Category: Blog

Are You Solving The Right Problem?

solving the right problem

Out of all the people in the world, the people we tend to trust the most are probably doctors. We believe them to be experts, because if we didn’t we would probably be terrified every time we became ill.

Given this faith in doctors, how often do you suppose they actually get it right? Or more terrifyingly, how often do they get it wrong? It is not very likely that your doctor will tell you are okay when you are critically ill but what about the cases where they diagnose a common cold but your elevated temperature is related to something much more serious? Are they solving the right problem?

Studies in the US indicate a 40% misdiagnosis rate with a reasonable percentage (around 10%) resulting in avoidable death. These statistics are easily verified following autopsy.

In medicine, as with many other disciplines we need to diagnose the right condition in order to treat it. In the world of creative problem solving we must do two things. Firstly correctly identify that the problem really is causing the symptoms (business issues) that have been observed and secondly when we apply a solution, it must be tailored to the actual problem.

So what is the issue here, how does this come about? Overconfidence and over-familiarity are two good reasons. If we have experts who become complacent, or who see the same issues day in, day out they might be tempted to assume that the problem is the same problem.

Many readers will be familiar with the humorous examples regarding correlation between two completely unrelated variables appearing to show causation. For instance, per capita cheese consumption closely correlates with the number of people who died by becoming tangled in their bedsheets!

This is of course ridiculous but there are more examples on the website https://www.tylervigen.com/spurious-correlations.

A common example that I use is that of a company where sales are falling. The boss states that sales force is useless and need to be sorted out or replaced. He thinks the sales force are the cause of falling sales. A simple application of ‘Asking Why?’ is very revealing. Consider the following:

Q. Why are sales falling?
A. Because customers don’t like our products

Q. Why don’t they like our products?
A.  Because they are outdated, not as cool as this year’s model

Q. Why are our products outdated?
A. Because we have not developed any new ones for 5 years

Q. Why have we not done this before?
A. Because the boss has not allowed us

Q. Why has the boss behaved in this way?
A. Because they have no spare time to spend

In this simple example our initial assumption of having a poor sales force is incorrect, the underlying issue is that the boss (possibly you!) has no time either because of high workload or poor time management. We can also see that the issue has multiple layers and unless the issues at lower layers are resolved then our initial problem is unlikely to be properly resolved. So it could also be a case of not just ‘solving the right problem’ but solving the right problems’ (in the right order).

Einstein is reputed to have said, ‘If I had one hour to save the world, I would spend 55 minutes analysing the problem and 5 minutes coming up with a solution.’ We tend to do the opposite. We assume we know the cause and then charge ahead designing remedies for the wrong issue. We need to find the root cause of the problem before even starting to think about possible solutions.

Most people from middle management upwards are expected to solve problems as part of their jobs. In fact, their superiors often say ‘don’t bring me problems, just solutions’. These people will then take the route of least resistance to pleasing the boss.

On many occasions this might work but it is always worth asking Why? Whether we are solving standard business issues or Innovators trying to solve problems that have been puzzling the world for ages, we must avoid making assumptions in order to correctly identify the problem and hence provide the ideal solution.

If you want to know more or would like a little help with this please do get in touch.

 

 

 

I Didn’t See That Coming – Do You Predict The Future?

predict the future
Somehow, CEOs and small business owners seem to think that after a great disaster has befallen them, saying ‘I didn’t see that coming’ absolves them of all responsibility. Maybe they did not see, but that is not to say that they shouldn’t have been able to. We are talking here about being able to predict the future.

Throughout history, there have been events that disrupted the way of the world. When electricity replaced gas as a means of creating light, it revolutionised the world. I suspect that there were a few factories developing a new generation of gas-powered street lamps but by and large people saw that coming.

Later on, we have a fantastic invention, the Sony Walkman. Portable music for the masses which was replaced incrementally by DVDs, then Apple iPods and finally mobile phones. Those who have produced these devices and who have supplied the music and games for them, have had to look up and see what was coming!

Who remembers Blockbuster Video? A huge chain of video rental shops that disappeared almost overnight because it was possible to stream video online.

There have been numerous cases of shops disappearing from our high street because of the effects of online shopping. This is not simply because of the emergence of online shopping but because existing retailers have not been able to predict the effects of the emergence of Amazon (and others) nor forecast the requirements of modern day shoppers. None of those that vanished seem to have attempted to predict the future.

