Typically we assume that serious issues require serious knowledge and quick-witted thinkers to solve them. No wonder we rely so much on experts – they know best. This may be tricky, though. First, as Murphy’s law points out: an expert is one who knows more and more about less and less until he knows absolutely everything about nothing. Second, echoing Einstein – to be able to do something which cannot be done, someone has to not know that it is impossible. So what matters: full knowledge or incompetence? Frankly, in problem solving we should operate exactly in between. 

Here is a story to illustrate this. The engineers from an electric power company, from the far north, tried to solve a problem with ice encrusted transmission lines. Huge deposits of icing snow finally led to broken lines and collapsed towers. The traditional approach of sending out linemen with long poles, and shaking the lines was highly inefficient - a new unconventional solution was required, so the company hired consultants.

During kicking and valuable sessions, with key employees and assisting engineers, many serious ideas were proposed, but were not applicable for practical reasons such as costs, conditions, scale etc. Finally the consultants asked the management to involve all the employees in next session – regardless of function. New insight, a different approach – that was the way to come up with something groundbreaking as the traditional engineering methods had failed. 

Next day the incoming consultant noticed a cleaner at work. The consultant concluded – in contrast to the management – that she could contribute too. The cleaner was invited too. During the presentation of an issue the woman said that the wires in snow resembled the pine tree in the front of her house – snow on the branches glistened the same way creating a fabulous decoration. Yet the birds came and ruined this idyllic scenery – fluttering around they shook the snow out. It didn’t take long to realize that there was an air force base in this area. Pilots routinely made flights which broke the sound barrier. It was then just a matter of agreeing with them on the routes of flights over the transmission lines and the problem was solved. 

So, nobody can predetermine what can be of use, who can be useful and where the solution may come from. One thing is for sure – creativity is very democratic and open. And there is a role for everybody, regardless the competence and aspirations.

  • 2015-02-03 09:57:06
  • Darek Olak
  • creativity, problem solving, innovation, creative techniques, personal development