Five Ways to Solve Tough Problems

HouseSolving problems – the really tough problems – takes fortitude, insight and wisdom. Tough problems are tough because its difficult to think outside the box. It is often difficult to escape the current situation.

McKinsey provides us with 5 ways to solve tough problems, that they call flexons – “flexible objects for generating novel solutions.”  Stated more simply – flexons are methodologies for finding a solution.

  • Networks – engaging the broader social network to understand the social prestige and influence – excellent when problems involve people and social systems.
  • Evolutionary – systematically guessing allowing the fittest answer to survive – great when many small experiments can be conducted quickly such as A/B testing for website design.
  • Decision agent – applying game theory to stakeholder behavior models – good when stakeholders have different value systems
  • Systems dynamics – mapping the major components and their forces amongst themselves (i.e. creating a ecosystem or systems map) – geared towards physical systems
  • Information processing – mapping the flow of information into the problem solving process -the proverbial the solution is only as good as the data applies.

By getting the group to focus on the best methodology  suited to solving the problem, group think is mitigated and solutions become more easily found.


Picture from Martino! @ Flickr


Three Steps to Innovation – When The Emperor Has No Clothes

The “Emperor has no clothes” strikes a chord, because it so aptly points out our human failings. Societal norms and group think effectively  make us fearful from speaking out. We want to fit in. But innovators are different. The very nature of innovation is to change. If you don’t speak out, then nothing changes. As the story tells us, we must find the child in ourselves and speak our mind. “Hey that man. He has no clothes!”

Even with new products, services and and new ways of doing business, we must often speak our mind. Here are three things you can do to drive innovation.

  1. Just Stop, Look and Think
    • If you don’t Stop and Look you won’t even see anything wrong. You’ll think it is normal to have a naked emperor.
    • Thinking is the most inexpensive thing you can do. You avoid costly mistakes.
    • Shouting “The Emperor has No Shoes!” does not have the same impact.
  2. Ideas are Cheap
    • Talk is cheap and so are ideas; if you don’t talk about your idea, it just doesn’t matter.
    • Everyone else is thinking the same thing. It’s obvious the emperor has no clothes. Who will talk first?
  3. Finally, Do Something
    • Speak out and let the world know. Build it. Share it.
    • You might not get it right the first time. Your voice might be timid. But with conviction you can be heard.
    • “The Emperor is Wearing a Broken Invisibility Cloak!”

* Image of Emperor Angelfish

Eight Nations of Innovation

Rick-Warren-TEDxOCWhen does innovation become innovative? In a recent review, I stumbled across Rick Warren’s, talk from TEDxOrangeCoast. With innovation and discovery asking the right question is more important than the answer. He’s compiled a list of 8 questions everyone should ask. He calls them his 8 Nations of Innovation:

  • Determination – What do I need to stop/change?
  • Collaboration – How do we do it together?
  • Combination – How can we combine opposites?
  • Elimitation – What can we remove?
  • Reincarnation – What died that we can bring back to life?
  • Rejuvenation – How can we change purposes or motivation?
  • Illumination – How can we look with new light?
  • Fascination – How can we make it more interesting?

Photo credit: blmiers2 / / CC BY-NC-SA


9341_wpm_lowresInnovation is elusive. We see only what we can see. The adage “I’ll believe it when I see it” illuminates our deep skepticism for the unknown and unseen. But as Marcel Proust wrote:

[blockquote align=”left” cite=”MARCEL PROUST, “The Captive,” Remembrance of Things Past”]The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes. Marcel Proust 1923[/blockquote]

Truly innovation is “in having new eyes.”  But have you ever shared a new concept or idea with your boss (or perhaps you’ve been the boss) where all the boss does is find something wrong. You can hear it now. “This won’t work… Why do you think that will work? Good effort. Now give me something that looks like what…” we did last time.

With eagle eyes they spot every flaw and mistake. They shoot down the idea before it even begins. They forget its a new idea; it’s not perfected. In those situations remind the boss to squint (or if you are the boss, just  squint – trust me it looks better)  –squinting makes things blurry, hazy and indistinct . You can kinda make it out.  But if you squint well, you can see the promise.You can see the important features. You can see the big picture.

Exercise your innovative muscle! Squint when you look. You might be seeing the next Facebook, and you missed it because you didn’t squint.

