Problem solving is an important skill, but it only helps to maintain the status quo. It doesn’t help us move forward and create something new.
Most of us go about our work day by solving problems, in the same way a pest controller protects a house from termites. When the task has neutralised the threat, you’re left with what you had before – a house.
But most of us don’t want to be stuck in the same rut forever; we want to evolve, in the same way a builder might add an extension onto a house or build a new house entirely.
Problem solvers work within existing paradigms to resolve day-to-day issues. They’re the ones that thrive on putting out fires. It feels great, because it gives you a sense of achievement when you solve a problem. In fact, I’ve noticed it’s pretty easy to pass whole days at a time, without the need for planning, when I’m absorbed in the task of solving problems right in front of me.
There’s a problem though, because while we are putting out all those fires, we’re also aware of a few tasks we keep putting off. They’re often the tasks our managers keep asking us about, the real big ticket items. And yet, we keep focusing on putting out the fires to the detriment of goals that are universally acknowledged as having greater significance.
Value creators have a different approach. They start their day focused on work that creates new value and make that their habit.
It might be a creative task, starting a new initiative or coming up with a new concept that is linked to a company strategy or getting people to think in a new way.
Value creators develop this way of working into a habit, whereby they start with a cue, fall into a routine and then get a reward. It’s something that anyone can do with a little motivation.
Research has shown that we create habits in order to rest our brains or focus our attention on a greater variety of tasks. Remember how much attention it took to back a car out of the garage when you were learning? Imagine having to apply the same level of attention to that task every day. After years of driving practise, we don’t have to concentrate on this sort of manoeuvre, allowing us to remember other things, for example, a wallet and phone, before driving off.
Value creators arrive at work and slip straight into their routine. They might announce what they’re doing and close the door. That’s their cue to get started on the highest value task first, despite a mountain of tempting emails. Once they’ve finished working through their value-creating routine, they might reward themselves with an activity like connecting with the people around them, having a coffee or a quick walk to the cafeteria. Then it’s time to get on with their day and sort through which problems need solving first.
First class value creators have an extra level of strategy; they know where they are now, where they want to go and three things they need to do regularly to get there.
For example, say your business has been very poor at attracting new clients. Perhaps there is no process to follow up on sales calls to new clients. Digging deeper, you might observe there is a reluctance to call new clients for a variety of reasons.
Simple processes, like keeping track of sales calls, researching client problems before calling and connecting with new clients in other ways will help sales staff to develop routines, so that they no longer procrastinate and have more resilience to failure.
A good example of a value creator is a friend of mine, who raises money for eradicating polio. He knows that getting people to write letters to MPs is effective at raising levels of support. However, rather than focusing on the problem of mobilising thousands of people to write letters to convince MPs, he decided to take a far more ambitious and effective approach.
Through careful planning and strategic positioning, he persuaded the Prime Minister’s office within a short period of time that supporting his cause was a unique opportunity for Australia to showcase international leadership. The Prime Minister subsequently approved an allocation of $50 million towards polio eradication.
Clearly a big thinker, he is now working on various initiatives, with support from the Bill Gates Foundation.
Being a value creator has taken him to far greater heights than just good problem solving.
Strive to be a value creator and you will be rewarded by ending up where you’ve always dreamed of, rather than staying where you’ve always been.
Nick Poll is a professional mentor and is putting together an online magazine for aspiring CEOs and those who want to achieve their greatest potential. Contact details: firstname.lastname@example.org