a problem when there is a difference between the two states. In managing the problem we are basically attempting to eliminate the gap between the existing situation and the desired state of affairs. The critical success factors must be identified and incorporated as part of the desired outcome. An agreement on the desired outcome makes it easier to seek solutions.

At this stage, it would be also a good strategy to identify the possible barriers that are likely to prevent you from reaching your desired state of affairs.

List Ideas and Possible Solutions

Developing ideas is an essential part of the thinking process. You should learn to think creatively. Linear thinking is useful, but if you are interested in new and innovative ideas to close the gap between the existing situations and desired state of affairs, then you need to learn how to think out of the box.

Asking the following questions will make your approach more meaningful at this stage:

  • What are you interested - a solution that leads to incremental change or radical transformation?
  • Do we know anyone else who had a similar problem, but managed to overcome it?
  • Will decision making models such as TRIZ work in this situation?

Select the best solution, Implement and Review 

Using the decision criteria and the desired outcome as your reference, examine the benefits and limitations of each possible solutions. You should also pay attention to people factors as well. How will the people in the organisation respond to the solution? Will the solution proposed will upset and infringe the rights of the key stakeholders.

Whenever possible, go slow with our implementation. If solutions can be tested on a small scale or implemented as a pilot project, you should adopt that option. This will enable you to manage the teething problems you may encounter when implementing the solution.

The review stage, though normally seen as part of the control process, we should see it as part of the thinking process. By keeping our mind open, we will be able to think through as we manage the solution(s). The smart thinking strategies are useful during the early stage of problem identification and idea generation.


Understanding Creativity & Innovation

Creativity and innovation give an organisation a competitive advantage. To a business corporation, creativity and innovation mean more sales that should lead to higher profit. The firm's ability to bring about new, novel, unique and inspiring product or services, simply mean the firm is able to set apart its position from rest of its competitors. Managers and top management must recognise the power of creative thinking and familiarise themselves with the process of innovation.

Creativity as a concept is seen as the main source of innovation. Creativity is about thinking of new ideas that are different from the existing situation. Creative thinking involves using existing knowledge and talent to develop new ideas by being prepared to see things from a different mindset. Creative thinking enables us to acquire a better understanding of a situation or problems we face. Innovation and inventions are the outcomes that are based on creative thinking.

How is that creativity a dominant aspect of our childhood days, simply seems to have disappeared as we reach our adulthood? Can we get back the ability to think creatively as an adult? The answer to that question - 'Yes. We can get back that skill, provided we understand some of the underlying aspects of creativity and creative thinking. Though creative thinking can be accidental, we are interested in acquiring a creative thinking process that can be managed in a planned and deliberate manner.

Creative thinking requires us to view situations with an open mind. It is a journey we need to embark upon to discover new and different things as we move on. The discovery process demands that we continue to remind ourselves of the need to set aside our long established assumptions and attitudes. Researchers and experts recommend that we accept the following for creativity to really work:

  • One needs to accept the fact that any existing knowledge is inadequate at a time for innovative solutions.
  • Be prepared to seek solutions/ideas from different sources.
  • Logical thinking is useful but its role in enabling new and innovative solutions is rather limited.
  • Be ready to experiment with radically different approaches when seeking new solutions.
  • Be willing to unlearn, so that we can offload useless knowledge, enabling us to Relearn.
  • Always willing to experiment and ask: 'what if' and 'what else' to unfold new ideas and solutions.

Once we are prepared to accept the above elements, we are in a better position to develop new ideas and add, modify and further refine the ideas into something more innovative. Because of our willingness and ability to combine ideas, we are able to bring out a concept or an idea that is new - something that did not exist before.

There are several techniques we can use to develop new ideas. Asking questions is a key element in the creative thinking process. The only way to become fully aware of the situation and the related factors is to ask questions. Asking questions on a continuous basis means that managers are able to identify the emerging trends much earlier than the rest in the industry. How do we go about asking questions?

Rudyard Kipling's 'six honest serving men' is the best bet to getting started. In the words of Kipling:

"I keep six honest serving-men (They taught me all I knew); Their names are What and Why and When And How and Where and Who. I send them over land and sea, I send them east and west." The 5W+1H questioning model is the great way to get started when asking questions. What are some of the questions we can ask when we are trying to think creatively for innovative solutions? Learning to ask: What else, How else, Where else, Who else along with What if will let us see a whole range of possibilities. These are some of the questions we can ask when we embark on our creative thinking journey:

  • What else can we do to get rid of this problem?
  • How else can we improve the quality/work process?
  • Where else can we look for more information?
  • Who else can help us in giving a new perspective to this situation?

