Problem solvers often begin by looking for new, innovative solutions, even though many solutions consist of innovative combinations of less-innovative pieces. But innovation can be as much or more in the way pieces are combined, rather than in the pieces themselves. Because this happens with such regularity, setting out to find solutions of this form can make problem-solvers more productive.
Many problem solutions are like found art, which is art created from objects that are not normally considered art. They might be everyday objects, like tires or chair legs. They might even be discarded or broken. By combining them in new ways, possibly with objects or materials that normally are considered art, the artist creates something that clearly is art.
Similarly, problem solutions sometimes consist of familiar elements of other solutions, possibly combined with truly new elements. Often, we come to these solutions only after failing to compose wholly new solutions. Here's a proposal: we might benefit by approaching problems from the beginning by searching for solutions that are hybrids of new and old.
Here are some suggestions for problem-solving using combinations of new and old solutions.
- Generate a catalog of old solutions
- Become a student of old solutions. Gather ideas that worked in the past to solve problems that are now solved. You can use this resource repeatedly for each new problem-solving effort. And the successful results of each new effort can become entries in this catalog.
- Maintain a didn't-work-for-this-problem list
- As you progress You can reuse past ideas
only if you know about
them. Become a student
of old solutions.toward a solution, you'll try ideas that turn out not to work. Add them to the didn't-work-for-this-problem list. Then ask, why didn't it work? If that condition is still in place, address it. Addressing that condition is a slightly different problem — one for which you (or someone else) might already have a solution.
- Search for themes in the didn't-work-for-this-problem list
- As you add items to the didn't-work-for-this-problem list, search the list for themes. Sometimes, when something doesn't work, the causes of failure can be hidden in subtle ways. But when you ask what a group of failed solutions have in common, sometimes that hidden cause becomes evident. In this way, failed solutions can lead to success.
- Be zany
- Because intentional zaniness can help you relax constraints that might be keeping you from seeing a solution, search for obviously zany ideas. But not just any zany ideas. Start with an item from your catalog of old solutions, or from your didn't-work-for-this-problem lists. Then "zanify" it. Zanify it again in another way. You might be surprised at what happens.
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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 13: Contrary Indicators of Psychological Safety: I
- To take the risks that learning and practicing new ways require, we all need a sense that trial-and-error approaches are safe. Organizations seeking to improve processes would do well to begin by assessing their level of psychological safety. Available here and by RSS on December 13.
- And on December 20: Contrary Indicators of Psychological Safety: II
- When we begin using new tools or processes, we make mistakes. Practice is the cure, but practice can be scary if the grace period for early mistakes is too short. For teams adopting new methods, psychological safety is a fundamental component of success. Available here and by RSS on December 20.
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