Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 12, Issue 37;   September 12, 2012: Solutions as Found Art

Solutions as Found Art

by

Examining the most innovative solutions we've developed for difficult problems, we often find that they aren't purely new. Many contain pieces of familiar ideas and techniques combined together in new ways. Accepting this as a starting point can change our approach to problem solving.
Still Life with Chair-Caning, by Picasso

Still Life with Chair-Caning, by Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), "painted" in May, 1912. I put painted in quotes, because this painting is only painted in part. The image of the chair caning is actually printed on a piece of oilcloth, which Picasso bought in a hardware store and glued onto the canvas, before painting over it. This painting is the first to incorporate this technique. Some regarded Picasso's technique as "cheating," because so much of the regard people had for artists at the time was based on their ability to reproduce images of reality. And here was Picasso, exploiting a manufactured image of reality, and asking for credit for his work as fine art.

Problem solvers today still suffer from this same phenomenon. Devising solutions from "scratch" without reference to previous work is more highly esteemed than is combining elements from existing solutions to create something wholly new. The resulting searches for the greater glory that is the reward for wholly new solutions are expensive and wasteful consequences of this attribute of many organizational cultures. We would do well to find ways to honor clever combining of existing work as much as we honor creating wholly new work.

The painting is in oil and oilcloth on canvas, with a rope frame. In size, it is relatively small: 10 5/8 x 13 3/4 in. (27 x 35 cm.). It is at Musee Picasso in Paris, which at this writing is closed for renovations. Photo courtesy Dr. Scott Contreras-Koterbay of East Tennessee University.

Problem solvers often begin by looking for new, innovative solutions, even though many solutions consist of innovative combinations of less-innovative pieces. But innovation can be as much or more in the way pieces are combined, rather than in the pieces themselves. Because this happens with such regularity, setting out to find solutions of this form can make problem-solvers more productive.

Many problem solutions are like found art, which is art created from objects that are not normally considered art. They might be everyday objects, like tires or chair legs. They might even be discarded or broken. By combining them in new ways, possibly with objects or materials that normally are considered art, the artist creates something that clearly is art.

Similarly, problem solutions sometimes consist of familiar elements of other solutions, possibly combined with truly new elements. Often, we come to these solutions only after failing to compose wholly new solutions. Here's a proposal: we might benefit by approaching problems from the beginning by searching for solutions that are hybrids of new and old.

Here are some suggestions for problem-solving using combinations of new and old solutions.

Generate a catalog of old solutions
Become a student of old solutions. Gather ideas that worked in the past to solve problems that are now solved. You can use this resource repeatedly for each new problem-solving effort. And the successful results of each new effort can become entries in this catalog.
Maintain a didn't-work-for-this-problem list
As you progress You can reuse past ideas
only if you know about
them. Become a student
of old solutions.
toward a solution, you'll try ideas that turn out not to work. Add them to the didn't-work-for-this-problem list. Then ask, why didn't it work? If that condition is still in place, address it. Addressing that condition is a slightly different problem — one for which you (or someone else) might already have a solution.
Search for themes in the didn't-work-for-this-problem list
As you add items to the didn't-work-for-this-problem list, search the list for themes. Sometimes, when something doesn't work, the causes of failure can be hidden in subtle ways. But when you ask what a group of failed solutions have in common, sometimes that hidden cause becomes evident. In this way, failed solutions can lead to success.
Be zany
Because intentional zaniness can help you relax constraints that might be keeping you from seeing a solution, search for obviously zany ideas. But not just any zany ideas. Start with an item from your catalog of old solutions, or from your didn't-work-for-this-problem lists. Then "zanify" it. Zanify it again in another way. You might be surprised at what happens.

Most important, we must learn to value the work of those who solve problems by combining cleverly into new solutions elements that others knew about but overlooked. Go to top Top  Next issue: No Tangles  Next Issue

52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented OrganizationsAre your projects always (or almost always) late and over budget? Are your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around. Read 52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented Organizations, filled with tips and techniques for organizational leaders. Order Now!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenHjsPOJgQBaPBrjgBner@ChacAnslfbGibBRgXRDtoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Problem Solving and Creativity:

DeadlockDealing with Deadlock
At times it seems that nothing works. Whenever we try to get moving, we encounter obstacles. If we try to go around them, we find more obstacles. How do we get stuck? And how can we get unstuck?
Albert Einstein playing his violin on his 50th birthday in 1929The Perils of Piecemeal Analysis: Content
A team member proposes a solution to the latest show-stopping near-disaster. After extended discussion, the team decides whether or not to pursue the idea. It's a costly approach, because too often it leads us to reject unnecessarily some perfectly sound proposals, and to accept others we shouldn't have.
Dunlin flock at Nelson Lagoon, AlaskaProject Improvisation as Group Process
When project plans contact reality, things tend to get, um, a bit confused. We can sometimes see the trouble coming in time to replan thoughtfully — if we're nearly clairvoyant. Usually, we have to improvise. How a group improvises tells us much about the group.
Signers of the 1938 Munich AgreementHow to Reject Expert Opinion: I
When groups of decision-makers confront complex problems, they sometimes choose not to consult experts or to reject their advice. How do groups come to make these choices?
A portrait of Matthew Lyon, printer, farmer, soldier, politicianHow to Foresee the Foreseeable: Recognize Haste
When trouble arises after we commit to a course of action, we sometimes feel that the trouble was foreseeable. One technique for foreseeing the foreseeable depends on recognizing haste in the decision-making process.

See also Problem Solving and Creativity and Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Artist's concept of possible colonies on future mars missionsComing June 28: Tackling Hard Problems: I
Hard problems need not be big problems. Even when they're small, they can halt progress on any project. Here's Part I of an approach to working on hard problems by breaking them down into smaller steps. Available here and by RSS on June 28.
Artist's depiction of a dust storm on Mars with lightningAnd on July 5: Tackling Hard Problems: II
In this Part II of our look at solving hard problems, we continue developing properties of the solution, and look at how we get from the beginning to the end. Available here and by RSS on July 5.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenoakefJcxoOEcDQGmner@ChacvRZUuwtHMkcVhvZJoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program. Here are some upcoming dates for this program:

Creating High Performance Virtual Teams
Many Creating High Performance Virtual Teamspeople experience virtual teams as awkward, slow, and sometimes frustrating. Even when most team members hail from the same nation or culture, and even when they all speak the same language, geographic dispersion or the presence of employees from multiple enterprises is often enough to exclude all possibility of high performance. The problem is that we lead, manage, and support virtual teams in ways that are too much like the way we lead, manage, and support co-located teams. In this program, Rick Brenner shows you how to change your approach to leading, managing, and supporting virtual teams to achieve high performance using Simons' Four Spans model of high performance. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

The Race to the South Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers
On 14The Race to the Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough, but to organizational leaders, business analysts, project sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. Lessons abound. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
21st Century Business TravelAre your business trips long chains of stressful misadventures? Have you ever wondered if there's a better way to get from here to there relaxed and refreshed? First class travel is one alternative, but you can do almost as well (without the high costs) if you know the tricks of the masters of 21st-century e-enabled business travel…
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.