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Why Complex Problems Need Creative Problem-Solving

Choosing a new business model to support the growth and evolution of your business is a complex problem.

Using Creative Problem-Solving for Complex Problems

how to solve complex problems

A client and his team were tasked with developing a new business model and governance framework for the organization because it was changing its operating model. It was natural for me to use creative problem-solving to guide him through this process.  

[Read our blog: How to bring innovation skills to a company]

What the Data Revealed

The Board had identified three business model options and assumed one would emerge as the clear choice and that they could chart a course forward. The favoured option was to set up a non-profit organization.

But a funny thing happened as I started to work with this client.

The data revealed the Board needed to reconsider their business model choices. They had simply generated a list of the more obvious choices, one of which was to become a non-profit organization. But given the other data they shared, my intuition told me that the options they chose weren’t going to meet the organization’s long-term needs. But we needed more than my hunch to help them make a decision.

I suggested the following approach:

  1. They meet with someone in my network who was an expert on setting up non-profits, and; 
  2. After that meeting, we would objectively examine each of the three options using a thinking tool called POINt in our ThinkUP toolkit
  3. We would then look at the Pluses, Opportunities, and Issues related to choosing each option.
  4. Finally, we would use that analysis to explore new thinking relative to their mandate. 

[Learn more about the ThinkUp Innovation Framework]

My client was delighted at the expert connection: An hour-long discussion led them to understand the default non-profit option would make it difficult for them to meet their business mandate.

Also, my client was surprised and curious at my suggestion to use the POINt thinking tool.

The Limitations of SWOT Analysis

creative problem solving vs SWOT analysis

This client anticipated doing a SWOT analysis, but as I explained, we were looking for creative solutions to their challenge. While SWOT can be helpful for strategic planning and, within specific contexts, to critically examine an organization’s potential direction, it doesn’t serve to improve raw ideas creatively.

My client had three best-guess business model ideas. They had yet to generate an exhaustive list of options, and none of the options had been explored based on their organization’s mandate or success criteria.

POINt doesn't stop at a statement of facts. It provides a structure for improvement and encourages insights to understand how to make an idea work within its context.

In my opinion, POINt is a more effective tool than SWOT because it doesn’t just state weaknesses and threats around an idea; it takes those concerns and turns them into questions that invite new thinking, transforming a good idea into a great solution.

[Read our blog post: How to be an innovator at work]

POINt doesn’t stop at a statement of facts. It provides a structure for improvement and encourages insights to understand how to make an idea work within its context.

Exploring Every Possible Solution

We methodically examined the three options, and I challenged my client to figure out what it would take to implement each model successfully. As we worked through each option, regardless of the issues they discovered, they came up with ideas that would allow them to overcome the problems of implementing the model.

Here’s the kicker. After the POINt analysis, my client realized none of the three options would support the organization’s long-term goals and mandate. Each would impede their ability to meet their mandate and be less fun to work with. It also came to light that the non-profit option would introduce a burden of administration they needed to prepare to absorb and would significantly cost their annual operating budget.

Landing on a Winning Approach

how to solve complex problems at work

But we did have a breakthrough. After examining all the original options, a fourth option emerged, one that no one had considered. When we delved into why, the Board assumed they had to create a new business model because the original wouldn’t work.

[Read our blog post: What kind of organization culture supports innovation?]

In the final analysis, when we put the original business model through the same scrutiny of POINt as we did with the others, the better solution was to evolve the existing business model to accommodate the changes in their operating model and to make improvements as needed.

Armed with this new thinking, my client went to their senior leaders to share the thinking process they’d experienced and the latest options that emerged. The Senior Leaders agreed that the exploration warranted bringing a fourth option into the mix, and given the choice, the fourth option was now their preferred option.

When they took the same data to the Board, they agreed too.

When creative problem-solving leads to new discoveries

I was delighted when my client shared their experience using my thinking tool with the Board and how they were surprised we wouldn’t use SWOT.

He said, “Once we’d gone through this process, I realized that using SWOT wouldn’t have allowed us to examine the options as broadly and creatively and wouldn’t have uncovered the new, far greater option for us.”

And the coolest thing about using creative problem-solving to resolve complex issues?

It doesn’t matter what problem, industry, or function you work in; creative problem-solving drives thinking breakthroughs, helps you discover innovative solutions, and works every time.

Need help solving complex problems?

Need help learning more about how to use creative problem-solving for complex problems? Learn more about our problem-solving solutions, our proprietary ThinkUP Framework, or book a call to discuss a custom solution. ​