Novel Problems, Novel Solutions

How do you run your business when supply chain is suddenly interrupted? How can you shift your business model to serve customers remotely? How will you return to work safely?

Leaders are facing these questions (and many more) every day in the face of COVID-19. And just as this is a novel virus we are facing, these are novel business challenges that require novel solutions.

So, how do we help our teams find novel solutions?

To help answer this, we interviewed noted creativity and teams researcher, Dr. Roni Reiter-Palmon, of the University of Nebraska at Omaha. In this interview, she gives a few tips for leading teams and driving creativity during these times.

Provide Support

Dr. Reiter-Palmon: I think one of the important things that needs to happen is that leaders need to understand that people are not necessarily producing their best work. People are torn in multiple directions, so they’re not as effective. Some might be, and some great work may come out of it, but I think people need more emotional support at this point, and more compassion and understanding, to be able to function. And people that may not have needed support earlier need it more now.

Monitor & Manage Stress

Dr. Reiter-Palmon:: Leaders need to manage stress within teams. With stress and uncertainty, teams can get into negative spirals. Conflict creates more conflict. If you mistrust another person, anything ambiguous or neutral will be interpreted negatively. And when people start complaining, you can get into complaint cycles, without looking for solutions.

Leaders need to consider whether they are part of these problems. Typically, leaders had some part to play in them, and they need to own that. Of course, leaders also need to be aware of any problems before they can do anything about them.

Encourage Diverse Thinking

Dr. Reiter-Palmon: Leaders also have to know how the people on their teams solve problems. Creative problem-solving requires both divergent thinking (generating lots of ideas) and convergent thinking (narrowing down and deciding). Having multiple people with different educational and functional backgrounds can help teams do both. Diversity of thinking styles is helpful, too, because some people prefer to have lots of ideas, while others prefer fewer or narrower ideas. So, you need both, and leaders need to make sure their teams understand that both parts are needed. Without that shared understanding, it’s a built-in conflict.

Innovate with Intention

Dr. Reiter-Palmon: Ultimately, leaders need to realize that it’s about solving the problem. If you have a routine solution that works, you don’t need to go looking for a creative solution. Creative solutions are by definition riskier because they haven’t been tried before, and there’s a higher failure rate. But if the routine solution isn’t going to work, you need a more creative approach. And for creative solutions, leaders have to shift their problem-solving process away from evaluating ideas and more towards understanding the problem and generating solutions.

In future blog posts, we will expand on each of these tips, discussing how leaders put them into practice with their teams.