Opening yourself to new ways of problem solving
by David J Bilinsky
We carry on in the same old way,
no lesson learned from yesterday
Talk of changes lost in pages of paper work
I believe it - How can we refuse to see
I’ve received it - What could be our final destiny
I believe that - Still we go on from day to day knowing what could be true
Wish I knew..........Wish I knew
Open your eyes
You’ve got a great imagination…
Words and Music by Anderson, Squire, Howe, White and Sherwood
Recorded by Yes
You are back in the saddle after summer vacation – and reflecting, it seems like your vacation was eons ago. At the time, you were out of your typical office environment and were happily engaged by new people, new situations, and new ideas. You reflect on how quickly you have fallen back into the ‘same old, same old’ ways of problem solving shortly after rejoining the ‘modern’ world. While the post-vacation ‘dip’ is quite natural, it highlights how easily we slide back into traditional mindsets in approaching our jobs. How can we tap into that sense of freedom and openness to new ideas that we felt on our vacation and yet remain productive and efficient? Here are suggestions that have been put forward on increasing your creative approach:
- We interpret the world through mindsets; mental paradigms that allow us to respond quickly to problems. However, what can be a help can also be a hindrance, for mindsets can unintentionally lock us into ways of responding. A research study paradoxically found that the more you know about a given area, the harder it is to let go of your mindsets (experts would appear to have extreme difficulty in re-examining or questioning the foundations for their beliefs - Kuhn, 1962).
- Parts of our mindsets come from the tools that we use – how we go about solving problems. Here is an experiment you can do: Take the tool you use the most (it could be the telephone, e-mail, dictation or even launching an action) and the next time you reach for that tool – stop. Take a moment and ask yourself whether that tool has become a crutch for you and whether it has locked you into a pattern of behaviour. Now cast about for a different solution. If you usually dictate a formal letter, consider calling a face-to-face meeting – it may result in reaching a result faster than a long train of correspondence. Alternatively, if you spend 80 per cent of your day on the telephone, think of how you can achieve your goal without it. The important factor is to make the invisible walls around you real – and see how they form a box out of which you can climb.
- So, mindsets are the root of the problem, eh? What, therefore, is the solution? More mindsets, of course! By developing more mental paradigms, we are able to draw on a wider range of tools and approaches when seeking solutions. How can you do this? 3M, the manufacturing company, fosters original thinking by encouraging their research people to complete their ‘normal’ work in 85 per cent of their work time – thereby freeing 15 per cent of their time to think out-of-the-box. Write a Post-It note for yourself – it works!
- Ah, but law is a very conservative profession you say – courtesy of our training, we are programmed to follow precedent and proven ways of proceeding. Question: are we any less conservative than, say, the US Navy? Barbara Honegger, in a recent issue of Navy Newstand, reported on the launch of an innovative new-ideas incubator program called “Outliers” to help visionary thinkers up and down the chain of command hone their envelope-busting visions for military transformation. Honnegger reports that Barry Frew, Director of the Navy’s Postgraduate School Centre for Executive Education, said, “We want the controversial, even heretical, ideas for military change that aren’t easily incor-porated into trad-itional military-sanctioned briefs or publications, to get them into the consciousness of the Navy and main-stream America..and we’re going to work in faculty advisor-editorial teams with the Navy’s as-yet-undiscovered geniuses to help them develop their ideas, get them out there, and start the dialogue to get them taken seriously.”
- What is the major ingredient in confronting mindsets? The cowardly lion hit it on the head: Courage. Allan W. Snyder, of the Centre for the Mind, Institute of Advanced Studies, Australian National University in Canberra said, “If you are not making your own waves, you probably will not catch any great ones. Organizations with total balance are probably so stable as to settle into inertia and stasis. They resist outside pressures for change and fail to adapt as messages arrive indicating that it is ‘time to get a move on.’” For example, Snyder says, “Most organizations plan for the use of new technologies in ways that maintain the status quo and waste the potential of the new tools. Such planning is often wrong-headed and wasteful. But it is also the pride and joy of at least one leader or group who think they are doing great things….The wise leader rocks the boat without swamping the boat or getting too close to the edge.”
- How can you approach problems differently? Stephen Covey, of 7 Habits fame, advises, “Begin with the End in Mind.” This approach translates to tackling a problem by visioning the desired solution and working backwards. Rather than seeing the difficulties, you outflank them.
- Another way to solve problems is to not think about them! Mathematicians rely on the critical function played by an incubation period. By relegating the problem to their unconscious, they have transferred their approach from left-brained deductive thinking to right-brained inductive thinking. In this way, problems that were insoluble after months of hard work can be solved, literally, in a flash of insight.
- Seek new inputs. One of the benefits of Internet search engines (such as Google) is that they are non-Boolean – they cast a wider net and pull in seemingly obtuse references. However, these loosely connected references can lead to new associations and new ideas.
- Recalling the inherent structure of an organization can defeat new ideas since they challenge the status quo. Defensive mechanisms (policy, reporting structures, systems and routines) can innocently crush new ideas and approaches. The challenge for leaders is to maintain the balance between getting out today’s work while keeping the door open for tomorrow’s opportunities.
By opening ourselves to creative ideas and new approaches, we can free our imaginations in finding new ways to solve problems and get to ‘Yes.’
David J Bilinsky is the Practice Management Advisor at the Law Society of British Columbia. He can be reached on the Internet at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed herein are strictly those of the author and may not be shared by the Law Society of British Columbia.
This article originally appeared in the October 2002 issue of BarTalk and is reproduced here with permission of both the author and the Canadian Bar Association, British Columbia Branch.