Do you find your meetings filled with the listing of a litany of problems, and then sporadic brainstorming about how to solve them? While your team feels better about getting their thoughts about the problems out, do you sometimes find execution weak or non-existent? Worse, does your team not even get started on implementation because they can’t get past decision mode?

There is a problem with solutions. Solutions to problems only bring you back to where you were before. Solutions are a restoration of performance, often a return to mediocrity. Sometimes solutions bring your business back to nothing more than being the “cream of the crap,” as an old cattleman once put it. 

A conscious effort must be made to stop problem solving and start innovating. Innovation is defined as creating a new dimension of performance. Problems present an opportunity to improve your competitive advantage and discover new value for your customer. But a conscious effort must be made to set this as the objective when problems are identified.

There are three steps you must take to shift your team out of complaint mode and into innovation mode where they can create new value for your customer.

First, recognize the tense of problem solving versus innovation. Problem identification and solving are focused on the past. Innovation is focused on the future and the higher potential, not just restoring a past level of performance.

Second, define the problem. Identify when it began, list possible causes (what change caused the problem) and quantify the importance and dollarized value to the company. Completing each of the above steps is critical. Once finished, you can then decide if you want to shift into problem-solving or innovation mode.

Third, set an innovation objective. If the problem isn’t significant, perhaps you only need a solution. But if the area of concern holds great value to your customer, identify an ideal outcome and detail what true innovation would look like and result in for you and your customer.

State to your team that you are going to be in an innovation mode and that means all ideas are welcome, judgment is deferred, and you are looking to create a new dimension of performance, well beyond where it was before the problem started. When you label an agenda item as Problem Solving or Innovation it is much easier to stop the “negative ninnies” that are only shouting why something can’t be done or costs too much. That type of input is for decision making.

So, once you have brainstormed a host of innovative ideas, it is time for decision making. You want to consciously shift from future focused to a focus on the present, as you will need to consider the current realities, and alternatives must be evaluated on the following four factors:

1. Musts: Define what your non-negotiables are. For example, is there a fixed budget?

2. Wants: List your wants around the decision, hoped for outcomes, etc.

3. Risks: With each option you must consider the risks and potential impact. 

4. Rewards: Obviously there are hoped for improvements with each decision, but consider how impactful they might be.

Finally with each option, there are two sides of the decision scale—the risks and the rewards. Look at each side and rate on a scale of 1 to 5 or -1 to -5, depending on the potential severity of results.

If the risks outweigh the rewards, you know what to do; if the rewards outweigh the risk, you may have just found an excellent innovation!  This article appeared in the November issue of Ag Pro magazine

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