“What’s the answer?” is the wrong question

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If you really want innovation, you have to get your head out of school. In school, every problem had a single solution and every question had a single answer. In real life that rarely happens. In real life, sometimes there are no right answers, only intelligent choices. Other times there will be lots of things that work.

Skinning cats and business problems

There’s more than one way to skin a cat. There’s also more than one way to solve most business problems. What many teams do, though, is get one answer that works and declare victory. When you stop with the first answer that works, you close off possibilities.

Structure your process to get more possibilities

Don’t close down your decision process too fast. Keep the hunt for possibilities open until you just can’t come up with more. You’re more likely to get a wider range of possibilities if you have a diverse group.

Don’t simply take the possibilities as is. See how you can combine them and modify them.

When you’ve got an answer, you’re not done

Assign someone to act as a Devil’s Advocate and argue against the solution.

Push for a second workable solution. Then go for a third.

Boss’s Bottom Line

The teams that come up with the most innovative solutions are the ones who don’t stop with the first right answer.

More reading

From Roger Martin: Why Smart People Struggle with Strategy

“The problem with smart people is that they are used to seeking and finding the right answer; unfortunately, in strategy there is no single right answer to find. Strategy requires making choices about an uncertain future. It is not possible, no matter how much of the ocean you boil, to discover the one right answer. There isn’t one. In fact, even after the fact, there is no way to determine that one’s strategy choice was “right,” because there is no way to judge the relative quality of any path against all the paths not actually chosen. There are no double-blind experiments in strategy.”

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