In many ways, problem solving is a business leader’s core responsibility. This is because factors such industry trends, customer expectations, and economic climates fluctuate.
As a result, CEOs must adapt and respond to a constant stream of changing - and often challenging - situations. Of course, the best leaders aren’t always running damage control; they discover innovative new ways to prevent problems as well.
Creative problem solving stems from one's ability to view situations from new angles, learn from others, and identify opportunity in the midst of a challenge. Barriers ranging from workplace politics to a dearth of resources can make it difficult to brainstorm and implement innovative workplace solutions.
However, the following tips can help you hone your creative problem solving skills:
Enable Transparent Communications
In a business, communication often begins to break down when large problems arise. Team members may be hesitant to express themselves openly because they fear exposing a co-worker’s mistake or unnecessarily stirring the pot.
However, it is important for leaders to ensure that the lines of communication remain open in the face of adversity. They should strive to develop a culture of open and honest communication in which all stakeholders feel welcome to voice their views and concerns.
Creating a workplace environment that encourages trust and understanding can help ensure that, when challenges arise, leaders are able to freely communicate with their teams to more easily pinpoint the root of the problem, understand all sides of the issue, and come to creative solutions.
Promote a People-First Culture
The Business Dictionary defines the “silo mentality” as a company culture marked by a reluctance toward interdepartmental collaboration. In a siloed organization, the various operational sectors seek to compete rather than cooperate.
As a result, colleagues may become unwilling to share information with one another. Oftentimes, this dynamic only serves to decrease morale and productivity.
Silos hinder problem solving, and they are also often the root of workplace issues. To unlock employees’ potential for creative problem solving, leaders must work to break down organizational barriers - both intentional and unintentional - that prevent their teams from sharing vital information and working together toward common goals.
Operating with a people-first mentality is one of the most effective ways to encourage greater unity, whether in a siloed organization or any other. Business leaders should ensure that their organizations treat employees as investments, rather than as costs.
Additionally, leaders should promote personal growth and collaboration as well as provide the resources for team members to take risks. This is likely to inspire a culture of cooperation and entrepreneurship - one in which team members feel empowered to work together to solve problems that impact the entire organization.
Considering and understanding the varying sides of an issue is a significant aspect of problem solving. Empathy can be a valuable quality to have when seeking universally acceptable solutions to difficult problems.
However, business leaders can further unlock their potential to solve problems creatively by both acknowledging diverse viewpoints and also learning to see their strengths. Appreciating the value of alternative skills and opinions is necessary to truly approach a problem from a new perspective and consider new solutions that may depart from one’s typical workstyle.
In order to break from the old habits that may be hindering their creative problem solving, leaders should take a proactive approach to integrating varying viewpoints into their brainstorming sessions.
For example, leaders might provide a forum for employee commentary on a well-known history challenge. They might also make a concentrated effort to include team members’ varying skillsets, viewpoints, and problem-solving philosophies in each brainstorming session.
Adopt a Framework
Creativity does not require the absence of set processes or boundaries. In fact, the conscious act of progressing through a problem-solving process can help leaders overcome preexisting mental blocks that they may not even be aware of.
A basic problem-solving framework involves first defining the issue at hand. Then you must structure it, prioritize its finer issues, and analyze these individual components to develop and implement a solution.
When utilizing a problem-solving framework, business leaders should consider that creative problem solving is often a lengthy process. It may be ineffective to plan brainstorming sessions that are dedicated to solving a particular issue in one sitting.
Instead, consider letting meeting attendees research the challenge in advance and come together to discuss their proposed solutions. Leaders can also present the crux of the issue in an initial meeting and request proposals at a later date.
Take a Step Back
Allowing for a defined, yet extended problem-solving process can offer ample time for business leaders and their teams to view issues from a broader perspective. Prior experiences, existing biases and beliefs, and one’s own personal working strategies can all limit the potential for outside-of-the-box thinking.
For this reason, business leaders should make a conscious effort to frame problems in a new light, taking actions to open themselves up to new perspectives. Oftentimes, moving away from the problem can aid the generation of fresh ideas.
This can be done physically, with a change of scenery providing inspiration for new methods of thinking. Alternatively, it can be done mentally, with business leaders considering how other companies - or even industries - have tackled similar problems.