As leaders, we may feel that problem solving is crucial for operational excellence. Problem-solving expertise is essential for frontline personnel, but not leaders.

Why?

Because

the further up the leadership chain you are the less information you have. Your position makes it difficult to solve problems. It also prevents you from innovating new ideas.

So what is a leader to do?

You need to focus on identifying issues. Not solving issues. Problem-solving is counterproductive for this. You end up immediately fixing things – firefighting. Instead, you should be on the lookout for problems before they become an issue. Looking out is a significant way to sustain innovation in your company.

Unfortunately, no one strategy works over the long-term. You can search for strategies that others have used. But none of those strategies will provide foolproof long-term sustainability. When you think about it if a solid plan existed, then we wouldn’t need innovation. Of course, this is unrealistic.

History has proven this. Many large corporations have risen to prominence, only to fall sometime later. In the 1990s, companies such as Microsoft, Compaq, and Intel seemed to have found the “one true path” to success. Nothing would be able to bring them down. In more recent years, its Apple and Google that have taken up their top spots. Meanwhile, Microsoft hit a particularly rough patch, and Compaq ceased to exist. There is no miracle solution, only time and innovation.

Take “Expert Opinions” with a Grain of Salt

When we look at “expert opinions” given by so-called “business gurus” we see many problems. Often their advice is not straightforward to put in place. Their information is often complicated. Complexity adds risk. This added risk makes it harder to deliver results. Gurus often contradict each other. So who do you follow?

The answer is none of them. You need to be mindful of your situation.

An example of this is Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook. Mr. Cook once said that

a lot of companies have innovation departments, and this is always a sign that something is wrong when you have a VP of innovation or something. You know, put a for-sale sign on the door.

In contrast, IBM’s research division has been fueling the company for years. They have developed many innovative technologies.

Google is investing in its secretive and inventive X division.

What has Apple done? It hasn’t produced something original since 2007 with the appearance of the iPhone. Its falling shares are starting to reflect that.

Other gurus claim that companies should stick to what they do best. Only then will they outperform their competition.

But let’s give Apple some credit here. They strayed from their core business when they entered the music player and phone space.

Kodak, sticking to its core business went bankrupt.

Conclusion

Companies must innovate and generate ideas. Constantly! Innovation is the only way to stay viable and relevant over the long-term. If you are busy problem solving existing problems, you won’t change. You need to search for these problems before anyone else even knows there is a problem.

You can solve this problem in many ways.

  • Talking to customers
  • Identifying new markets
  • Analyzing data
  • Engaging the scientific community
  • Etc. …

The only thing that stays constant is the search itself and not the means by which you get there.

Philip Uglow is the President of Renshi Consulting Group. Renshi lowers clients costs by pulling ideas from your people in the moment, when they are most busy with real work. This is when they learn. This is when they change.