If you want your team to solve problems more effectively, you need to get them into Discovery Mode.
What I like about projects is the constant flow of problems. It isn’t that I like the problems themselves: I like problem-solving. If you are a Project Manager, you need to get good at it.
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Ronald Friedman and Jens Forster learned something valuable, in a series of experiments, published in 2001*. They split students into two groups and set each group the same simple maze to solve. The maze had a mouse in the middle. One group was asked to solve it to get to the cheese. The other was told to avoid the owl that would eat the mouse.
All the students were then set a creative thinking task. The group who’d helped the mouse find the cheese were twice as creative as the group who were avoiding the owl.
As soon as we get into the ‘must be safe; need to avoid danger’ mode, our natural caution seems to close off options from us. On the other hand, when we are seeking something, we move into a discovery mode that opens us up to new ideas.
When you need to solve problems, trying to fix a problem or avoid an outcome will make you and your team defensive, and less imaginative. If you re-frame the problem as ‘how to achieve a desirable outcome’, you will do far better.
In short, get your team into Discovery Mode Show them the cheese, not the owl.
* Friedman and Forster’s paper: ‘The effects of promotion and prevention cues on creativity’.
For a detailed look at how to facilitate Problem-solving in a project environment, take a look at our feature article on problem-solving: Problem Solving: A Systematic Approach
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Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to ProjectManager.com and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.
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