Solving problems creatively – Boundary Relaxation

Solving problems creatively using boundary relaxation is easy but not often tried. Here’s how it works.

A problem boundary is the imaginary line between what a problem is, must be, should be, or could be, and what it isn’t, mustn’t be, shouldn’t be, or couldn’t be. This approach works by creating awareness of the different components of the boundary and then seeing how far they can be loosened. Here are some ways of making a boundary more visible.

NOTing the problem statement Take each significant term in a problem statement and define it more clearly by saying what it is not, for example:

How to develop (not replace, alter, reduce,…)
the motorway (not other roads, airlines, ships, … )
network (not piecemeal)
to allow for (not compel)
the gradual (neither imperceptible nor rapid)
replacement (not augmentation)
of rail (not air, ships, …)
transport (not pleasure use, prestige use)

Boundary conditions not mentioned in the problem statement may often be found by looking elsewhere e.g. budgets, policy statements, market analyses, etc., and by ‘asking around’. Sometimes you may need to ‘read between the lines’. Once a boundary feature has been identified dearly, then it is usually relatively simple to ask yourself and/or others involved:

‘Would it make the problem any easier to solve if this part of the boundary could be altered in some way?’

‘If so, under what circumstances could it be altered or ignored?’

It may be easier to get temporary leeway around a boundary by discreetly ‘bending’ it and making sure nothing goes wrong, than by trying to get formal permission to alter it. Many are familiar with the saying ‘Remember it is easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission.’

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Innovation consultants – what they don’t tell you

Have you noticed how innovation consultants and academics tend to turn innovation into a highly complex system involving numerous processes, approaches and models (requiring you to spend even more on consultants)?

Such systems are promoted by consultants who charge by the day for implementing and teaching their complex systems – which require many, many months to implement. Worse, consultants scare their clients into believing that not implementing the consultants’ system will lead to failure. Indeed, when the system does fail, the consultant can easily blame the client for not implementing the complex system properly.

But, these consultants are wrong! Innovation need not be complex. In fact, complex systems actually stifle creativity and hence innovation. Most organisations contain many creative thinkers and innovators: their employees; and many external creative thinkers: their customers. All that they require is:

  • The ability to make people comfortable about sharing their ideas and to make mistakes without suffering any consequences.
  • That management demonstrate their commitment and ability to be creative themselves.
  • Budget – funds will be necessary, however they will be modest in comparison to the demands of the consultants!
  • Tools for capturing and managing ideas, techniques for generating and shaping ideas and a method of measuring the fruits of your labours.
  • Space and more importantly time to meet, share ideas or just think.
  • Rewards, a fair system that rewards idea generation, knowledge sharing and team working.

How all of these components come together will vary from firm to firm. What is important is that these components exist, that there is flexibility and that ideas are implemented. Of course these components of corporate innovation are greatly simplified. Nevertheless, they provide the mainstay of an innovation plan.

So don’t let the expensive consultants fool you. An innovation strategy is relatively easy provided you have the commitment, the desire and resources. It should fit your organisation with minimal disruption and you should not be left with a strong dependency on any outside organisation.

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