The greatest advantage of learning to ask the above questions is that it leads to new ideas that almost always break the existing mindset limiters. In other words, these types of questioning let you step onto new paths where we can find innovative ideas. Initially, our efforts may yield only small innovation, but that is only the beginning.

The ability to ask questions, and also let our minds make connections between totally unrelated concepts. Once we are able to see the link, invariably we will say: Why on earth have I never thought about that before?

If we are so excited about incorporating creative thinking as part of our thinking process what should we do? Just learn to keep an open mind and begin to ask all kind of questions. Make use of Kipling's 'six honest serving men'. Let your curiosity unfold in all situations and prepared to challenge the status quo.


How to Unfold the Power of Creativity@Work

Organisations are beginning to recognise the truth - that they either they innovate or die. Innovation is about moving into new territory. It is about improving or enhancing the existing products, process or services, that eventually results in new products, process or services. Successful business firms know the art of transforming the collective knowledge and talents of its employees, into new products, process or services that lead to better economic gain. Unlike invention, innovation always leads to economic benefit. Innovations appear to be the only option if you wish to grow your business. Innovation enables you to ahead of your competitors.

Innovation requires new ideas. It is the creative approach that brings in new ideas. Enabling Innovation at work is basically about harnessing the employees' Talent, Abilities, Skills and Knowledge (T.A.S.K.) in a coordinated manner using creative thinking process so that the organisation is able to create and sustain the right environment within the organisation that will encourage Innovation at Work. How can we enable Innovation in our workplace?

IBM in a report titled 'Expanding the Innovation Horizon', which was based on the discussion with 765 CEOs throughout the world offers the following considerations that can help the business organisations to become more effective when embracing innovation:

  • 'Think broadly, act personally and manage the innovation mix'.
  • 'Make your business model deeply different'.
  • 'Ignite innovation through business and technology integration'
  • 'Defy collaboration limits'
  • 'Force an outside look ... every time'.

To those of us who would like to use an easy to understand model to work, I would recommend you use the 4C's approach to creating the right work environment that will encourage and enable innovation at your workplace. To enable Innovation sat work, you need to pay attention to the 4C's -

  • Commitment,
  • Competency,
  • Collaboration, and
  • Coordination.

Commitment

Unless there is a commitment to change and innovate nothing will happen. The failure to innovate in the workplace is largely due to lack of commitment on the part of employees at all level. Managers need to demonstrate their commitment and concern for the greater level of innovation at work. Staff briefings, informal discussions and holding short meetings based on 'what if....' scenario based discussion will convince people the need to be serious about becoming more innovative. There will be no commitment without a thorough understanding.

Competency

While commitment brings the employees to the level of willingness, managers should recognise the importance of providing the necessary Abilities, Skills and Knowledge to get started. Equipping the employees with the right competencies, make innovation happen, as employees are able to develop ideas. Without the right skills, employees will not feel competent to get the job done. Only when employees feel competent, will they move from their comfort zone to creativity & innovation zone. Formal training of employees is one way to provide the basic skills to all employees. Alternatively, you can the Internet to access a whole range of tools and techniques and share them through staff meetings. You may visit blogs such as http://lifeskills4success.blogspot.com/ for more tools, you can use when training your team members.

Collaboration

Effective problem solving and idea generation requires a collaborative approach. Collaboration means being able to work as a team towards a common goal, despite personal differences. There is a greater tolerance towards diversity and yet at the same time, the presence of diversity brings about better results. It is critical to identify the major barriers that prevent effective collaboration and be eliminated. Collaboration fosters innovation. That is a fact.

Coordination

While collaboration fosters innovation, one must not forget the reality that at a time to get things done, we need to work with other teams, units and departments. This is basically about coordinating out effort and work so that we can use other people's talents, Abilities, Skills and Knowledge. Coordination to be effective, team members must be trained on good human skills. It is the ability to get things done across work teams and organisational structure that makes all the difference. Creating a reliable system to coordinate is necessary for a seamless coordination across different functional areas.

With the 4C's in place, it is possible to get innovative solutions to an organisation's products, process and services. Reading research articles and books on innovation is one way to get ready to get started with the 4C's. That's the way to enable innovation work at the workplace.