We all get stuck sooner or later. A personal challenge a solution we just can’t reach, a team dynamic we can’t fix. When we find the solution, mostly, we are astonished at how simple the solution is when, at the time, the problem seemed so big.

Problem-solving is often a matter of changing perspective, altering your point of view, or coming at the situation from a new angle. This is one of the reasons why non-experts are often able to solve serious issues that confound the experts. They know just little enough about the issues at play to NOT get stuck in the rules and the details and can therefore change perspective more easily to see a new route to a solution.

You might have heard this story: A company hires in an innovation expert who organises a full-day brainstorm session. They need to sell more baby powder and they don’t know how. Once the day is over and many, inspiring ideas have been discussed, but no plan finalised, the CEO is sitting alone in the boardroom as the cleaning lady comes in to tidy up. She looks at the charts, the spider diagrams and the mess and asks the CEO what happened here. “We need to sell more baby powder,” he replied.

“Make the holes in the bottles bigger,” she replied with a shrug.

This is one of the reasons why multi-disciplinary teams work so well. This is why ‘beginner’s luck’ exists and this is why it is always a good idea to ask for external help or advice.

And by the way, I have read 5 versions of the baby powder story, so no guarantees this version is correct or that the story is even true. However, it solidifies an experience we have all had: where someone who doesn’t know enough about a subject can solve a complex problem

And it highlights something that we as working human beings need to pay attention to: too much, uni-focused expertise can lead to group-think and tunnel vision and a lack of progress and innovation.

Human beings are natural problem solvers. The person who first realised that this fire stuff could be used to cook meat and that, once you did that, the meat didn’t make you sick didn’t have a degree or any experience. They just observed and experimented.

In HR parlance, T-People are in high demand. That is people with a deep well of specialist experience AND a long crossbar of general knowledge. Practically, people like this are really good problem solvers as they combine specific expertise with a broad appreciation of the world. When you want to innovate, you’d do well to either have T-people in the room or have more generalists mixed in with your specialists… 

Then the magic will happen.