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Unlocking human creativity, solving complex problems

By November 4, 2015 Strategy No Comments

This month our home town hosted Melbourne Knowledge Week (#MKW2015), so we’ve been thinking about the power of knowledge and more importantly imagination.

Inspiring people to work, play and create with knowledge is part of what we do.

Whether it is the work of scientists, educators or the collective wisdom of a crowd – our clients are harnessing knowledge to create positive social change, build natural capital and think strategically.

We’re proud to work with them.

Yet can any of us honestly say we’re making the most of what people know? After all knowledge is a key to unlocking the human potential within our businesses and solving society’s wicked problems

Solving complex problems requires a crowd

In his book, The Wisdom of Crowds, James Surowiecki writes that the decisions organisations have to make are mind-numbingly complex – so complex they demand a wisdom borne of multiple perspectives.

He argues that large groups of people are smarter than an elite few, no matter how brilliant – better at solving problems, fostering innovation, coming to wise decisions, and even predicting the future.

It’s an approach we’ve embraced as a partner in the World Bank’s Capturing Coral Reef & Related Ecosystem Services project and as a consultant to the Global Change Institute at The University of Queensland.

Serving as a knowledge broker we’ve seen first-hand the power of collaborative innovation for solving problems, involving multi-disciplinary stakeholders from the private, public and non-profit sectors.

We were part of the group collaboration which produced the Competitive Power papers, a blueprint for policymakers to guide Australia’s transition to a globally competitive, low-carbon economy by 2035.

This work embraces the philosophy of philanthropists (and self-confessed optimists) Bill & Melinda Gates who write: “When people work together, even the most complex problems can be solved.”

Now, if only Government had the courage to follow it.

Yet teamwork alone is not enough to solve problems. Knowledge only gets you so far. Collaboration takes you further but the vital ingredient in using knowledge to power innovation is creativity.

Driving innovation requires imagination

“Imagination is more important than knowledge,” said Albert Einstein. And understanding and responding to the challenge presented to business by technological disruption requires creative thinking.

Business is changing. Technology and automation will replace nearly 40% of jobs in the next 10 to 15 years and almost two-thirds of today’s students are training for careers that won’t exist in the future.

Our client the Australian Learning Lecture (ALL) understands this well. ALL is a joint-project of the Koshland Innovation Fund and the State Library of Victoria, launched recently to build a stronger learning culture in Australia. It considers creativity, in addition to problem-solving and entrepreneurship, as essential skills for a digital-driven economy.

So, in order for people and business to innovate, adapt and prosper in a rapidly-changing globalised economy, does creativity need to be valued as highly as literacy in our schools? It’s an idea worth sharing.

In an age defined by climate change, resource insecurity, population growth and technological innovation, organisations need people who can think differently, work collaboratively and solve problems.

Creativity, collaboration and problem-solving; they require groups of people having conversations.

So, are you talking enough with the groups of people who care about the same things as you?

Best wishes,

Mark Paterson


About Mark Paterson

Mark’s first job was milking cows. An award-winning career in journalism followed. These days when he's not trying to save coral reefs in Indonesia, dreaming about playing tennis on the Masters circuit or raising three kids in a blended family he thrives on consulting work that connects profit with people and planet. The son of corgi breeders, Mark would like to change the world for the better. Read more posts by Mark.

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