There is a whole area of forecasting that is concerned with what are called ‘weak signals’. Imagine that you are standing on the stern of a large ship. You see the wash from the propellers and the wake left behind. After the ship has passed over the horizon a experienced old sailor might be able to ‘read’ the wake and tell you what sort of ship has passed and combine that with the tides to tell you where it might be going.

Imagine now that the whole scenario of the ship is played in reverse. As time passes, the ship gets closer until finally you can see it. As it gets closer, the signals that you pick up get stronger. With weak signals, we use a range of techniques to scan the business horizon to build up a picture of what might happen in the future. We then keep scanning. In fast-moving industries we cannot see as far ahead as say the construction industry.

Weak signals are a way of trying to predict the future and take advantage of it. But there is a simpler and less expensive way for the rest of us.

Compare those companies who ‘didn’t see it coming’, who did not attempt to predict the future, with those who are relaxing and sipping cocktails, the big difference is they aligned with emerging trends. They saw it coming just a little bit earlier than everyone else and did something about it.

To avoid being taken by surprise I thoroughly recommend that you do the following 3 things and ‘ride the curve’:

  1. Look ahead of the curve – scan your environment, identify and track trends. Increase the amount of business research you do and seek market intelligence rather than wait for it to come to you (via industry reports or briefings).
  2. Think ahead of the curve – look for patterns of change, and emerging opportunities.  Trying to make sense of every small piece of information will be too time-consuming. Ask yourself where will this trend, technology or driver be in 10 years and what might I need to do in response or to take advantage of it?
  3. Act ahead of the curve – Be like the surfer catching a wave. Don’t wait for a trend to overwhelm you, take action today. Be disruptive to both yourself and your competitors.

Riding the curve means grabbing opportunities, taking calculated risks, and turning your understanding of where your industry is going into steps that take you from where you are now to where you need to be in order to profit from change.

Why You Should Love Opening Doors

Do you open the door

Have I gone mad? Last month it was paradoxes and now we have opening doors! Is it a real door or a metaphor?

This is all seems a bit deep. Here is a door, just an ordinary one apart from the fact that we know it will soon be opened. You can’t yet see what is on the other side (but you might already be making assumptions).

So whether you have your personal or business hat on, just imagine that you are seeing this door for the first time. In fact, there could be many such doors in a line or even behind these doors. You don’t really know, but you/your business are in a hurry and you think you know what is behind the door so why even bother with it?

What do you do, stop by each door that you come across, survey its surroundings and continue your journey perhaps wondering where all these doors have come from?

Are you not in the slightest bit curious as to how an ‘above average’ number of doors came to be here? This alone should spark interest. What did you do though? Did you have a brief look, compare this situation with others you have come across and conclude that there was nothing of importance or value here?

What if there is some sleight of hand, what if special effects and camouflage are creating an illusion? There could be a real door (or maybe even several) into a real room. Maybe there is just a door hanging in the wind, but since you did not even take the opportunity to walk around the other side you would not know that there was a map showing the location of lost treasure, or next week’s winning lottery numbers?

What if we get a different experience by going through the door rather than round it (it might damage the door though)?

I will not labour the point too much but one of the key principles of Innovation is curiosity. If something does not look right, what does it mean? Do you not get curious? Does it present an opportunity or a tool that we can use?

If an opportunity does present itself, do we dismiss it because we think we understand it even though we have not had a really good look at it?

Life is full of doors. We cannot look behind every single one but there is value in being curious.

Enjoy exploring! If you need some help cultivating your curiosity and opening doors then please do get in touch.

What Is Creativity?

what is creativityWhen you think about Creativity, what springs into your head? Does my question encourage you to think of names of great artists, engineers, philosophers or technologists?

The more down to earth amongst you might like to tell me about your father whose home-brewed beer was ‘extraordinary’ or your grandmother who filled her house with culinary delights whenever you visited.

Are both of these groups of people creative, or neither?

Stay with me as I delve a little into some of the theory regarding creativity.

Theories in this area tend to differentiate Creativity (creativity with a capital “C”) from creativity (creativity with a lowercase “c”).

And what is the difference? The former is basically to do with the ‘big stuff’, the scientists and well known creative thinkers. The latter is actually much more interesting.

