The matrix below looks at the kinds of outcomes produced by workplaces or teams depending on the extent to which they have embraced creative problem solving.
Read the descriptions to identify where your team sits.
The two axes are a continuum between creative-problem solving versus routine problem-solving and the extent to which creative approaches to problem solving are a core versus casual activity.
The X Axis – ‘Creative-Problem Solving’ Versus ‘Routine Problem-Solving’ Axis
This represents the extent to which people stick to well defined procedures versus consciously and actively looking for fresh solutions, processes and ideas.
At the creative end, people are seeking better solutions and are confident in the use of tools and cognitive frameworks to scaffold and extend their thinking and collaboration, especially when dealing with complex, ill-defined problems.
At the routine end, people follow well-defined progressions through problem-solving relying on processes that have worked well previously to solve clearly articulated and well defined problems.
The Y Axis – The ‘Core’ Versus ‘Casual’ Axis
This is the extent to which a commitment to creative problem-solving is embedded into a team’s or organisation’s systems or processes.
If it is a core value, then creativity is front and centre with a VIP seat at every meeting. It is prioritised and embedded into the systems and processes of the team or organisation. There is a commitment to it on the part of the leaders and team members.
If it is a casual activitythen creativity is ad hoc, inconsistently applied and seen as an ‘add-on’, nice-to-have, not a need-to-have. Creativity is only put on the agenda when someone remembers occasionally.
The ‘Solution Unreliability’ Quadrant
This quadrant represents the teams that have perhaps had some training and development in creative thinking and problem-solving in an attempt to improve outcomes but are not using and applying their learnings regularly and systematically. Because they don’t practice often enough, on the occasions when they do get around to it, their activities and outcomes are clumsy rather than elegant. Occasionally they may produce a result that is creative and that addresses the issue they were solving; however, it is more by serendipity than by design. Generally speaking, their efforts are hit-and-miss and they can’t be relied on to deliver consistently.
The ‘Solution Chaos’ Quadrant
This quadrant is the home of ineptitude. Little or no training and development, or awareness-raising has been provided in relation to thinking, problem-solving, decision-making, information-sharing, collaborating. Outcomes are often below par as even routine solutions (let alone creative ones) are not produced effectively. Confusion reigns. Team meetings are dysfunctional. Members of teams in this quadrant lack clarity about processes that would lead to good outcomes. Channels of communication are blocked. People have no idea where the relative strengths lie of team members so they can be harnessed. Because outcomes are poor, it is hard for people to feel proud of their work which leads to a lack of motivation and purpose frequently accompanied by high levels of disengagement.
The ‘Solution Predictability’ Quadrant
Teams in this quadrant are excellent at producing standard responses and predictable solutions. They work well together to use tried-and-true processes which they have honed over time and which have become standard routines. They apply existing processes and procedures well which means that they default to ‘business as usual’ approaches. They can be relied on to deliver competent but uninspired results when solving well-defined problems. Their strength is in reproducing the status quo without necessarily looking for better procedures, outcomes or ways of adding value. Their solutions are neat, orderly and conventional. Thinking is generated using existing mental models without actively seeking to experiment – so they could be in danger of stagnation. They are ideally suited to static and stable environments but would struggle in a VUCA (Volatile Unpredictable Complex Ambiguous) context or solving complex ‘wicked’ problems. (A class of problems characterised by constantly changing conditions which makes them resistant to resolution.)
The ‘Solution Centred’ Quadrant
This is the quadrant where future-focussed teams and team members, committed to consistent, high quality, fresh outcomes reside. They have been upskilled in the use of various creative thinking techniques and tools, understand the processes and are confident with their ability to produce interesting solutions that move on from ‘business as usual’ responses. Solution centred teams understand the different kinds of creative problem-solving approaches in their team and use that knowledge to collaborate effectively. They know how to deal with the frustrations that often arise when tackling complex problems so as not to damage team relationships and cohesion. Consequently, their solutions are invariably elegant, effective, original. And they can be relied on to produce these consistently rather than sporadically because they apply creative thinking tools regularly and systematically.
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