Do you ever find yourself trapped inside the same issue over and over again?
Maybe it's because you're looking at it through the same lens. Whether it's a business challenge or a personal one, the way we frame problems can limit our ability to solve them.
Innovation expert Steve Shapiro says, "If you are working on an aerospace engineering challenge, and you have a 100 engineers, adding another engineer to make it 101 won't increase your likelihood of solving the problem. But if you add a biologist, a musician, a nanotechnologist or someone from the movie business, you might find some different solutions."
The secret, says Shapiro, is to get a different perspective.
Shapiro tells the story of an engineer who was trying to figure out a better way to plug leaks in the Alaskan pipeline, where it's sub-zero and repair guys aren't just down the block.
One day the engineer got a paper cut. As he looked at his finger he realized, my finger has the same problem that a gas pipeline has, but I don't have to go to a surgeon. The cut heals itself. The question then became, how do I create a self-healing pipeline? He didn't need a bandage; he needed a clotting agent.
Innovation is not just about creativity for creativity sake, says Shapiro. And it doesn't just apply to engineering challenges.
Innovation is about harnessing good ideas that solve very specific problems for a very specific opportunity.
If you want to make innovation a repeatable and predictable process to solve your most pressing challenges, Shapiro offers three strategies:
1. Become disciplined about asking better questions.
It's critical to ask yourself, have we put enough thought into how we are framing this? Shapiro recommends, "Don't get wedded to ideas; get wedded to questions."
If you're working on a business challenge ask yourself, why are we doing this? What problem is it solving for us and what problem is it solving for customers?
2. Always seek out people that you would normally not seek out.
It's our naturally tendency to group with like people, says Shapiro. We believe opposites attract, but opposites actually repel.
The person who drives you bonkers is someone who is so numbers driven or who wants to rip everything to shreds until they have scientific evidence. But that's the very person who is going to provide the different perspective you need.
3. When asking questions, the most useful question in the world is, who else has solved a related problem?
The key, says Shapiro, is to abstract the question slightly higher. For example, a toothpaste company was trying to create a product to get teeth white. Instead of just focusing on teeth, they realized the real question is, "How do we take something white and make it whiter?" They talked to the laundry people. Voila!
Shapiro created Personality Poker -- a book and game -- to help organizations gain insights into personality mixes and their impact on driving innovation. (You can play the online version at www.PersonalityPokerBook.com)
He says, "If you become masterful at asking the right question, and extract it in a way where you start asking different people, it moves you into the space of looking for solutions."
Albert Einstein said, "Problems cannot be solved with the same level of thinking that created them."
You can't just wait for the light bulb to appear over your head. If you want different results, you need to ignite different thinking.
Business strategist Lisa Earle McLeod is the author of "The Triangle of Truth," a Washington Post Top 5 Business Book for Leaders.