Executives almost always identify themselves as problem solvers. Their behavior is so habitual that often, before you even finish a thought, they are giving you a “solution” whether you wanted one or not!
While the ability to solve problems is important, it’s critical that they are the right problems. With increasing pressure to deliver more with less, too often we immediately start “fixing” whatever we think the problem is without doing due diligence. Look beyond the obvious and the “symptoms” that are showing up. Listen and seek to understand what is really happening to determine the source of the actual problem.
Once you’ve identified the right problem, be aware of three factors that impede creative problem solving. First, we pay attention to what is important to us at the time. For instance, if our current focus is about reaching customers through social media, we’ll start seeing social media as the solution to all kinds of problems.
Second, if you’re confronted with a problem that appears unsolvable or a situation that reminds you of a time where the result did not meet your expected outcome, you may give up before you ever start. Ironically, brain science shows that this type of conflict can actually “turn on” your brain and stimulate creativity, as long as you’ve had some success resolving small amounts of conflict. Focus on what went right in those past experiences to get into the best problem solving mindset.
Finally, it’s easy to fall into a problem-solving “habit.” Habitual thinking is repetitive and familiar but it doesn’t stimulate creative thinking. The familiar is not a great motivator, so change things up to get more creative thinking, and ultimately better solutions. If you always brainstorm with the same people, change the mix or go offsite. Look at the problem you’re solving from a different perspective—take on the role of your competitor—how would they solve the issue? Do something to shake up your typical process to get your thinking and your team energized.