What Kind of Problem Solver Are You?

Today’s professionals are under pressure to keep the ideas coming and to deliver new products, services, and organizational changes that provide real value.

However, generating and nurturing new ideas is a team effort—and one that can easily waste time and create chaos and conflict among team members. The good news is that the process of bringing new ideas to fruition can be highly productive if we can learn to work together more effectively.

Valuing the Role of Different Thinkers

The first step in truly collaborative creative thinking is understanding the roles that different types of thinkers play in the process of solving problems and evaluating new ideas.

Consider the following situations to help figure out where you fit.

Imagine This Scenario:

Usability testing has unveiled some big issues with your company’s new software application. You’ve been asked to take part in a meeting to come up with potential solutions. What’s likely to be your first contribution to the meeting discussion?

a) You ask for the full report from the usability testing team.

b) You suggest two approaches for solving the issue, then make additional suggestions for an overall improved user experience.

c) You help others understand why some suggested fixes aren’t feasible, particularly in the launch timeframe.

d) You lay out the team members and steps that will be required to implement the proposed solution.

Now Envision Scenario 2:

Your manager has come up with an idea for dramatically increasing sales this quarter through a special promotion. You think the promotion is ill conceived and, if implemented, will distract the sales force. What action do you take?

a) Sit down with your boss to identify recent purchasing trends and assess the promotion concept by audience.

b) Tell your boss about three ideas you have for alternative promotions.

c) Send your boss a detailed email outlining the risks of the promotion.

d) Work with your boss to put all the pieces in place to give the promotion a fighting chance.

There’s no one right answer to the questions above. In fact, by choosing any of the answers, you’re playing a key role in the success of your company. We all take different approaches to generating new ideas, solving problems, and addressing opportunities.

In the program Creative Thinking: Innovative Solutions to Complex Challenges, we explore a popular framework developed by FourSight, which identifies each of our problem-solving preferences, what these preferences mean for problem solving and breakthrough thinking, and what effect we have on colleagues with other preferences.

Understanding Your Style of Problem Solving

So, what kind of thinker do you think you are? Here are some hints:

If you selected a) in the scenarios above, you’re likely a Clarifier.

Methodical, serious, and deliberate, Clarifiers are hungry for more information on an idea. That means they ask a lot of questions, point out obstacles, and help keep everyone around them focused on the objective. Clarifiers may sometimes seem to be holding up the works by constantly asking questions or reframing the conversation. But to move forward, teams need the clarity that emerges from Clarifiers’ interventions.

If you selected b), you may be an Ideator.

Ideators are the “crazy creative” people in an organization with a ton of big ideas. They can be highly visible and influential, but not always practical. Ideators can also annoy colleagues because they won’t land anywhere specific—there’s always something new brewing in their minds. Some of their ideas just won’t work and all will need refinement. But these big-picture thinkers can be the source of very important breakthroughs.

If you selected c), you’re likely a Developer.

Developers like to get to know an idea, evaluate alternative ways of approaching it, and constantly make improvements. Because they excel in finding flaws in ideas and pointing out why something won’t work, their colleagues may view them as overly critical. However, the work that Developers do is crucial to transforming a good idea into a practical solution.

If you selected d), you may be an Implementer.

Implementers are focused on getting the project done. When others are generating and refining ideas, Implementers can become frustrated by what they view as a lack of progress when others are generating and refining ideas. Implementers may irk fellow members because they want to move on before critical analysis can be completed. But once the project has identified the concrete steps to be executed, they’re best at keeping everything on track.

Maximizing the Value of Everyone's Contribution

Given these different types of thinkers, it’s easy to see how colleagues can drive one another crazy, derail good ideas, and waste time as they try to solve a problem. Ideators, for example, often find themselves crushed by a bureaucratic organizational culture; Clarifiers and Developers can earn reputations for being naysayers or slowing down projects; and Implementers can be accused of forestalling critical steps and marching ahead efficiently in the wrong direction.

But, as the saying goes, there’s a time and a place for everything. When we proceed through the steps from identifying a problem to formulating and delivering an effective solution, each type of thinking—and doing—makes a crucial contribution. Every project needs all four types of thinkers to get off the ground.

The next time you’re working with a team to solve a challenge or develop new ideas, think about how you can help to harmonize the different kinds of thinkers on your team and ensure that each person delivers value. At each step in the process, discuss whether it’s the right time for ideas, decisions, or refinements. By creating clarity through concrete ground rules (such as, “No questions right now”), you can get the most value from the talent in the room at every point along the way.

As you learn to appreciate your colleagues’ contributions—and make the most of your own contributions—you’ll discover that you are working more effectively together and, more importantly, truly helping your organization.

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