One question that I am asked again and again is "Why do companies keep using the same problem solving methods and processes even when they don't work?" The answer is really simple: they don't have a better way.
A company can only use the best problem solving methods that it has available at the time. Innovation is driven by the larger prevailing corporate culture, all cascading down from the top. Systematic corporate change, even when badly needed, can often be painfully slow.
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jared Diamond has published a very timely book called, The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies? Simply put, it asks us to examine the gulf between our "modern" lifestyle and the lifestyle of the few remaining "traditional" societies, that is, the type of society that all of us lived in for nearly all of six million years of existence: without air travel, cell phones, literacy or large corporations.
Mr. Diamond asks us to consider what the difference between that past and our present could mean for our lives today. As I was reading the book I wondered whether "traditional" societies could show us a more inventive way of problem solving.
The two key factors that determine how a "traditional" society is organized are population size and availability of life-sustaining resources (food,water and shelter). As population size changes or as available resources change the organization of the "traditional" society changes. Over time, a "band" of a few dozen individuals becomes a "tribe" of a few hundred becomes a "chiefdom" of thousand and can become a "state" of hundreds of thousands.
The organization, decision making and power structure that each of these units demands is appropriate for their size and resources.
In a "band" of a few dozen, everyone knows each other and will probably spend most of their lives together. They speak the same language, share the same local knowledge, share resources and have established successful methods of conflict resolution. Importantly, the "band" can trade with and even draw on the resources of the larger "tribe" if, for example, their food supply is unexpectedly disrupted.
What makes this possible is that the social capital, the radius of trust between individuals, has been firmly established among the "band" and with the "tribe".
So, I would like to answer with a resounding, yes! Traditional societies can show us a better and more inventive way of problem solving. As you begin to think about creating your own inventive problem solving teams in 2014 consider employing these strategies:
• Create a "band" - That is, establish a core team of 25-30 people comprised of those who possess required expertise as well as others who possess a rich diversity of skills and experience. Draw on the resources of your larger "tribe" when you need to.
• Utilize a common language - That is, establish a clear and concise set of terms, definitions and facts for the team to use during the course of your project.
• Identify a "chief" - That is, establish the person or persons who will have the ability and authority to ratify decisions and quickly resolve conflicts.