Creative design with vuja de

stockvault-leaves109588 copyAt Tom Kelley’s  recent talk, he gave us a preview of his upcoming book “Creative Design” – which should be done this fall. But as Tom said with tongue-in-cheek “Amazon promised it this fall, so I need to hurry up and finish.”  He went on to say, “With my last book I’ve learned that giving people 10 things about innovation is too many for people to remember.  So with the 700 pages in the new book I boiled it down to three:”

[fancy_list style=”bullet_list”]

  • Start with Empathy
    • Visit people, don’t just look at forms and reports.
    • Walk in their shoes.
  • Nurture a culture of experimentation
    • Executives must learn the art of squinting – look at new ideas ask if you were squinting – it isn’t perfect but if you squint it looks perfectly promising
    • Avoid deja vu (feeling like you heard or saw it before) but instead flip it around, and embrace  vuja de (a feeling you never heard or saw before) 
  • Build a learning organization
    • Find cross polinators
    • Seek young ideas and find a “reverse mentor”
    • Consider open innovation[/fancy_list]

Other Posts inspired by Tom Kelley’s talk at the Segerstrom Center:

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Double delivery

Processed by: Helicon Filter;When IDEO co-founder Tom Kelley answered audience questions at his recent talk, several audience members asked “How do you get the boss, and corporate types, to listen to your innovative idea?” Tom, essentially said “I often field this question. It’s of great interest to younger people early in their career. Bosses want results.”


He suggested:

[blockquote]Double Deliver – Deliver the way the boss wants and also your way. After two or three deliveries with equal (or better results) the boss will likely say, “lets just try it your way next time.”[/blockquote]

I was disappointed to hear there Tom has no magic bullets. Group think and resistance to change is as strong as ever; and hence why companies need to learn to innovate and listen or risk losing the younger generations to more innovative companies.

Other Posts inspired by Tom Kelley
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Must innovation be socially acceptable?

[blockquote cite=”—Tim Brown, president and CEO ” citeLink=””]Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.” [/blockquote]

IDEO co-founder Tom Kelley recently (see prior post – Creativity drives economic growth) elaborated on this concept. Sharing decades worth innovation research.


Design thinking covers three overlapping concepts: inspirationideation, and implementation. But more importantly for innovation to happen three things [highlight3]must[/highlight3] exist:

[fancy_list style=”bullet_list”]

  • People must find the innovation desirable
  • The innovation must be technically feasible
  • Finally, there must be a viable business model[/fancy_list]

With IDEO focused on new product innovation, these make complete sense.

But innovations are not limited to just commercial products and services for sale. Innovation is not just products but also ideas. Ideas do not need to be commercially viable. They just need to be socially viable. Meaning an idea has to be acceptable to a group of people – an online group, a department, a club etc…

For example, Galileo, asserted  that the sun was the center and not the earth. The Catholic church took nearly 400 years to accept the idea.

Consider today’s Green and Organic movements, both are commercially viable only because they are now socially viable.






Invention or Innovation?

ice-cap-267x268If you sell a refrigerator to an Eskimo is that innovation?    Webster defines innvoation as —  1: the introduction of something new or 2: a new idea, method, or device . So you might think selling a refrigerator to an eskimo is novel, but hardly something new; after all nearly everyone has a refrigerator.  Similarly document management isn’t new or innovative. As CNN reported, (Veterans Affairs boss: ‘No veteran should have to wait for claims’) the VA is finally installing a document management system to handle their benefit claims backlog; again electronic documents are hardly new.

However, after decades of running on paper, I find it remarkable that the VA is finally adding document management.  For a stodgy bureaucratic agency, that’s an earth shattering innovative breakthrough. So how can something really old like document management be a breakthrough?

My innovation definition:  innovation is “the introduction of a new idea, method or device into a group of people”  No matter the group size, when the old standard way of doing things changes then that’s innovation. When group think changes and a new idea is adopted, that’s innovation. The group size doesn’t matter, it can be a company, a government agency, a state, or even a country. The key point is, the group adopted something new.


Creativity drives economic growth.

freeimage-4523782-webTo say, I heard Ideo’s co-founder Tom Kelley recently speak on “The Art of Innovation” minimizes the gift of insight he shared, and over the next few blog posts I’ll paraphrase Tom’s presentation.

But first doesn’t it strike you odd that a business speaker was sponsored by the fine arts community at Segerstrom Cetner for the Arts? What’s the connection? Art is Business? Business is Art?

Tom adeptly led us through the connection. Last April, Adobe released the “State of Create” report.

[blockquote align=”center”]80% of all respondents believe – Creativity is key to driving economic growth[/blockquote]

[blockquote align=”center”]Only 1 in 4 people feel that they are living up to their creative potential[/blockquote] Wow!  With 75% upside potential, we can raise creativity and drive economic growth!

So go ahead and find your creative side.





Flying High on Innovation

I had a chance to hear the quirky market innovator and disrupter, Seth Godin speak.  He gets it. In his new book, “The Iccarus Deception” the world is a different place. Its connected. The rules your parents taught you do not apply. The rulers that taught you not to fly too close to the sun are wrong. Connections are not limited to the workplace. You can create new connections anywhere. You can create something new and connect to anyone. Innovation and creating something new is not a scare commodity. Go forth and create something new and connect. Available on Amazon