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Real-world problem solving is a skill every team needs

Philippa White, Founder and CEO - The International Exchange (TIE)

What does innovation have to do with talking to the local fish monger?

It’s very easy for all of us to get stuck in silos and for us to see the world not as it is, but as we all are.

However, for new models and solutions to be discovered, we need to broaden our horizons and step out of our comfort zones. We need to talk with people we wouldn’t normally, to understand how other corners of communities, countries, and cultures work. And we need to realise that it’s impossible to solve problems in solitude and in isolation.

But how can teams learn and practice problem-solving in a meaningful way?

By encouraging teams to solve real-world challenges they are forced to engage with cultures, people and ways of life that they wouldn’t normally, face problems out of their normal 9-5 and have the opportunity to see the world from a different perspective. They are forced to work together in new ways, learn to be more flexible and better listeners. Be better team players and increase their empathy and understanding of others who may have a very different view of the world.

The outcome? Modern leaders for this modern world. Leaders that listen, empathise and most importantly understand there are greater challenges around the world compared to our privileged position. When this happens, the results are extraordinary. Teams see themselves and the world through a different lens, leading to more innovative thinking and creativity. They learn empathy, cultural intelligence and how to work and build the trust of those different from themselves, creating more cohesion. They see the power of constraints and become more resilient. Teams learn patience and how to deal with failure. And they become more confident in their abilities.

It’s impossible not to notice, we are living in a moment of profound change and disruption. Where we were is different to where we are going. And the competencies that leaders and teams need to drive us into the future are the very ones developed through real-life learning experiences.

Experiencing real-life constraints helps build powerful resilience, innovative thinking, and leadership.
What you learn when times get tough is often what makes you so much better.

“Necessity is the mother of invention” is a very popular and widely used phrase, illustrating how constraints, the limitations that impact our ability to do something, can be sources of opportunity.

So, how can the obstacle become the catalyst for change? And how can the restriction of certain conditions increase our creativity and innovation?

Real-life experiences that excite you and force you to find a solution to a real challenge unlocks the potential in an obstacle. The key is seeing an obstacle as an opportunity and feeling truly motivated by it. As well as be able to see it as a stimulus for positive change, and an opportunity to explore something new.

Also, in a real-life situation that is full of constraints, you’re forced to look at the limited resources available to you (time, money, people, ideas), and you have no option but to quickly learn to find value in the opportunity, accept it, and build on it. You learn to be resourceful. Who do you know in your network that can help? What can you trade for support? What do you have that can be repackaged to create new value?

By exposing teams to real-life problems and by being pushed in new ways, people learn patience and strengthen their ability to deal with failure.
The more people encounter setbacks the better they get at encountering them. Not only do they provide the catalyst for change at that moment, but they also strengthen people’s ability to deal with things going wrong down the road.

It’s about cultivating agency for people. Helping them unleash their purpose and helping them realise what makes them amazing. And they need to be allowed to step out of their comfort zone to do that.

Real life experiences where employees are pushed to find solutions to real challenges forces people to see just what they are capable of and proves to them that they don’t need to be someone else – they can be that person in that role to make a difference.

What if everyone recognized their own potential? We would be in a different world if we all had the opportunity to act upon it.

The key is to help people discover what makes them incredible. Get them to amplify it. And then help them believe they can be that person in that role to make a difference.

You have to know, you have to believe, and you have to go do.

Real life-problem solving, at the end of the day, enables a better world. We are moving from an era of competition to an era of collaboration and to get there we need leaders to be more empathetic, flexible and innovative. Able to see the power of diverse teams and be able to work with people who are different to them. We need to find ways to bring together people on the ground, and people from big business. And in a world with more and more scarcity, we need leaders to be able to turn constraints into opportunities and know that they can be the driving force of this change. Our future depends on everyone being able to respond in this way, and it starts with real-life experiences.

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