Innovators Solve Old Problems, They Don't Fix Old Solutions

Comedians get rich mocking it; consultants get rich advising how to fix it; and bookshelves overflow with the next silver bullet. It’s the modern workplace - and it’s broken.

Innovative yet dramatic solutions enter the scene like holacracy (no more bosses),Results Only Workplace or ROWE (work anywhere, anytime). HR teams around the world are pouring over engagement surveys as though they hold the key to the organisational apathy that is settling in and driving their key talent to entrepreneurial pastures.

On the other end of the scale are the risk averse and those not willing to give up control to a more humanised and enlightened workplace.

Regardless of what end of the scale you sit on, there's a growing recognition that transporting the rules and routines of the industrialised workplace to an innovative one won't work.

It's time to either change or become fodder for the next Dilbert cartoon.

Entrepreneurial spirits are dabbling in whole new models for the workplace - no vacation policy, ongoing feedback as a philosophy rather than an annual event, transparent compensation and open collaboration across the organisational rungs. But many still believe that these radical ideas are exclusive to SME’s and not applicable to the enterprise.

So, what's the enterprise to do? Stand with their face pressed to the glass and simply watch entrepreneurs change the workplace through innovative prototypes – accepting an exodus of employees along the way?

No. They need to get on board and solve one problem at a time. They do this by looking for entirely new solutions. The heart of workplace innovation can be as simple as solving the right problem.

All too many change initiatives start by solving the easy problem. The closest problem. Eventually all site is lost to the core problem the business was trying to solve in the first place.

Let's use CV's as an example. Managing CV’s has always been an administrative burden. With automation tools, this burden was solved by reducing candidates to a collection of keywords and running a database search to produce a short-list.

Now more than ever candidates are not hired from their CV but through networks, social profile and relationships because keyword matching didn't solve the core problem of finding great candidates. It solved the administrative problem and rendered the overall solution virtually useless.

Break the CV example down to the core problem: you need exposure to the best candidates to fill open positions. Over history the solution chain looks something like this:

Write a CV listing your experience. Presentation, pen, calligraphy and envelope all say something about you so pay attention to detail.

Followed by: Type a CV so it looks more professional - albeit less personal. But take the same note of selecting good paper and packaging.

Finally, word process a CV. No images, fancy packaging or custom fonts as it will interfere with the data import and parsing. Use lots of keywords even if they don't quite express what you want them to.

With each 'progression' we moved further away from capturing anything unique about the individual. We moved further away from addressing the original business problem. We solved an administrative problem.

The solution isn't to go back to pen and paper, but to consider with clarity all of the options today that can solve the problem in the best way.

What matters most in a candidate? How can you best evaluate people for those traits? A clever online questionnaire could do that - or a video presentation sent in by the candidate would say more than a CV.

Think of approaches that would give greater insight into the person. Isn't that what you really want? A digital document of keywords won't do that. Toss out the CV. Find entirely fresh new solutions considering all of the options available to you today.

But, that’s just one example. It’s about the thinking about solving old problems in entirely new ways. Go as far down the chain as possible - or just toss out the solution chain and start over by defining the very core business problem. We live in a time of endless new possibilities. The challenge lies in stripping away what we know about old solutions.

That's the innovators secret - they strip the problem back to its root and solve it in a whole new way. They don't simply add another link on to an old solution chain.

If you work on one problem at a time your business will evolve into a modern workplace. It may not be radical, and it may not be so funny, but it will be far more competitive.

We have entered an age where everyone needs to change how they think about their business. Not just the entrepreneurs and the cool kids.