Problems as Opportunities

The flip-side of problems are opportunities, opportunities to save time or money, to relieve or reduce pain and suffering, and to advance the human condition.  More generally, problems can be thought of as Opportunities For Improvement and Innovation in pursuit of Excellence (OFFIEs, for short and for fun).

Stated as opportunities, problems–and the quest for their causes and solutions–can call forth the best in human effort.  Grand causes can inspire us, but the problems/opportunities of everyday work can inspire us no less grandly.

Fortunately for the transformational LDTL leader, opportunities abound to stimulate learning, doing, teaching and leading within the workplace.

“We’re ankle deep, and rising,” I used to say to co-workers, imagining the floor of the conference room littered with ideas following a brainstorming session.

But we dare not wait for brainstorming sessions to find OFIIEs.  Continuous improvement occurs in the moment, not by fits and starts in the occasional group-think session.

If every task is a process and if every process can be improved, then within any organization every day there are countless opportunities for improvement and innovation in pursuit of excellence; countless OFIIEs.  (With a bow to Tom Peters for searching for excellence; having found it, we now pursue it.)

How can we identify and act on more OFIIEs?

“Ask for them,” says Richard S. Webster, PhD, former Director of Executive Education at The Ohio State University.  “Every work-group member must learn that part of every day’s job is to think about, identify, and communicate OFIIEs.  And every work-group leader and member must teach–instill and reinforce–this attitude and behavior.”

Thus awakened and unleashed, every work-group member becomes an investigator in pursuit of excellence because every work-group member has job-related tasks at hand.

The workplace is the laboratory, and those closest to the task, any task, identify the OFIIEs.  “Everybody thinks OFFIEs all the time,” says Webster.

But to think in terms of OFFIEs is not enough.  A system–simple or sophisticated–must capture, store, and communicate OFIIEs.  A knowledge-management function, this task ideally suits a database application, and commercial idea management systems are now available.

However, the cost and time associated with implementing such a system need not–indeed, must not–be a barrier for any work group or company regardless of size.  Start wherever you are; use paper until another solution is in place, but do start collecting the following regularly and systematically from all work-group members:

1. Statement of Opportunity.
Brief description of perceived opportunity and keyword identifiers.

2. IF…
A statement of the proposed solution, e.g., “If the parts bin were 2 feet closer.”

3. Then…
A statement of the expected benefit, e.g., “Then I would save an extra step and save time.”

4. And…
A statement of potential consequences, e.g., “And I could build one more unit per hour.”

I use this simple example to highlight the scientific method used to record OFIIEs: If…, then…, and…

That’s what it takes to get started generating and collecting OFIIEs.  Now, learn, do, teach, lead.

What are your experiences with idea management systems? Or creating the cultural mindset that improvement and innovation are everyone’s job?

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4 Responses to Problems as Opportunities

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