The power of collective solutioning

It is widely recognized from the second half of the twentieth century that the wisdom of the group exceeds that of an individual, who may even be an expert on a given subject. This approach has been embraced by several disciplines, and has been extensively applied in the field of organizational development and the learning space where facilitation has emerged as an alternative to teaching.

In the modern day, the problems that we face at the workplace have steadily become more urgent and complex in nature than ever before, and we are pushed into making the best use of the limited time, resources and information available to us. One of the best ways to work through tricky, intricate problems is to share them with one’s work group or external network in order to gather more facts, extract expert knowledge, discover new alternatives, understand possible risks and narrow down to the most viable solutions.

We were curious to know how the people at Clear had made use of this powerful idea and leveraged the collective wisdom of their formal and informal networks to solve challenging problems. Here are some extracts from what we found out.

Rajshekar Yerram, Product

A product manager’s job is almost incomplete and meaningless without collective solutioning and execution. Last year when I was working at an audio streaming company, we faced a sudden and steep dip in music consumption. I approached the analytics team to provide insights on the usage and they helped me at least ten different cuts on the music consumption data to identify the cohort of users that were actually affected. Work from home for working professionals due to the pandemic has brought down music consumption during commute hours. Over the next few days the business, data science, marketing, engineering, and product teams came together to brainstorm the numerous use cases of audio (music and podcasts) listening that could be promoted to compensate for the commute time listening dip. Design teams then brought these visions a visual life. With rapid experimentation and hustle, we regained our consumption levels and more.

When in crisis, a team has to think of interventions in short, medium, and long term timelines. This needs a comprehensive think tank, which cannot be run by one single person or department. Even in my current role, GST is a complex and constantly evolving space. Collective solutioning is almost a daily activity at Clear, with all stakeholders driving the strategy and execution, while tax experts are our solutioning backbone.

Amit Desai, Key Account Management

During one of my previous stints in enterprise sales, there were 2 segments (ITeS & Govt) where we kept on losing to competition and our market share in the segment went down significantly. Though I was working in a highly individualistic sales culture where asking for help can come across as a weakness, I decided to go ahead with this approach since I was unable to solve the problem by myself. I spoke to colleagues in different business units who had cracked a few customers in the ITeS segment in different product lines. Then I interviewed some customers on their needs and pains with their existing vendors and got some product suggestions on differentiation. While it took six months from then on to win five customers (two being market leaders), it was a significant win. This would not have been possible without the insights from the customers whose references were shared by my colleagues.

An individual will always have a limited area of expertise which one can obviously increase with time, however, if one can add on to this the expertise of one’s peers and mentors, there can be exponential learning which can lead to navigating through difficult situations at work and personal front with much more ease and speed.

Arjun Venugopal, Product

During one of my recent organisational stints, the first problem I was asked to solve was to find out why a bulk of the customers were not able to start the company’s electric scooters. I had no knowledge of the product, customers or nuances of the problem itself, other than being informed that nobody had solved it for months. I was stuck on it for two weeks and had no solution in sight. Finally I decided to seek help. I know that in any organization, you can approach two types of people when you need support — domain experts or people who have a good network and can direct you to the right person. I reached out to a colleague who knew everyone in the organization and he was quick to connect me to the domain experts around me. The domain experts in turn helped me cross off possible explanations one by one and this is how we were able to reach the right solution.

The group at an organization is analogous to the blind men around the elephant. Each individual has a perspective and can see one side of the problem. The collective wisdom of this group if synthesised properly always exceeds that of an individual.

Kinshuk Chaturvedi, Category

During my first job at a manufacturing setup, getting calls at odd hours or late working hours was very common because of the nature of work. One day a very critical machine for a highly anticipated pilot project had broken down. The machine was quite old and getting support or spare from the manufacturer was next to impossible. To attend to the problem, my manager and I were accompanied by a couple of senior technicians and electricians. The moment my manager and I realised the issue, we panicked, because we knew that the spare part was not available.

When the whole team was briefed about the issue, one of the electricians naively asked, “Sir, ye PCB karti kya hai?” (what does this machine do?). When we explained the same, he said, “Ye to apan hard wiring kar sakte hai” (We can hardwire this). With this unexpected idea, the whole group became energised and determined to solve the issue by replicating the functionality of the PCB in a different manner. The outcome was not a neat looking circuit but it could perform all the functions of the PCB and do more than the original part. When the top management was briefed about the issue and how this was handled, they were simply amazed and applauded the group’s effort.

This incident made me appreciate the brilliance and potential which lies in any group, which can never be accomplished by a single individual. The most unlikely and novel ideas can emerge through the collective intelligence of a heterogeneous group, in this case, through sheer common sense.

Zainab Delawala, Product design

I was working on an assignment where I had to come up with a feature for a fintech app. My understanding of finance was not very good back then and since the deadline was very close, I thought it would be best to connect with people who understood finance more than me. I approached two of my friends who are also designers. I knew them from the time I started learning design a year back. They helped me understand the various terms and concepts related to finance and investing. They also walked me through other competitor apps which they had been using for investing which I had never used. Since they had prior experience working on fintech products, they could give me some first-hand cues about the users of such products and how I could design accordingly.

I think collective wisdom helps us to approach problems with different perspectives. Sometimes we may unintentionally get fixated on certain solutions. By discussing the problem space with a group, you get access to their experiences and knowledge.

Conclusion

The situations shared by our people are unique and dissimilar, taking place in diverse industries and organizations at different life stages. The common thread across them is the power of the collective which can be tapped to make better and faster decisions. This definitely shows that when in doubt and having exhausted our personal resources, we must never think twice about seeking help from the live network of expertise and experience that lies in our vicinity.

People from heterogeneous backgrounds can offer a depth of experience and brain power which can enable individuals or departments or organizations to look beyond the obvious and cut through daunting problems at breakneck speed and resulting in better informed decisions.

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