In an article by Melanie Curtin, “The 10 Top Skills That Will Land You High-Paying Jobs by 2020, According to the World Economic Forum…” (https://www.inc.com), Melanie unpacks a study conducted by the World Economic Forum (WEF), with 350 executives across 9 industries in 15 of the world’s biggest economies to generate – The Future of Jobs Report. The key findings of the study were the top 10 skills that will be most desired by employers by 2020. The top three skills were, Complex Problem Solving (no.1); Critical thinking (no.2) and Creativity (no.3).
I read this article and I laughed thinking, ‘If problem solving is ranked the number 1 skill that will be required in 2020, then why are organisations right now not encouraging of a problem-solving culture?’ I’ve heard people in organisations utter statements such as ‘We don’t want any problems in this project’ or ‘Let’s minimise mistakes or problems’ to a point that when we make mistakes we are crucified.
I could be wrong, but in my opinion, I have come to notice that organisations are obsessed with creating problem proof environments. And yet I realise that great business ideas or innovations are born from problems. I think of two cases that have always fascinated me;
Example 1: The Wright Brothers innovation of the air craft
The Problem: The Aircrafts built before the first Wright Brothers aircraft could not be controlled in the air. Before flights became commonplace people could only travel in just two dimensions, north and south, east and west.
The most common way to travel from one continent to another was via sea travel. Sea travel meant months and months of travelling; it also meant nausea commonly known as sea sickness. This is by far the worse travel related sickness. Sea traveling also meant the weather can restrict your movement.
The Solution: The invention of the air craft enabled air travel to solve some of the disadvantages of sea travel. Air travel has made the world more interconnected. It has advocated for economic and technological advancements. Air travel saves us time and it has given way to the entire aerospace business, the largest industry in the world (http://www.wright-brothers.org).
Example 2: The Airbnb story
The Problem: Two unemployed art graduates found themselves living in a three-bedroom apartment in San Francisco, and where on the verge of being kicked out because they couldn’t afford rent. They wanted to provide alternative lodging for people who couldn’t afford hotel lodging.
The Solution: Created an online lodging platform that has become, in under a decade, the largest provider of accommodations in the world. They also wanted to create a space that offered better price rates than mainstream hotels & lodges, yet still providing descent lodging that have a touch of a hotel experience and a homely experience. This came at a critical time during the recession when home owners were stretched financially thus were offered an avenue to make extra money by opening their extra home spaces for public consumption (https://www.penguin.co.uk).
There are millions of other examples of problems birthing great ideas that revolutionised the way the world operates. If problems can generate such billionaire dollar ideas/businesses, then why do we frown upon problems? Even in our primary and secondary schooling system, we don’t fully invest in encouraging a culture of ‘problems are okay, in fact we should embrace problems.’
In a way I appreciate some elements of the higher education system, because I recall that during my time as a humanities student, my University opened a whole new world of endless possibilities for me. We were constantly encouraged to re-imagine and challenge the very world we lived in. As a student we were constantly sold this notion that, you could change the world. But when I got to my first job, in one of the biggest, if not well managed Parastatal organisations at the time, was a serious reality check. I soon realised that the real “Corporate World” was not what I thought it was.
One of my biggest frustrations with corporate was it inhibited my creativity and was obsessed with problem proofing everything.
I realise that this thing of obsessing over controlling outcomes in organisations and problems is overrated. I believe that we should foster environments that thrive on making problems a norm thus fostering a culture of problem solving through creativity.
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