Friday, May 11, 2007

Problem solver, or problem finder?

At its core, business is simply the application and management of resources to solve problems in the creation and delivery of value, and subsequent production of wealth. We are conditioned – cognitively and managerially – to solve problems. Most managers would prefer binary decision-making versus ambiguity and uncertainty. Keep it simple. Don’t question authority. Solve the problem – there’s got to be an answer! – and move on.

Creativity and innovation are different. “A question well put is half resolved,” contends Paul Souriau. “True invention thus consists in posing questions. There is something mechanical, as it were, in the art of finding solutions. The truly original mind is that which finds problems.”

Voltaire concurred: Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.

Einstein and Infeld: The formulation of a problem is often more essential than its solution … To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old questions from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks real advance in science.

Evans and Deehan: Creative people do not only solve problems. They also find problems to be solved.

Getzels and Csikszentmihalyi: The central question: "How are new problems discovered?" rather than the more usual question, "How are existing problems solved?" The first step in creative activity involves the discovery, or formulation, or the problem itself.

I have often quoted Peter Drucker’s wonderfully terse definition of marketing: Define a need and fill it. In other (my) words, find/identify/seek a problem (or an unmet/inadequately met need), and then pursue a solution.

But, if we are conditioned to mechanically solve problems (think: IQ testing), how do we seek problems? A.F. Osborn contends creativity is activated when we bombard the imagination with queries, stabs such as, “what if…” “what about…” “what else…” And, I would add, “Yes, and …”

Imagineer a problem, frame a riddle, or construct a puzzle. Then, solve it.

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