Effective leaders generate multiple creative and ingenious solutions to solve a given problem.
This creativity and ingenuity is developed by understanding basic problem theory, employing a generic template to generate solution options, considering whether or not to even attempt solution, and developing solution generation skills through practice in daily life.
A Little Taste of Problem Theory
For the next few moments, I ask you to suspend your personal positions on this subject, and try your best to think about my line of logic in a supportive manner:
1. Assume the perspective that every event, activity, interaction - pretty much every human effort - can be seen and articulated as a problem.
2. If all events, activities, and interactions can be seen as problems, then the satisfactory conclusion of such events, activities, and interactions can be seen as solutions to those problems.
3. Therefore, at our essence, we are problem solvers, seekers of solution. At a minimum, we are looking for at least one acceptable solution to each problem we encounter.
4. Additionally, when seeking solution, the local and broader outcomes may be better, if we have more solutions from which to choose.
Using this line of thinking, we can then understand that creative and inventive leaders are simply those that develop and propose more feasible and acceptable solutions to each of these problems. This unique skill is also known as being able to generate or create options.
A Generic Framework for Generating Options
The basic framework of generating options to solve problems does not have to be creative.
For example, consider the following list of questions, which can be used as a generic template to thinking about generating options for problem solution. Once you overlay a generic template of options like the one below, your creativity and ingenuity can shine through as you apply the details specific to your situation, and create multiple custom-built, fresh options.
1. Solve this problem with the conventional solution.
2. Solve this problem when the conventional solution is not feasible or available.
3. Solve this problem while enduring a manpower shortage.
4. Solve this problem while enduring a resource shortage.
5. Change this problem, so it becomes easier and/or less dangerous to solve.
6. Solve another's problem, in exchange for their solution of ours.
7. Wait for the problem to escalate or diminish prior to solution.
8. Inject one or more new variables into the problem, to transform it into a more solvable problem.
9. Remove one or more confounding variables from the problem, to transform it into a more solvable problem.
10. Chose not to solve the problem.
Just Because It's a Nail, Don't Assume the Role of the Hammer
Choosing inaction, or making the conscious decision to not solve a problem, are legitimate options at the appropriate time and place. These options should be seriously considered and discussed each time a potential problem is encountered.
However, with most of the problems we face, our natural tendency is to immediately and sub-consciously bypass the consideration of and decision to adopt inaction or refusal to solve. Instead, we mindlessly accept and assume that we must solve the problem, and thereby miss the opportunity to consider the benefits and risks associated with the legitimate options of inaction and refusal to solve.
I strongly recommend that you counter this natural tendency in your leadership and your life. How do we do this? By considering the risk / reward calculation as applied to the problem under consideration. Ask yourself: how beneficial is it to the mission, the organization, and myself to solve this problem? How dangerous is it (can I break a critical piece of my equipment, can I get bogged down in this problem, et cetera)?
If there's no benefit to the mission, your team, or you, or the risk of adverse effects is high, why would you attempt to solve that problem? Just because it's a nail, doesn't mean that you have to be the hammer.
Training Creativity and Inventiveness
As previously mentioned, and in concert with the above problem theory, we encounter as many problems each day as we have events, activities, and interactions. Therefore, you have a virtually unlimited number of opportunities to train this skill, and are probably already doing it without realizing it. For example, consider the following events (problems), and their associated solutions:
Event (Problem) #1: How to cook meat in conjunction with the preparation of dinner
Conventional Solution: conventional kitchen instruments (stove, oven, microwave, et cetera).
Creative Solution 1: bar-b-que grill.
Creative Solution 2: fire pit in the back yard.
Creative Solution 3: eat it raw (fish and beef; do not eat pork or chicken raw).
Creative Solution 4: cure it (salt, smoke, drying).
Creative Solution 5: use neighbor's conventional kitchen instruments.
Creative Solution 6: outsource the preparation of dinner (caterer, restaurant).
Creative Solution 7: prepare a meat-free dinner.
Creative Solution 8: wrap it in foil, place it on the engine block of your car with the engine running.
Event (Problem) #2: How to Get to Work
Conventional Solution: drive yourself in your car.
Creative Solution 1: bum a ride from your neighbor or co-worker.
Creative Solution 2: call a taxi.
Creative Solution 3: rent a limousine.
Creative Solution 4: ride a bike.
Creative Solution 5: jog or walk to work.
Creative Solution 6: telecommute.
Creative Solution 7: take a day of leave.
Training exercises, like the two above, can be conducted academically, in a classroom setting, or they can be trained during hands-on operations in the field.
Every event, activity, and interaction in life can be understood as a problem.
Therefore, to have a rich quality of life (and to achieve mission accomplishment), we must see ourselves as seekers of solutions. In this role, obviously, the more solutions we find, develop, or create, the better the outcome is likely to be.