Goals Are Sexier than Problems
By Jeffrey Baumgartner
In business creativity, we tend to focus on problems. After all, one of the best known methodologies is called "creative problem solving". But frankly, that's a problem in itself. Problems are negative. Solving a problem gives the impression you will be little better off than you were before the problem became a problem. If your problem is a messy desk, you clean it. The result is that your desk is as clean as it was before it was a mess, but there is no improvement over the original state. You might be creative about how you clean it, for instance using a flame-thrower to rid yourself of documents. But the end result is being back were you started from!
This is simply not good enough, especially not for my new creative thinking approach: anticonventional thinking (ACT). As a result, I decided to use the word "goals" in ACT. I believe this is a better term for several reasons. Moreover, using the word "goal" is not a big change over using the word "problem". Any problem can be reiterated as a goal. Sales are down? Your goal, then, would be to increase sales. Your production line is inefficient? Then your goal is to improve the efficiency of your production line.
There are a few reasons why I believe focusing creativity on goals rather than problems is a better approach
Goals Are Positive
Goals are positive. Goals are achievements. Once a goal is accomplished, you expect to be better off than you were before. Solving a problem, on the other hand, leaves you with the sense that you have returned to a previous acceptable state of being. That's not good enough for ambitious people like you and me, is it?
Moreover, problems are negative. They imply things are not well. Telling a customer about how you used creativity to solve a major problem might make her wonder more about why you had the major problem in the first place, rather than how you solved it.
Goals Can Be Broken Into Subgoals
You can easily break a goal up into smaller, subgoals. This is useful if the initial goal seems intractable. Instead of worrying about how you will achieve a massive, overwhelming goal, you can break the goal up into subgoals and find creative ways to achieve each subgoal which, in the end, solves the big goal for you as well!
Goals Are Achievable
There is an entire field of personal development which is largely about accomplishing personal goals. You break the goal up into a series of smaller, achievable steps and tackle each of them one at a time. Smaller steps are less intimidating and more manageable than tackling big, hairy goals (or big hairy problems, for that matter).
Whether you use a problem statement or a goal, the aim is to get people to come up with ideas that will solve the problem or get you to your goal. However, goal statements, being positive in nature, can be made sexy. Consider:
- Problem: “Our line of girls’ shoes is outdated and sales are falling. How can we solve this?”
- Goal: “Let’s make our line of girls’ shoes trendy, exciting and best sellers! How can we achieve this?”
Which of the two is more interesting? Which of the two would be more likely to spark creative ideas from you? Indeed, this is why a key step of anticonventional thinking is not merely to formulate a goal, but to formulate a "sexy goal".
Let's face it, goals are more fun, more motivating and more positive to work with than problems. Moreover, in my experience, they are more likely to be accomplished. What more could you ask for?
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