This question is often used to test divergent thinking, your ability to think creatively. And creative thinking is a crucial part of what we do at Business for Development.

Organisations often approach us seeking assistance with tricky community development problems – for example, a mining company may want to ensure that the local community is financially independent from the mine; however, they have a limited budget, short remaining mine life and the agronomics of the local area aren’t promising – a classic conundrum.

A methodology to tackle such problems is important, to ensure that we’re focusing on what really matters and don’t get side-tracked by peripheral issues. However, a methodology can also hamper our efforts to think creatively, not only during the initial exploratory and analysis phase, but also throughout the design and implementation process. It’s helpful to look at past work for ideas and inspiration, but we also want to avoid becoming a solution looking for a problem.

So what are some ways to avoid this?

Iron sharpens iron

The benefit of having a team with a wide range of backgrounds is the different lenses through which you all view the world, and the different ideas that are generated as a result. Seek constructive criticism early and often, and challenge each other’s assumptions.

Scatter the flock  

Once a team has worked together for a while, you run the risk of ‘groupthink’. This can be mitigated by ensuring that you each continue to foster your different interests, whether it be through reading, online courses, meet-up groups, etc. It’s also important that the organisation supports and prioritises this continuous learning, cross-disciplinary approach.

Immerse yourself 

Use different approaches to gather insights about the situation. Ask open-ended questions to get people talking. Even better, observe them in the ‘problem situation’, ideally over a period of time.

It might take a bit more effort to take this approach, but the end result will be well worth it.