Brian Tracy, the motivational speaker, starts one of his talks by saying something like “Before I came in today, I read every one of your resumes and I know all your job titles.”
He points to someone in the first row. “You sir, your title is Chief Problem Solver.” To another, “You’re VP of Problem Solving.” And to another, “Executive Problem Solver.”
This gets to the heart of where the interesting stuff happens in business today.
Either you’re in a job where you’re told by your boss exactly what to do, and you do it that way or you get fired.
Or, your boss doesn’t know what the right answer is and needs you to figure it out, in which case you have a client, not a boss.
The first kind of job is manual labour. And, when you think about it, many jobs need that kind of approach – from working at a fast food chain to carrying out heart surgery.
You wouldn’t want your meal cooked in whatever way the chef fancies – perhaps they’ll try it a little under cooked this time to test out if the flavour is better?
You’d want your surgeon to do exactly what is needed – and not go off on a diversionary expedition inside you to follow up something more interesting?
But, there was a time before those jobs and tasks existed in the way they do now. Someone figured out how to make fast food work.
The McDonald brothers worked it out. They created a restaurant where every move was orchestrated. Every step and action had a purpose.
At a recent visit to a McDonalds, I counted around 15 people behind the counter, and no one was getting in each other’s way.
In the film “The Founder”, you hear the story of how they did it – how they noticed that people wanted burgers and fries and not much else off the menu – how they tore down their restaurant and rebuilt it from scratch and created a whole new concept in dining as a result.
We see the end result, but we rarely see the process. Often, people who do creative things can’t explain how they do it – it’s almost magical.
But… it’s something many people are interested in and study. In this paper, Kees Dorst and Nigel Cross look at creativity in the design process.
There are two states we can be in – a problem state and a solution state.
Imagine them like mountainous islands separated by a forbidding stretch of water.
The challenge is to get from one side to the other.
People who do this well start by exploring their mountain in detail.
They look at the problem, what the client feels, how it impacts them. They try and look at it from different angles and viewpoints. They ask themselves questions that try to prod creative thinking, lateral thinking.
They look at possible solutions – explore the solution space. What are the approaches that have already been tried? What could we do differently? What’s the opposite of what is being asked for.
Then, they start to frame the problem – settle on a way to view it.
This means focusing on the things inside the frame and discounting the things outside it. Focusing on the things that matter.
Trying to match up the problem space and the solution space.
All this work is trying to build a bridge – a bridge between the problem space and solution space.
This bridge is the thing that links the two in a way that works. Some bridges won’t. Some will – and they will work well enough to be selected to go ahead.
So, the creative leap is like building a bridge. But what it takes – what it needs is immersing ourselves in the problem and solution space, going past the simple and default and first solutions that come to mind and forcing ourselves to look longer and further and harder.
When we see a finished product – whether it’s a book, an idea, a business model – we might think it sprang to life fully formed. This way of doing things is the only way.
And that way lie jobs that are filled with boredom.
The interesting jobs are the ones where you solve problems – where you make clients happy.
A warning, however. This doesn’t mean you’ll make money.
The McDonald brothers had to eventually sell their business to Ray Kroc, who went on to create the business we know today.
They solved the operations problem – to create fast food.
He solved the business problem.
Either way, they’re all creative problem solvers.