Nov 29

Bringing Clarity to Chaos, Part II: Creative Problem Solving

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Bringing Clarity to Chaos, Part II: Creative Problem Solving

Creative (adj): Relating to or involving the use of the imagination or original ideas to create something

I have a pet peeve about the narrow use of the word “creative” in business today. “Creatives” are the artists, graphic designers and ad copy writers. “Creative assets” refer to the images, videos, fonts and other files that are used to produce collateral for the business. While linking the word with the visual, “artsy” side of business is appropriate, creativity truly belongs everywhere from the front line to the back office. So, with all due respect to my artsy friends, I’m taking the word back!  Imagination and original ideas, a.k.a. creativity, are essential for making great organizations tick, especially in creative problem solving.

This is an introduction to the creative process we use for solving business problems. It consists of four broad stages that we will explore in more depth in future posts:

Uncover the Chaos

Embrace the Chaos

Form a Framework

Devise Your Plans & Stride Confidently

Uncover the Chaos

In a prior post, I described the tools we use to help define business problems. The common element in these tools and techniques—from SWOT analysis to competitive and comparative studies, to customer feedback—is asking questions from many angles.

Stakeholder workshops are a great way to begin the process. Depending on your situation, stakeholders might be your executive team, board members, key constituents, or members of your department. Assemble a group of people who all have a stake in the success of your endeavor, but with diverse experience. Agreement on the business problem to be solved and the urgency of the solution is important. Beyond that, wide-ranging ideas and opinions should be encouraged at this stage.

While stakeholder workshops are useful for zeroing in on the issues and potential solutions, they aren’t the only research tool we use in the discovery phase. Ideas and issues raised during these workshops lead to new inquiries, such as:

  • What do current customers think of your products or services?
  • Why do some slip away?
  • What lessons can we learn from your competition?
  • What sort of first impression does your organization present?

It is important to make sure that all perspectives are considered, not just those with experience like yours.

Uncovering chaos is messy, but there is a method to the madness! This is the best time to open the spigot and let the thoughts flow. They can be shaped and molded later.

Embrace the Chaos

Imagine a room filled with stakeholders, walls plastered with post-it lists and random thoughts, people engaged in sometimes rambling conversations, lots of open-ended questions. Do you love it or hate it? Think it’s useful or a waste of time? Chances are, there are people in that room with opposing views about the utility of the exercise, and that creative tension is a good thing.

This can be an unsettling stage in the creative process but it is well worth resisting the temptation to rush into a solution that doesn’t fit. That moment of clarity may take time, and it is unlikely to hit you without concerted effort. It’s a process, not the end-result. Roll with it and let your imaginations fly!

“In all chaos there is a cosmos, in all disorder a secret order.” –Carl Jung

Form a Framework

This is where you all get on the same page, and those on your team who have been pining for a solution finally get some satisfaction. A good framework gives context to your work and guidance for your future actions. The nature of the framework depends on the situation, but the key is for it to provide a common sense of direction.

How do you choose a framework? There are as many paradigms out there as there are groups. Searching the internet, you will see innumerable examples of framework images with various shapes, arrows and grids designed to encapsulate an organization’s strategy. Some are graphically beautiful; others are very basic. The key is to provide a common basis to help individuals work more effectively and efficiently toward a common goal.

“You don’t have to be a genius or a visionary or even a college graduate to be successful. You just need a framework and a dream.” –Michael Dell

Devise Your Plans & Stride Confidently

With a solid framework in place, you can now flesh out your plans and step confidently in your new direction. We like to remind clients that we consider plans to be living, breathing documents that shouldn’t collect dust on a shelf. Conditions change, and plans can’t be static. That’s why a framework can be so powerful – it will give you that extra confidence to make mid-course corrections when necessary.

“It is a bad plan that admits to no modification.” –Publius Syrus, 85-43BC

Sherry Volk

Sherry Volk, is Senior Consultant and business partner with Louise Pritchard in Pritchard Volk Consulting since 2002. With an early career steeped in technology and information systems consulting, Sherry has a healthy respect for the benefits and limitations of technology, and keen awareness that the best client solutions are developed with input across the spectrum of stakeholders. A Pennsylvania native, Sherry has an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering from Penn State (go Lions!) and a Masters in Management from MIT. In between, she lived and worked in Texas, where she met her husband of more than 30 years. She has two sons, one a recent college graduate now settled in Austin, TX, and one in high school. When not working, Sherry spends time exercising, cooking, attending her son’s regatta and band events, and vacuuming up fur from the family’s white rescue dog (what were we thinking?).