Is a Problemist or Solutionist Approach to Innovation Better?

On RESILIENCE to Innovation: Problemists are good at framing problems. Solutionists are good at executing solutions. Each approach represents a different kind of creativity at the individual or organizational level. One kind of creativity rewards lateral thinking (i.e. not committing to a solution); the other kind of creativity rewards finish quality (i.e. not being stuck on which problem to solve and simply ‘killin it’ on the execution side). IMHO both engineers and designers tend to be trained as solutionists, but in later stages of their career many of them become better problemists. Everyone appreciates a beautiful product that has been framed by a good problemist and built by a good solutionist, which in Japan is referred to as the result of great craftspersonship (or “職人魂” as it’s appreciated in Japanese culture).

Innovation tends to be difficult to achieve when there’s an overwhelming majority of likemindedness — and a culture with low diversity in thinking tends to become resilient to innovation. That’s not a bad thing when your core approach is outright succeeding — because if it’s not broken then definitely don’t fix it because you can innovate yourself into trouble.

BUT it’s when times are less good that reducing an organization’s resilience to innovation becomes important, and you need to infuse much more diversity of thinking than your previous approach. Christensen’s #disruptiveinnovation paradigm is a good example of where you can end up. By letting innovation into how you operate, you can more easily become resilient to being disrupted. That’s WAY better than being resilient to innovation. Right? But like I said, it depends upon the timing.

Summary: Doers tend to go for the latter. Strategists tend to go for the former. Hybrid Doer-Strategists either get paralyzed by the dichotomy that they represent in themselves. Or they acknowledge which side of their brain is in control, and consciously bifurcate their rhythm.