“It is in fact the discovery and creation of problems rather than any superior knowledge, technical skill, or craftsmanship that often sets the creative person apart.” That from a social scientist named Jacob Getzels. I came across it on Brain Pickings, a site that has nothng to do with manufacturing (directly anyway) but often spurs inter-connecting ideas.
Similarly, artist Chuck Close once said, “Our whole society is much too problem-solving oriented. It is far more interesting to participate in problem creation.” Close went on to say “the most interesting thing is to back yourself into your own corner where no one else’s answers will fit. You will somehow have to come up with your own personal solutions to this problem that you have set for yourself because no one else’s answers are applicable.”; and “You know, ask yourself an interesting enough question and your attempt to find a tailor-made solution to that question will push you to a place where, pretty soon, you’ll find yourself all by your lonesome — which I think is a more interesting place to be.”
These guys were talking in terms of what inspires creativity and innovation, but they could have just as easily been discussing the sort of leadership needed to transform a company. Senior managers most often see themselves as master problem solvers. Small problems get solved at low levels in the organization. Bigger problems get kicked up the chain to be solved by mid-level folks; and the really knotty, tough problems rise to senior managers. Each level has a problem solving tool kit at their disposal, with the senior managers holding the authority to solve problems by firing and laying people off, or authorizing the purchase of expensive machines.
Far better if senior managers didn’t solve problems at all, but instead took problems to a higher level and pushed them back on the organization. Customer complaints about defects, for instance might be re-stated at lower and middle levels as failures of the final inspection performance of the inspection process. Rather than weigh in by replacing the final inspector or adding additional inspectors; or by approving the acquisition of a new costly coordinate measuring machine for the inspectors to use when the mid-level folks can’t solve the problem the senior folks should be the ones to blow the problem up to impossible levels and push it back down:
The problem is not missing defects at final inspection, but creating them in the first place. What will it take for us to get quality to a <200PPM level, without adding people or making major capital investments? When we can do that the smaller problem of customer complaints goes away entirely.
That is engaging in the sort of painting the organization into a corner where tailor made solutions aren’t available. The Toyota operational true north – one piece flow, zero defects, zero non-value adding expense and 100% employee engagement in pursuit of these ideals is really just that. While western companies wrestled with optimum lot sizes and acceptable quality levels, Toyota defined any defect and every batch greater than one to be a problem. In doing so they backed themselves into a corner where existing solution didn’t work.
Close said, “ask yourself an interesting enough question and your attempt to find a tailor-made solution to that question will push you to a place where, pretty soon, you’ll find yourself all by your lonesome — which I think is a more interesting place to be.” Toyota certainly asked themselves interesting enough questions where tailor made solutions weren’t available, and sure enough, found themselves all by their lonesome; and there is no denying that they found themselves in an interesting place.
To use an over-wrought expression, when senior managers define problems for the organization that seem to be insolvable they force out-of-the-box thinking. There is no solution inside the box. Defining big – but relevant – problems and insisting that the organization solve them, leadership is backing everyone into a corner and compelling them to be creative problem solvers.
In the end, the competitor who comes up with the most creative, effective solution to the problems everyone faces comes out on top. When leadership creates new and bigger problems, instead of engaging in applying the same old solutions to the same old problems, they open doors to places people did not know existed.