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This post was originally written by Facilitator Emeritus John Pfeil. 


In my last post on Innovation, Creativity and Change, I shared some thoughts from my guest lecture series on the importance of Creative Problem Solving (CPS) skills in our culture of constant, rapid change. Today I want to discuss how a phase of Opportunity Discovery and a Win/Win Mentality can benefit your innovation and problem-solving efforts.

One of the greatest barriers to successful innovation is what I call the trap of “Jumping to Solution.” The combination of time pressures and lack of Creative Problem Solving (CPS) skills often leads individuals and teams to look at an opportunity very quickly and only from their limited perspective. They quickly define the problem—without seeking additional perspectives—and identify a quick solution.  

Without taking time to explore the opportunity from all perspectives, teams often never see the biggest opportunity and end up focusing their limited resources on a sub-optimal solution—often in order  to meet a deadline.

One example is the Hotel Elevator case. A major hotel chain opened a new hotel, and in the first month there were many complaints about wait time and speed of the elevators. Management had the engineering department evaluate the situation, and the engineers found that guests were waiting 50% longer than at other hotels.

They offered three solutions:

  1. Add another elevator—very costly and difficult to design.
  2. Replace the elevators with a faster model—again, very expensive and disruptive to business.
  3. Add a computerized smart-technology to the elevators to position them for the quickest access—again, costly.

Before choosing a solution, the GM asked the Customer Service Manager to consider the issue. Via observation and interview, the Customer Service Manager found that guests who were occupied—reading a paper, talking to a friend, putting on make-up—were content. People not doing anything while they waited were agitated, frustrated and felt the elevators were too slow.

Given this information, the Customer Service Manager redefined the problem: How do we keep people occupied while they wait?

His solution: Put up mirrors by each elevator so people can observe themselves, and put newspapers and a house phone on a table nearby to give people something to do.

The result: Complaints dropped below the levels of other hotels without changing the elevators or the wait time. 

By simply asking for another perspective and studying the situation for a time, the hotel staff were able to solve the issue easily and inexpensively, rather than taking the seemingly more straightforward route of modifying the elevators.

When training corporate teams in CPS and Innovation, Jumping to Solution is the #1 issue they identify as hindering their success—and taking time to Explore an Opportunity from all perspectives has the greatest potential to improve their innovation success.

A big Ah-Ha for me was making a connection of Jumping to Solution with another issue in organizations—the Win/Lose mentality. When two or more individuals (or functions, or divisions, or parties) look at an opportunity only from a limited perspective and quickly jump to a solution that meets their limited perspective, most often the parties will define the problem/opportunity differently and come to significantly different—and sub-optimal—solutions. 

At this point, the separate parties come together and fight about whose solution is correct or best. Each one listens to the other party not to understand the other perspective, but rather to discredit it and instead build their own case—because when one solution is selected above another, someone has lost and another has won. The result of this win/lose mentality is a lot of fear, fighting and misrepresentation; little progress; and ultimately a sub-optimal solution.

The much bigger opportunity for any organization is to foster a win/win mentality. To do this, bring all parties/perspectives/stakeholders together with the belief and conviction that there is a win/win solution to the opportunity/problem—and commit to taking the time, and working together, to find it.

Teams can accomplish this with the tips below:

  • All agree to genuinely search for the best win/win solution.
  • All perspectives are presented and all parties listen for understanding.
  • Ideas are created with the goal of fulfilling the agreed opportunity. Parties listen to ideas with a Forness® mindset: what in the idea moves towards the goal, or can be used as a building block to create a win/win solution? What in the idea can be modified to overcome any concerns and get to the goal?
  • Criteria are set and top ideas chosen based on fulfilling the win/win opportunity the team agree upon.

By not Jumping to Solution, and by adopting a win/win mentality, the team identifies the bigger, optimal solution for the organization—and all parties win. What a novel idea!

I hope I get the opportunity to teach again soon—who knows what I will learn next! And, I promise to pass along my learning.


John Pfeil is an Innovation Process Facilitator at Ideas To Go, an innovation agency that works with Fortune 500 companies in ideation and concept development to incorporate the voice of the consumer.

©2014 Ideas To Go, Inc. All rights reserved.

Katie Franke

Katie Franke is a Marketing Communications Specialist and Concept Writer at Ideas To Go, an innovation agency that works with Fortune 500 companies in ideation and concept development to incorporate the voice of the consumer.