Solution over problem
This lack of awareness of the multi-dimensional nature of the challenges and our own and other people’s level of human development means that many of the people charged with finding solutions to the problems or needs that exist are not equipped to accurately assess the problem in the first place.
If we continue to take a one-dimensional, partial approach to multi-dimensional issues, then we should not be surprised by our corresponding lack of progress. If we compound our one-dimensional approach because we see the world from the unsophisticated, immature and undeveloped level, then we clearly won’t come up with a very innovative breakthrough. What is worse, our view about our own answers or those generated by others can also be pretty unsophisticated and one-dimensional.
For example, many people currently operate from an “I’m right, you’re wrong’’ mindset. This makes it difficult for us to connect successfully with others as those ‘others’ also think the exact same thought (i.e. that they are right and it is you that is wrong). The result is an argument about who is right rather than seeing the value of each person’s perspective.
Unfortunately, such a binary approach fails to recognise that no one is smart enough to be right 100 per cent of the time. Which equally means no one is wrong 100 per cent of the time either. It’s much more likely that both parties bring important considerations to the table — thus illuminating more of the complexity of the problem, which invariably gets us all closer to a wiser solution.
When considering how to effectively innovate with others, it is important to remember that preservation is an important part of innovation. This means that the perspective that someone else brings may be slightly out of date; but, in order to innovate, we need to understand what worked about the previous answers we had and preserve that while discarding the bit that no longer works. So, paradoxically, innovation requires preservation. If we don’t embrace and preserve the good of the past, if we are locked into a binary right/wrong mindset, then we are likely to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Being able to engage with the problem with some humility and preparedness to open up to other people’s views is vital for success. Preserve the good and build; don’t scrap everything and start again.
Such openness is especially important because there are no clear simple or obvious answers to the problems innovation is designed to solve. There are layers of complexity and interdependencies. No one person’s solution is going to be 100 per cent correct or 100 per cent incorrect. No one solution is going to be enough; we need multiple solutions.
As a result, we need to get to solutions faster, remain open to ideas from others, be able to seek out the value in diverse views and effectively integrate multiple perspectives to define a wise way forward. And the diverse views we must integrate have to address all dimensions of the problem — the T, ‘WE’ and TT’/TTS’ - or they will continue to fail.
Take obesity as an example. We could, literally, spend decades figuring out what causes obesity. There are research studies that look at nothing else, each pursuing different hypotheses, each influenced by the level of development and natural bias of the people conducting those studies. Two groups could come together and argue for months over what causes obesity and each would believe they are correct and the other is wrong. Some of the research may look at genetics or personal behaviour. Others may look at internal flora and fauna in the gut. Some might look at what the individual is doing in terms of exercise. Another study might look at their friends and family, known as the ‘obesogenic environment’ to see who an obese person spends time with and how likely it is that their friends and family are also obese. Yet another group may look at beliefs, values and perhaps past trauma that may influence the person’s emotional regulation.
What we are saying is that it doesn’t matter. All of these possible causes and a hundred more besides them are probably true or at least play a role in the development of obesity. Obesity is not a binary, simple problem that manifests the same way for everyone because of the same reasons and triggers; it’s a highly complex problem with many interdependent factors that will never be solved by a magic pill or potion. We need multiple, smart, multi-dimensional solutions running along-side each other to really tackle the issue constructively. They must also address all three dimensions of T, ‘WE’ and ‘IT/ITS’. In other words, the solution must help people feel differently about themselves and alter their identity to a more constructive self-image, provide intrinsic motivation to change behaviour as well as connect them to other people who are seeking to make change within a system that supports them.
We believe that there is never, or at least very rarely, only one answer to any problem or need. The solution we start with is therefore just part of the resolution of that problem - only we get to it much faster and spend significantly less money than we would using the traditional innovation funnel approach.
In that old model the innovator is told to provide only one answer. As mentioned earlier, if the Boffin provides more than one solution then this is often seen as a failure, an inability to choose the ‘best’ solution. But there is rarely a best solution that will tackle every dimension of the problem or need simultaneously. What is much more likely is that there will be several best solutions that will address the T ‘being’ dimension of the problem, several best solutions that will address the ‘IT/ITS’ ‘doing’ dimensions of the problem and several best solutions that will address the ‘WE’ ‘relating’ dimensions of the problem - all stitched together to deliver the required overall solution.
Starting with the solution therefore pre-supposes that we should explore multiple different solutions and must embrace those multiple solutions across all dimensions if we stand any real chance of solving the problem at all.
