An apocryphal Toyota story: (I have not had the privilege of working for Toyota, but I have heard many versions of this story from folks who have had that privilege.)
A new Toyota employee was given a problem to solve. He eagerly started to work on the problem, and in a few days, came up with some countermeasures he wanted to try. He proudly showed his manager, expecting accolades.
The manager grunted, “Hmmph. No good. Go back. Think deeper.”
I have had some fantastic managers in my career. But I have never had a manager say to me “Hmmph, no good. Go back. Think deeper,” Chances are, you haven’t had that experience either.
We know that continuous improvement is required just to stay in business, and that it is better to be the breakthrough innovator than the organization playing catch-up. Unfortunately, deep thinking is not treated like a basic skill even in “lean” organizations.
This is particularly troubling in organizations that aspire to continuous improvement, where often this formula for improvement (or something like it) is followed:
1. Define a problem
2. Evaluate the problem (measure, root cause analysis)
3. “Magic happens” and a solution is found
4. Implement the solution
It doesn’t matter if you are using a DMAIC approach, learning to use A3s, or employing the improvement kata, you can fall into the “magic happens” trap. And I’ve seen magic happen, so I can attest to the fact that magic does happen – sometimes. Sometimes your analysis does suggest solutions and countermeasures to try, and if you are lucky, some of them work and are accepted. You feel smart. And as often as not, magic doesn’t happen; you don’t find solutions that address the root causes and that people can accept into practice, and as a manager at a truly lean company might tell you, you must “Go back. Think deeper.”
Continuous improvement aficionados and organizations who can’t make the “magic” happen despite the strength of their tools for making problems visible and analyzing the problems will
fall behind those who understand how the magic really works. The magic starts to work when we understand how to leverage our intrinsic human ability for creative thinking.
When we think deeply as we define the problem, when we think deeply as we work out how to measure it, when we think deeply as we analyze our data, we are likely to address the correct issues.
When we think deeply as we come up with countermeasures and solutions, we are more likely to arrive at viable solutions.
When we think deeply when we implement our changes, we are more likely to be successful in making the change happen.
How might we “Go back and think deeper?” Why don’t we think deeply? What’s stopping us?
The Creative Problem Solving Process (CPS) offers tools to use with your problem-solving approach to help you think deeper at every stage. Deep thinking means creative thinking.
Thinking creatively means:
Using DIVERGENT THINKING
deliberately and separately.
Divergent thinking means coming up with multiple options. Convergent thinking means we deliberately choosing options. This is the magic. It is magic that takes practice and that anyone can learn.
The world is in many ways, a far better place that it was 100 years ago. But we are on the cusp of making personal and business decisions that will determine if it will be a far better or far worse place 100 years from now. We all need to go back and think more deeply.
Practice this today:
What are the top “intractable problems” your organization or team are facing? Is your organization systematically addressing these problems using effective innovation approaches and tools? How might you change this?