Selecting the right people to participate in a problem solving exercise is critical. What type of person would you choose?
Thinking about Thinking
Roughly speaking, there are two types of thinkers in the world; the ‘Linear Thinker’ and the ‘Lateral Thinker’.
The Linear Thinker:
operates along a continuum, following a series of steps towards a logical solution. In business, we might describe this as the vertical thinker and the default style. Logic and fact take precedence in a process where each new piece of information can create or extend a linear pattern; a predictable outcome based on technically sound foundations.
The Lateral Thinker:
operates on a less formulaic approach, taking into consideration all items that relate to the topic at hand without applying a hierarchy or weighted system of importance. Creativity, extrapolation and emotion are utilised to allow freedom of thought and exploration of non-conventional ideas. Unpredictable, sometimes unforeseen outcomes can be derived from operating outside the square.
No Right or Wrong
I would not argue against either style of thinking in an appropriate setting. Both have a clear place and purpose and will, given the right environment, apply their craft and deliver the results required (all other variable being present). The question does arise as to who should have a seat at the table in a problem solving process?
Instinctively, and perhaps somewhat conservatively, I would go for the logical, Linear thinker. It seems to make sense. Even though I am personally more of a lateral thinker, I know what I am going to get from the other side of the fence and I know that the solution that is arrived at will, most likely (hopefully…) solve our problems. It’s a position that I tend to have taken in past Leadership roles and perhaps one where my instincts could have served me a little better?
Method in the Madness
In mid 2011 I came across Paul Carey’s 10-step Problem Solving Recipe. Upon initial investigation, I felt my previous strategy of including the Linear Thinkers and applying a very scientific, logical approach was correct. Carey’s title suggested nothing else; surely a recipe approach is just another label for process, method or routine, very much the territory of the logical analyst.
My initial thoughts certainly weren’t wrong. The process absolutely calls for compliance to the process. Having now applied the process in several (very diverse) settings, the reality is the more you ‘stay the course’, the better the result will be. There is, however, a missing link, and that link, of course, is the Artist, the Lateral Thinker.
As discussed earlier, the Artist can create unpredictable and unforeseen outcomes or solutions. On this theme alone, we should be inviting these people to the table.
Its ok, breathe… and stay on track
Ok, so I can see it now, the conservatives amongst us diving for cover under tables and tapping nervously at our daily planners, wondering if we might ever walk out of this process alive. Yes there are some concerns about launching a boat without a compass, but then, if you have a good captain, those issues can be overcome. And so it is that a highly skilled Problem Solving Facilitator will focus the Lateral Thinker for Good and keep them on track….
Within Carey’s 10 steps are several Brainstorming sessions; this is where the lateral thinker really earns their stripes. Effective Brainstorming involves creation of the weird and wonderful and leaving no idea undiscovered, unrecorded or (as is often the case) summarily dismissed. Within the wave of creative chaos, can come nuggets of pure gold; gold that can, given time to consider, hold the key to finding a permanent, most cost-effective or realistic solution.
So for now, as I enter a new Problem Solving Process, I enter armed with Mr. Carey’s Recipe Book, a valium or two for the conservatives suffering from the anxiety of freewheeling it and a cattle prod to zap the hippies when they start to wonder off into their artistic abyss, potentially never to be seen again.
To learn more about the process of effective problem solving, using both Linear and Lateral Thinking, please visit us at our website, send us an email or call for a chat and we can provide you with all you’ll need to generate that solution you really need.
See you there!
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