Successful outcomes are as much about the framing of the problem as they are about finding the solution. But curiously, this topic doesn’t get much play in the business world. Solutions are all anyone ever talks about—a quick fix—one product or service to cure all of your problems.
As a big picture visionary type, I admit how easy it is for me to see solutions and get so excited about the results that I just want to jump right to the ending. After all, if we have an answer at our fingertips, why not use it?
But the type of problem you are solving is equally if not more important than having all the answers. What if it’s less about solutions and more about stopping to consider what the real problem is, for your customer or other companies you serve?
The Real Solution Begins With the Problem
Some of you might be familiar with something called The Duncker Candle Problem. Maybe you’ve heard of it in a psychology class, but it was a scientific experiment from 1945 by Gestalt psychologist Karl Duncker, in which test subjects were given a box of thumbtacks with a single candle and matches. The subjects’ only instructions were to secure a lighted candle to the wall with those materials. The test was meant to measure “functional fixedness” or how likely a person was to use the items in a traditional way.
While out-of-the-box thinking is a hard thing to measure, it’s an attribute that’s highly valuable inthe modern marketplace, as emphasized by author Daniel Pink in his book “To Sell is Human.”
With the Duncker Candle Problem, Pink outlines the difference between problem solvers and problem finders in an economy that’s growing to favor creative, unconventional thinkers.
“Entrepreneurs are moving from a world of problem-solving to a world of problem-finding. The very best ones are able to uncover problems people didn't realize that they had.”
What “Problem Finders” Have In Common
Problem finders in the workplace share a couple of traits. These traits were outlined by social scientists Jacob Getzels and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi who did a now famous study on fourth-year art students called “The Creative Vision: A Longitudinal Study of Problem Finding in Art.” The social scientists enlisted 36 art students for the study. The pair examined students responses to a still-life drawing task and what approach subjects took to arrive at a drawing.
The social scientists identified students with the most successful art careers, over a decade later, had these attributes:
- Flexibility: Being comfortable even with the project in an unfinished state
- Continual Improvement: Accurate grasp of improvements that are still required
- Experimentation: Willingness to abandon approaches that aren’t working
These traits are essential to creatives, but they can apply in a broader context to the rest of the workforce. Someone who is comfortable working toward an open-ended result and is able to release control to certain variables is a valuable team player.Keep them around and learn from their innate flexibility.
Someone who is patient but yields high standards for quality is someone who will bring tons of intentionality to your organization. Be on the lookout for this gem-like quality.
And lastly, a person who enjoys trying new things and is not afraid of kicking ideas or strategies out the door that aren’t performing well is especially valuable, if not for their ability to experiment, than for their humility to admit when something is not working.
Creative Thinkers Will Help Your Business
All of these attributes are especially valuable as you seek your next hire. Don’t only ask what solutions they offer to specific problems,but see what their process is like and how they go about examining the problem in the first place. Are they curious? Willing to experiment? Do they slam through things to get them done or are they patient with unfinished pieces until they see the full picture?
To your excellence in securing the right talent for your organization,