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  • Matt Arnold

Creative Problem Solving: Utilize a Maximizing Mindset

When facing complex challenges, we need to move beyond a win-lose, true-false, binary view of the world. Instead, we need to engage in collaborative, creative problem solving that accounts for context and seeks to maximize positive outcomes. This post covers:

  • Technical vs adaptive challenges

  • Why we need a different mindset to navigate complexity

  • Four capabilities for creative problem solving


It's Complex

The world is continuing to become more complex -- not simply technical or complicated, but really complex. An increasingly interconnected ecosystem filled with evolving expectations and possibilities is increasing the scale and velocity of complexity. This complexity is making it harder for previously successful practices to yield positive outcomes. In turn, when we try to apply previous practices (that we worked really hard to cultivate and master), without success we become frustrated.


Technical vs Adaptive

A technical problem has a known definition and a clear solution. A complicated problem is simply something that has many parts, but can be solved with time and effort. Complexity requires a different approach.


The folks at the Strategic Doing Institute highlight technical vs adaptive challenges.


Many challenges that we face in design, UX, CX, or brand strategy are adaptive challenges. Organizational friction and frustration results when we apply technical approaches to adaptive challenges.


The Costs of Addressing an Adaptive Challenge with Technical Mindset

Unfortunately, most organizations when confronted with complexity double down as if it were a technical challenge. In addition to internal friction and frustration. According to separate estimates from McKinsey and Xplane, 70-80% of corporate strategies fail. On the product side, according to Strategyzer, 70% of new products fail to meet customer expectations. Organizations and the products and services they produce are now part of an increasingly complex ecosystem. Many of the technical approaches were successful in a less complex era. The results of addressing adaptive challenges with a technical mindset are:

  • loss of customers

  • loss of revenue

  • employee disengagement

If you're experiencing a combination of the symptoms listed above, it may be time to embrace a more collaborative, creative problem solving mindset.


Beyond Transactional

The transactional mindset is one that is built for, and rooted in, a finite game perspective where the rules are known and the end goal is agreed upon. A transactional mindset works well when addressing technical challenges and when we are focused on efficiency. It relies heavily on folklore - the way the organization has always done this (without much attention to why it was done or the original context). Many employees worked hard to figure out a solution to a technical problem and the implicit promise was that approach would be valid for your career. However, when faced with complex adaptive systems and challenges we need a mindset of growth and continuous improvement.


Organizational change management is another example of where transactional mindsets impede an organization's ability to navigate complexity. In the past, team members where asked to make this one change in the promise of a better future. In complex systems change is constant. A transactional mindset results in frustration and lack of engagement.


To effectively address complexity we need to embrace a maximizing mindset for our team and organizations. When working in complex adaptive systems, successful teams and networks need to embrace and cultivate four problem solving capabilities if they are to improve their decision-making and organizational outcomes. A maximizing mindset is focused on optimizing your situation based on the context and options available to you.


“No man ever steps in the same river twice. For it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” Heraclitus


Four Critical Capabilities

When challenged with a wicked problem and complex adaptive systems, flexible teams and organizations that utilize creative problem solving capabilities will increase their probability of successfully navigating complexity. These four capabilities are innovating, learning, communicating, and collaborating.

  • Innovating - exploring new methods and ideas; inventing; creating

  • Learning - acquiring knowledge and skills; understanding; research and insights

  • Communicating - exchanging and negotiating information; negotiating meaning

  • Collaborating - working together; cooperating; internal and external partnerships; leveraging the power of teams and networks

I will be exploring the these capabilities in future posts, highlighting how organizations and teams can expand these capabilities to improve outcomes.





Need Help Navigating Complex Systems?

Spark can help your organization navigate complexity and deal with adaptive challenges. Think big, move fast, and continuously improve with Spark.