Of course, this is not to say that an impeller approach simply plucks solutions out of thin air. People using this approach are as susceptible to the same onedimensional blind-spots and the same developmental biases as everyone else. Instead, an impeller approach demonstrates that there are enough educated and informed people involved who constitute an existing knowledge base that can be tapped into. This short-circuits much of the research toil and saves a huge amount of time and money.
We don’t need to re-invent the wheel; we can instead go to the existing range of experts who already have years, sometimes decades of knowledge and experience in that area. Bring enough of those perspectives together and solutions start to emerge. For example, going back to the question of obesity, a lot of the necessary research has already been done. Having spoken to the right experts an integrator (more on this shortly) can very quickly come up with working versions of the constellation of answers needed. Thus, years of academic research shows that reducing an individual’s calorie consumption requires people to see very clearly the connection between their behaviour and their personalised health data (i.e. the link between what they ‘do’ in the ‘IT’ dimension and the measurable outcome of those actions, such as waistline or blood pressure).
General platitudes from health services about obesity in the general population simply don’t change an individual’s behaviour or impact their weight. So, making the connection between calorie consumption and calorie burn on a daily basis and using ambulatory and personalised data to predict the short-term impact of excessive calorie consumption is a critical part of the answer (connecting personalised T and system ’ITS’). If we then add predictive imagery of the person involved using 360-degree cameras and augmented reality (impacting how people feel about their future selves in the T dimension), we are much more likely to drive behavioural change, as people can see immediately the consequences of their daily choices. Add an online or in person meeting group for support or collective exercise (to reinforce the power through ‘social proof’ or ‘social sanction' in the ‘WE’ dimension) then the multi-dimensional solution has much more chance of being successful.
An impeller approach is not advocating zero research. It is suggesting that we focus on honing possible solutions rather than seeking to simply describe the problem in more and more detail. Starting with a solution can be achieved by going straight to the leading edge of research across multiple dimensions and integrating the insights to define a starting point for the answer. This can then be swiftly verified, if it has merit for continued development, or rejected.
These early solutions are not fully formed but they are formed enough to provide a ‘direction of travel’ for further testing without wasting resources understanding a problem that many people in many areas or existing fields of expertise already fully understand. It doesn’t matter that many of those experts may have a different opinion about the solution; the more diverse the input, the more likely an integrator is to come up with genuinely insightful solutions (this will be fully unpacked and explained in Chapter 3). And, access to these experts can trigger the emergence of two or three solutions in minutes, not months or years.
The power of this solutions-focused approach is amplified when more of the people involved in innovation have woken up and grown up. The power of the answer is further multiplied when we become aware of the complex, multidimensional nature of the problems we face; when we become more aware of our own natural biases; when we become more aware of other people’s biases and different cultural contexts; when we are more consciously competent about our own level of thinking. The power of our ability to innovate with such amplification and multiplication is accelerated to an incredible degree when we then do the developmental work necessary for vertical development. If we develop vertically, we unlock completely new levels of cognitive ability, increase our ego maturity, access deeper degrees of emotional intelligence and expand our ability to take broader often multiple perspectives to create more inclusive, collaborative and sophisticated answers to the many problems we face. All of this constitutes a genuine game changing capability, not just the incremental improvements that are claimed to be game changing or transformational but legitimate breakthroughs and paradigm shifts that complex problems require.
Ironically, the type of people who think differently about innovation are normally already in the innovation space. In the course of our work, we often meet senior executives who are confused and struggling with the innovators in their own businesses. Too often, these individuals are marginalised, seen as mavericks or just ‘weird’. But actually, innovation needs these mavericks. Often these are the people who have woken up and grown up to the complexity of the world around them and can harness huge amounts of information and draw creative, viable solutions from an ocean of data. We need to start identifying these people and developing a way to harness their potential and encourage them to get to the solution faster rather than wasting time dissecting the problem.
This speed to solution and therefore speed to success in the market has profound implications for innovation and offers a truly different way to innovate.
- 1 Gowing N and Langdon C (2018) Thinking the Unthinkable: A New Imperative for Leadership in the Digital Age, John Catt Educational Ltd, Woodbridge www.thinkunthink.org/
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- 7 Wilber К (2007) The Integral Vision: A Very Short Introduction to the Revolutionary Integral Approach to Life, Cod, the Universe, and Everything, Shambhala Publications, Boulder, CO. Watkins A (2015) 4D Leadership: Competitive Advantage through Vertical Leadership Development, Kogan Page, London.
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