Greetings. We all know that innovation is about finding new and better ways to solve problems, capture opportunities and deliver greater value to customers. But is this also a sound premise for taking a test in middle school?
On a recent quiz in his sixth grade science class, our son Noah and his classmates were asked a series of questions about the environment and the keys to protecting it now and in the future. It was a fill-in-the-blanks assessment that required quick thinking or at least quick recall in order to race through the questions successfully. The kind of "beat-the-clock" quizzes we all dreaded as kids before they became the unique value proposition for most TV game shows. And while these tests do not always produce the most complete learning, they often yield some interesting insight.
Such was the case with a question about the biggest threat to urban environments around the globe…a question that Noah answered by creating a brand new word:
A word that really gets at the heart of the challenge that many cities face as they grow too fast. Too many people and too much pollution. And forced to fit a one word answer into a relatively small space, it must have seemed–under the keen pressure of the moment or the lack of time to check his responses–almost perfect or at least slightly clever. A moment of semi-partial brilliance in a sea of canned replies. And a moment that would lead to a great conversation at home the next evening.
"Aren't there at least two right answers to almost every question?" Noah pondered as he snarfed through bites of pasta and salad. "Especially for questions that aren't very simple." Like big questions they ask in school or the big questions that most of us deal with every day in our companies and organizations…
Questions about science, history, politics, and culture. Questions about strategy, the things we offer, how we work together, the need for innovation, the customer experiences we provide, and so on. Questions that really matter.
"Yes," I replied even though I knew that math and science teachers, as well as the crazed folks who invented the SAT exams, where generally looking for one specific answer. "The questions that matter most deserve at least two answers because our first answer is rarely the best that we can do," I continued. "And they deserve our very best thinking too!"
"And sometimes they involve putting two of our very best ideas together to create something even more valuable."
"Kind of like popullution," Noah wondered.
We win in business and life we realize that there is always more than one answer to a problem or opportunity. And when we acknowledge that we can always be better at the things that matter most.