One of the great curiosities of those of us who observe people at work for a living is how organizations vary dramatically in their ability to address and solve problems. Especially complex, gnarly problems requiring creative, first-of-its-kind solutions.

Remarkably few organizations demonstrate consistent competency when it comes to solving challenging business issues. Most companies just can’t do it. If they could, years ago we all would have owned the first all-electric, self-driving car with infinite range and a factory-installed food replicator next to our holographic entertainment system.

Could it be that humans are simply not that creative? Or that there are people at work who stifle creativity? Or that creativity and problem solving are topics we didn’t study in school?

While all of these may be true, it turns out there’s another reason: Few organizations are built specifically to foster creativity and discovery. Very few, actually. Instead, most organizations are built to protect rather than create.

This might explain the preponderance of suffocating rules in most organizations, rules that prevent ideation, open discussion and the exploration of new possibilities. It’s safe and easier to protect. Creation, after all, can be messy and, often, threatening.

So, what have these organizations designed to foster creativity and discovery done that separates them from the pack?

As it turns out, they are built differently and, in some ways, use a distinct vocabulary. For them, the way they operate is a direct result of answering a few key questions, asked in a very specific order.

Creative organizations begin by asking and answering an elegant and challenging question. While most organizations are oriented around “What?” and “How?,” organizations bent on discovery are far more interested in “Why?” As in, “Why are we here?”Why do we do what we do?”Why us?”

We who help organizations become more capable of unbridled creativity and invention call this “purpose.” It is the single most important question for an organization to answer, as it affects everything from recruiting to internal structure and processes to product development to performance to profitability. In every industry, in all sectors, regardless of size. Even in non-profits.

Many would guess that “What?” and “How?” come next. And many would be wrong, as the second critical question in discovery organizations is “Who?” As in, “Who do we need to help us achieve our purpose?” They ask this because of their fervent belief that only the right people with the right skills, abilities and temperament will help them fulfill their purpose. Which is true.

Only now are these organizations willing to consider the more tactical questions of “What?” and “How?” As in, “What value do we add?”What good do we do?” And, “How best to do it?”

What is clear is that invention-seeking organizations, organizations able to create what’s next, approach the world in a fundamentally different way than other organizations. While the majority unwittingly confine themselves by obsessing on “What?” and “How?,” creative organizations are far more interested in “Why?” and “Who?”

These questions, in this order, open a wide range of possibilities not available to those who inadvertently limit themselves by focusing on the tangible. This is a critical, fundamental difference and one not to be taken lightly. In many ways, organizations seeking to create, to discover, think differently about the world and their place in it.

Which is precisely what this industry needs now: A different way to think about the world and our place in it. What is our purpose, our “Why?” Then, “Who will help us get there?” Then, and only then, can we turn to “What?” and “How?”

It’s a lot of questions, but ones that separate the discovery-driven organizations from all others. Good thing, too, that most any organization can become an organization capable of solving complex business issues. There’s a direct route to be taken, one nearly all find exciting. Maybe, for some, that’s what’s next.

Alan Schnur is an industrial psychologist and long-time consultant to the entertainment and media industries. His work spans print media, television and the motion picture studios. His passion is guiding and supporting the growth of organizations through their leaders and their teams. As an ex-executive of the Robert Mondavi Corporation and its joint venture in Chile, his consulting assignments are invariably accompanied by fine wine from throughout the world.

The Schnur Group, the firm Alan founded, is a human resources and management consultancy dedicated to helping organizations create fulfilling and highly successful workplaces, build leadership and high-performance teams, and develop and implement effective growth plans. Its consultants have worked in nearly every industry sector in many of the country’s leading companies. More importantly, they love what they do and are very good at it.

For more information about Alan and The Schnur Group, please visit

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