Leaping to New Solutions

Do you ever wake up in the early morning with a random thought that answers a question you’ve had?  I’m talking about the kind of answer that isn’t the product of a logical thought process, but is the result of a kind of leap. One morning, I woke up with this phrase in my head, “generative vs. determinative thinking.” In my half-awake fog, I wrote it down, wondered what in the world this phrase was pertaining to, and fell back asleep. Once I was actually awake, I still had no clue what it was about. 

So off to Google I went. Here’s the first entry from the search for generative vs. determinative thinking: Ontological and Epistemological Terrains Revisited  “…To grant thought generative and determinative functional properties is ...”Boy! Did that not clear anything up! The next source was a lot more interesting: Why Nonprofits Have a Board Problem (http://hbswk.hbs.edu/archive/4735.html).  This short interview and book review of Governance as Leadership: Reframing the Work of Nonprofit Boards was interesting to me for two reasons
    1. It names the two types of thinking I’ve been applying to my clients’ projects, and
    2. It’s about high functioning non-profit boards.
Taking the second point first, I like the description of the role of boards that this article provides. In Governance as Leadership Harvard professor Richard Chait, along with coauthors William Ryan and Barbara Taylor, argue that "boards spend too much time on minutia and management issues, and not enough time on big-picture strategy and leadership concerns.” 

But the first point, naming the two kinds of thinking that are used in good planning and design, is one way to answer a question with which I’ve been wrestling for a while – How do I describe what I do? What is my elevator speech? My biggest clue to what to say is the one piece of feedback I get all the time: “You ask questions no one else asks.” It turns out there is a name for this. The article on Nonprofit Boards says in part,

In fact, most of the formal planning and learning processes that appear so powerful in organizations look incomplete when one takes generative thinking into account.…  In effect, the key question was, "What kind of generative thinking precedes product development?”  …The same is true of organizational problem solving. Whether conducted through formal program development or informal trial-and-error, the important work of "problem framing" precedes problem solving. 2 Before we solve a problem, we decide upon the nature of the problem.… Invariably, great research starts with great questions.

Both generative and determinative thinking are required for good problem solving and planning. Determinative thinking uncovers how and why current conditions have come into being. Then generative thinking can be applied to seek patterns and new meaning that will leap to new solutions. One way to recognize whether or not a solution, or plan, is really new will be its magical quality – a felt sense that it’s different; that the new solution answers new questions or multiple questions. It will be elegant and simple in the way that E=mc2 is elegant.

So, how’s this for an elevator speech? I apply different thinking processes to problem solving, planning and evaluation to generate profound solutions for all of an organization’s stakeholders. 

Please let me know what you think.


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