According to the Center for Creative Leadership’s Chuck Palus and David Horth, innovation calls for us to “see with new eyes.” In their book, The Leader’s Edge: Six Creative Competencies for Navigating Complex Challenges, Palus and Horth explain that the increasing pace of work today often demands that people scan information quickly and make rapid judgments. To do this they typically take shortcuts, acting on what they expect to see.
Palus and Horth write that managers faced with a complex problem typically spend about 90 percent of their time solving the problem and only about 10 percent figuring out what the problem really is. But difficult problems often begin to crack and shift when you spend more of your time examining them.
Slow down. Put the brakes on your usual way of seeing and understanding. Horth and Palus suggest several approaches:
First, stand in different places. Shift perspective by radically changing your point of view. If you are a marketer, become the customer. If you are a coach, become the trainee. Turn the problem upside down so that all the familiar parts look strange – then look again.
Second, try using the lenses of other domains. For example, if you are an artist, import the lens of science. If you are a scientist, import the lens of artistry. The ability to use different lenses may already exist within you as an individual leader or within your group’s collective experience. Seek these lenses out.
A third way to examine problems is to ask powerful questions. Powerful questions may be as simple as “What’s missing?” or “What are the patterns?” They may be “What-If” questions that pose surprising scenarios and invite imaginative responses: What if we deliberately tried to make this problem worse? What would be the positives if we failed? Or try asking a series of So-What questions: So what’s so great about this new product?
Fourth, foster new knowledge. Send members of your organization into the marketplace among customers, constituencies, competitors and others. Make sure they regularly spend time in places where they can gain new perspectives.
And lastly, examine problems by changing the group’s level of attention. If the group you are leading likes to surf quickly through issues, make a practice of slowing them down. If your group naturally prefers ponderous analysis, practice taking intuitive scans of the data or hold short, rapid-sensing forums on fast-breaking issues. Try analyzing a problem more before solving it, and see what happens to the level of innovation in your organization.