How to solve complex problems at work

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When we find ourselves in a situation that's different than normal it's so tempting to grasp the first obvious solution and move to implement it.

But today's organizations aren't working in normal circumstances and with so much more to consider how can you be sure you've found the best possible solution?  

This blog explores how to solve complex problems at work.

How to solve complex problems at work

Choosing a new business model to support the growth and evolution of your business is definitely a complex problem to solve.

And so, it was natural for me to use creative problem solving to guide a client through the process of choosing a new approach to structuring their business. 

He and his team were tasked with developing a new business model and governance framework for the organization because they were undergoing changes to their operating model.

[Read our blog: How to bring innovation skills to a company]

Three business model options had been identified by the Board and it was assumed one of them would rise to the surface so that they could chart a course forward. The favoured option was to set up a non-profit organization.

 But a funny thing happened as I started to work with this client.

The data they shared revealed that the Board hadn’t put much thought into their choices for business model options. They simply generated a list of the more obvious choices, one of which was to become a non-profit organization. But given the other data they shared, my intuition was telling me that the options they chose weren’t really going to meet the long-term needs of the organization. But we needed more than my hunch to help them make a decision.

So, I suggested the following approach:

  1. They meet with someone in my network who was an expert on setting up non-profits, and
  2. After that meeting, we would examine each of the three options objectively using a thinking tool called POINt in our ThinkUP toolkit
  3. We would then look at the Pluses, Opportunities and Issues related to choosing each of these options.
  4. Finally, we would use that analysis to explore new thinking relative to their mandate.

[Learn more about the ThinkUp Innovation Framework]

My client was delighted at the expert connection – an hour-long discussion led them to understand that the default non-profit option was going to make it difficult for them to meet their business mandate.

And, my client was surprised and curious at my suggestion to use the POINt thinking tool.

The limitations of SWOT analysis

They anticipated doing a SWOT analysis, but as I explained, we were looking for creative solutions to their challenge. And while SWOT can be helpful for strategic planning and, within certain contexts, bring a critical eye to the potential direction an organization might take, it doesn’t serve to creatively improve on raw ideas.

What my client had in essence was three best guess ideas at business models. They hadn’t generated an exhaustive list of options – and none of the options had been explored based on their organization’s mandate or criteria for success.

In my opinion, POINt is a more effective tool than SWOT because it doesn’t just state weaknesses and threats in relation to an idea, it takes those concerns and turns them into questions that invite new thinking with the intention of transforming a good idea into a great solution.

[Read our blog post: How to be an innovator at work]

It doesn’t stop at a statement of facts. It provides a structure for improvement and encourages insights to understand how to make an idea work within its context.

Exploring every possible solution

Methodically, we put each of the three options under the microscope and I challenged my client with figuring out what it would take to successfully implement each model. As we worked through each option regardless of the issues they discovered, they worked to come up with ideas that would allow them to overcome the issues to implementing the model.

Here’s the kicker. After the POINt analysis, my client realized none of the three options would support the long-term goals and mandate of the organization. Each would impede their ability to meet their mandate and wouldn’t be much fun to work within. It also came to light that the non-profit option would introduce a burden of administration they weren’t prepared to absorb and would introduce significant costs to their annual operating budget.

Landing on a winning approach

But we did have a breakthrough. By examining all the original options, a fourth option emerged, one that no one had considered before. When we delved into why, it was assumed by the Board that they had to create a new business model and that the original model wouldn’t work.

[Read our blog post: What kind of organization culture supports innovation?]

In the final analysis, when we put the original business model through the same scrutiny of POINt as we did with the others, the better solution was to evolve the existing business model to accommodate the changes in their operating model and to make improvements as needed.

Armed with this new thinking, my client went to their Senior Leaders to share the process of thinking they went through and the new option that emerged. The Senior Leaders agreed, the exploration warranted bringing a fourth option into the mix, and given the choice, the fourth option was now their favoured option.

When they took the same data to the Board, they agreed too.

When creative problem-solving leads to new discoveries

I was delighted when my client shared their experience of using my thinking tool with the Board and how they were surprised we wouldn’t be using SWOT.

Here’s what he said, “Once we’d gone through this process I realized that using SWOT wouldn’t have allowed us to examine the options as broadly and creatively and wouldn’t have uncovered the new, far greater option for us.”

And the coolest thing about using creative problem solving to resolve complex problems?

It doesn’t matter what the problem is, what industry or function you work in, it drives thinking breakthroughs, helps you discover innovative solutions and works every time.

About BridgePoint Effect
BridgePoint Effect is a boutique consulting firm with a bold vision to transform the way leaders and their teams collaborate, innovate, and deliver outstanding results.

We help frustrated leaders who know their teams can achieve more. 

We offer a framework, practical toolkit and high calibre coaching that gives you the structure, skills and support needed to build an effective team.

Let's get your team achieving more than you ever thought possible.


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