My wife mentioned to me the other day that a piece of trim had broken in one of our closets and asked if I could fix it.  It is a job that I have done a number of times before.  So, using the tools I had and the experience I had from previous efforts, I was able to quickly comply with my wife’s request.  I remember making a mental note of how efficient I had been.

But I didn’t solve the problem.  The trim is near where the ironing board is stored.  When one of us gets the ironing board out, we will often catch the edge of the trim.  After enough times, it breaks.

A different approach

What I should have done is examined the problem, considered several possible solutions, gone out and bought a different type of trim, and rerouted the trim so that the ironing board would not hit it.  That would have taken more time, more brainpower, and more money.  It would not have been efficient, but it would have solved the problem.

How often do we do that in our workplaces?  An issue comes up; we dig into our old toolbox of solutions and find the one that will let us complete the job efficiently.  The workplace loves efficiency.  Get the most output for the least input.  Leverage what you already have, do what you have previously done, and complete the task as quickly as possible.

Fixing or solving

Sometimes that is right approach – fix it quickly and move on.  But it is true that every problem contains the seeds of a new opportunity.  Using creativity and innovative thinking is a way to dive into the problem and reveal the real opportunity that is lurking.

Where do new opportunities lie

Innovation, however, is not as efficient – it takes time, brainpower, and sometimes money.  It requires rethinking the problem, looking at it from a variety of perspectives and being sure what the real problem is.  It means exploring completely new ways to address the problem, perhaps from very different worlds.  It calls for creating a quantity of possible solutions, narrowing them down, and fine-tuning them as we further develop them.  When we do it right, we have not only addressed the problem, we have created an entirely new opportunity – a very effective output.

So which is better to pursue – efficiency or effectiveness?  Should we create cultures where employees are encouraged to use current resources and past experiences to run a business as efficiently as possible?  Or should they be encouraged to take the time and put in the effort to find innovative solutions?

The answer is both.  The challenge is in knowing where the big opportunities might be.

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