Like many large organizations, my company has a tendency to look internally for answers to our problems and challenges. The use of “home-grown” solutions definitely has positives. We want to manage our internal knowledge and benefit from its intellectual capital. We want to learn from our mistakes and reuse good ideas.

Although, have you ever been faced with a really tricky problem or challenge? Or you may just be looking for a new way of doing something. You may have asked your peers and manager for ideas. You probably have done a Google-search to see if there are any answers from others who were faced with the same problem. I bet you usually talk to people who have “technical” expertise in the area in which your problem exists.

What if you don’t come up with an answer? Or the answer you come up isn’t good enough? What do you do?

One suggestion I have is to look external for the answer. Not just external to your company (although that is important) but external to the specific area of the problem. For example the scientist who invented velcro tape got the idea when burrs from a tree got caught in his dogs fur. The idea of looking to nature for design ideas is called biomimetics. Nature has done a pretty good job with solving different problems, don’t you think?

So, whether you are challenged by a difficult customer situation, a new product design, or creating efficiencies in production lines, try the following:

  1. Physically move away from the problem (you are probably figuratively and literally too close to it.)
  2. State the problem as clearly as possible. Write it down or draw a picture of it.
  3. Gather outside experts from other disciplines. These could be from other disciplines inside of Mars or from external companies. For example, if you are tackling a production line problem, bring folks from marketing, sales, info systems, etc. to the table.
  4. Ask the experts to approach the problem from their area of expertise. Don’t be too strict with this. It is the out-of-box thinking that you are looking for, not the spot on solution.
  5. Brainstorm ideas and make the connections.
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