Why the ‘wrong’ people might actually be right, when it comes to problem solving

Why the ‘wrong’ people might actually be right, when it comes to problem solving
July 12, 2017 Louise Halloran

12th July 2017:

Think about who you would invite to solve a problem that will arise over the next decade, across multiple countries and with various complexities and nuances.

Now mentally un-invite all of those people.

Why? Because, how is it possible for us to solve something we really know nothing about? Or that we cannot even imagine. Sixty-five per cent of school children will end up in a job that doesn’t currently exist. The pace of change is so high that most kids won’t know what profession they are even training for. That’s why using present thinking to solve future problems is, perhaps, a bridge too far.

This was a piece of advice that came out of a partnership announcement on Friday between Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the global tech giant Atlassian, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. They have set themselves a mammoth task, working together to solve the workplace skills issue. The partnership will hold nine “Solve-a-Thons” throughout the Indo-Pacific region, to gather ideas around what will make the biggest difference to the youth in our neighbouring developing regions, and what skills they will need in order to thrive within the changing future of work.

The event made me realise that most media campaigns I work on are based on two core concepts – truth and position. Government policy usually divides industry and the wider Australian community into two opposing groups. It’s an oversimplification, sure, but at the very essence each side will understand a truth, and formulate a position. And so goes the tug-of-war that is industry and politics.

But this was different. We don’t know what the future truth will be, and there aren’t any positions to take because we simply don’t have a solution – yet.

The future of work is one of the few topics I’ve worked on where there aren’t solutions to pull apart or to align with. And from that ‘truth’ came a rare sighting on Friday morning of industry, academia and government coming together without reservation or agenda.

I’ve been watching “Designated Survivor” on Netflix and it reminded me of the way American congress came together after a capital bombing – to start a new world order where all factions had to work together in the interest of national progress. A bit dramatic? Maybe, but the issue of having to find solutions for the skills of the future, is also dramatic.

So where to from here? The Minister suggested that we begin with a blank piece of paper and use creativity and innovation to begin solving the problem. Easier said than done, but a starting point at least.

Dom Price, Work Futurist at Atlassian, talked about cognitive diversity and challenged the audience with this statement:

“Highly intelligent people are a nightmare for innovation.”

Why? Dom thinks it’s because they know too much. In order to tackle a new problem, we can’t use an old way to solve it.

It makes sense, now that I think about it.

I sat in a workshop once, and the facilitator began by asking all of us to draw the concept of ‘flying’. After a couple of minutes, my poorly drawn bird sat amongst many other birds and planes. The facilitator then pulled up a number of drawings depicting everything from hot air balloons and wing suits, to flying motorbikes and huge paper planes. As it turns out, they were drawn by seven year olds who had been asked the same question. There were certainly no birds or planes in that group.

The point being made is, that it’s this raw creative thinking that we need to rediscover, in order to creatively solve the problem of jobs of the future. It means we need to think in a way that we never have before.

The renowned global business and management consultant, Peter Drucker, once said: “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” And maybe that’s why this announcement felt different. Because for the first time in a long time, we aren’t positioning, we aren’t aligning and we aren’t arguing – we’re creating.

Louise Halloran, Senior Account Manager