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The Secret To Productive Problem-Solving? Your Colleagues

Lisa Bodell
 

In a study published by Scientific American, researchers discovered that psychological distance can increase your ability to be creative. In other words, the further away a problem seems, the easier it is to solve. As CEO of a company that equips thousands of leaders and employees with proven innovation techniques, I’ve personally witnessed the science behind this study.

In negative work cultures, it’s tough to shift people toward a mindset of possibility. Employees who’ve been with the company for years are often the same people who tell me that “nothing ever changes” and “innovation is impossible here.” Pessimistic environments like these provide ideal conditions for a technique called From Impossible to Possible.

Whether you’re grappling with a specific business problem or you need to equip employees with creativity techniques, this exercise was created for stubborn challenges (and stubborn perspectives). Start by inviting employees from all levels of the organization and include at least one leader who’s empowered to make change.

At the outset of the meeting, assign invitees to teams of 3 or 4 people, taking care to produce an even number of teams. If you’re conducting this exercise remotely, simply divide the entire group into Team A and Team B. Then, ask everyone to collectively agree to focus on one of the following areas:

  • What will never happen in our industry?
  • What would customers say we would never do for them?
  • What cultural or organizational changes would never happen in our company?

If attendees are indecisive, encourage them to choose a topic that relates to a current or recent issue within the business. Then, give participants 10 minutes to ideate as many Impossibles related to that topic. For example, a list of Impossibles in the customer category might include statements like “we’ll never make shipping free” or “we’ll never develop an app.”

If you’re facilitating this exercise in person, ask teams to use paper (not a device) to capture their lists of Impossibles. In a remote environment, direct teams to create their lists in the chat box of their virtual meeting platform.

After 10 minutes, immediately direct teams to swap Impossibles with another team. (To encourage an authentic list of Impossibles, don’t reveal the swapping step until after the brainstorming phase is over.) For in-person exercises, teams should give their list to the team on their right; for remote, Team A should exchange with Team B.

Now, give teams 15 minutes to convert the other team’s Impossibles into Possibles. To jumpstart solutions, remind everyone to think about the following:

  • What would you need to change or implement in order to make this possible?
  • What resources would you need to make this a reality?

When time’s up, ask each team to share the Impossibles they received, and how they turned each of them into Possibles. From here, initiate a group discussion around the solutions and whether attendees found it easier to solve the other team’s Impossibles than their own daily challenges. Ideally, the meeting should shift into deciding which solution should be implemented and why.

I’ve led thousands of people through this exercise, and each time, I’m amazed by the human capacity to creatively problem-solve. By bringing other perspectives into the solution process, you’re introducing a diversity of experiences, talent and vantage points. The outcome is often a fresh solution that is focused on the realm of possibility instead of the usual chorus of objections.

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