This creativity can take many forms and may even involve nothing more than making a few tweaks to a recipe, directions or set of instructions. Even though it’s appreciated or experienced only by your circle of friends and family, you feel good about having an impact.

Some common features of creativity include originality, effectiveness, surprise, divergent thinking, and discovery. You don’t have to be an artist, then, to be creative by standard definitions because you can be an inventor or original thinker in fields such as science and technology. In fact, an artist might not be creative if they simply paint the same things using the same paints and subject matter.

The other question which only popped into my head the other day is ‘for whom is this creative’? To what does this creativity refer?

If I have created an exciting new gadget in my shed, I have been creative. Do I need to show this to people and get their feedback? Is it essential for our creative efforts to be appreciated or commented on to make them creative?

What then happens when others perceive creativity in our efforts? This is beginning to get deep I know but please bear with me.

Let us consider one more idea about creativity. Children are very creative. They turn everyday items into suits of armour and swords and create the most detailed and multicoloured drawings. Is this just childish naivety or do these expressions of creativity have a real meaning?

Creativity research has often detailed primary (self-expressed) and secondary (recognised by others) creativity. Is it actually possible to split creativity like this?

More recent research has brought new ideas to the table. “Primary” creativity that is unique to the individual and “secondary,” which begins when an audience is “in dialogue with” the creator.

So primary creativity contains things like subject matter, medium and significant outcomes (works of art or inventions).

For secondary creativity, the outcome reaches an audience which, in turn, produces the secondary outcomes. This could be an interpretation or experience.

At this point, I shall leave the theory behind but you can see that there are a number of dialogues going on here which can continue for some time.

This has an impact on how we as speakers, trainers, consultants (and even my engineering friends too) deliver to the world. It is not good enough to dream up an exciting new concept, we have to think about the interactions that will take place as our idea is shown to the world.

Be cautious also, the interactions are not always started by ourselves! Our audiences can be creative in their responses.

Innovation Constipation – Are You Sufferng?

innovation constipationInnovation Constipation? It sounds painful, is it?

The answer to this question really does depend on your definition of pain. We are not dealing with a medical condition here, just using it as a metaphor.

The employees of a business will not experience pain although stress and discomfort might feature if they have to forgo pay rises or worse, experience redundancy.

The most important thing is to think of what a lack of innovation might do to your business. Will it stop it growing (or growing as intended)? Will it lose out to competition and shrink? Will you lose out to competitors when tendering for opportunities?

A business can embrace innovation to varying degrees. See my previous post about creating a super chameleon.

At the very least, Innovation could lead you to:

  • New products, services or processes
  • Greater advantage over competitors (knowledge cannot be easily copied)
  • First mover advantage (you will be looking externally)
  • Leveraging your most precious assets (employees)

There are many more things that Innovation could do for you but this is sufficient for now.

So, without doing an in-depth diagnosis of your Constipation (the Innovation variety of course), can you see if you have a problem?

The answer is yes, and it is surprisingly easy. Innovation depends on a supply of existing knowledge and new shiny ideas. Somehow, they must meet and be investigated, prototyped or captured for future use if not useable right now.

It is possible to do a full-blown analysis of Innovation potential, knowledge usage and creativity climate for really serious businesses but a simple analysis can be done by simply answering the following questions with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer.

  • Do you have an effective way of capturing and evaluating ideas (a suggestion box ranks as a ‘no’ I’m afraid)?
  • Does every employee have an opportunity to contribute ideas (be honest here, asking ‘have you got any ideas’? at a weekly meeting or performance review counts as a ‘no’)?
  • When evaluating ideas do you ensure that all employees can provide an opinion/evidence (senior managers gating ideas is a ‘no’ here)?
  • When initially evaluating an idea do you ignore cost?
  • When initially evaluating an idea do you ignore risk?
  • Do you have a method of assessing the value of the knowledge of employees?

Really you should be able to answer ‘yes’ to all of these questions. One ‘no’ might not be serious but the more you have, the more problems you are likely to have.

Reading through the list of questions, it might seem that I have a thing about letting everyone have a say or perhaps a downer on senior management. This is not so. These indicators are themselves indicative of many other things that might not be going quite right within your business.

If you are alarmed by the state of your Innovation Constipation or want to measure the potential of your business or organisation to innovate then please get in touch.

Business Creativity and Innovation
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