The Problem-Solving Power of Disruption

It has now become a habit. Every year, Nabil, an Associate Director at Spirit Advisors, switches hats and takes on the role of Innovation Coach at Mohammed VI Polytechnic University (UM6P), in Morocco. His course entitled “Solving a Topical Problem” confronts a group of about fifteen students with a theme largely unfamiliar to them. “Improving African SME financing”: How to settle such a question, which lies beyond the confines of traditional Engineering?

Nabil’s intention is transparent. He seeks to bring students out of their comfort zone, a requirement that, as a multifaceted coach versed in entrepreneurship, he starts by applying to himself. The thirty-year-old, graduate from Mines ParisTech, knows how to make the most of a cross-functional experience perfectly aligned with the conditions of modern Engineering.

According to the University Director, excitement runs high among the students enrolled in “the best seminar of the program”. Nabil’s reputation precedes him: neither a teacher nor a researcher, his instructional methods are drawn directly from his own experience as a consultant and entrepreneur. His methods are certainly innovative, but Nabil insists that they rather be judged on their effectiveness in stimulating problem-solving.

To get a sense of what his seminar looks like, it is useless to bring back the distant memories of those old-fashioned professors who tried to instill knowledge in our young and philistine minds. His approach, which is not based on the principle of communicative vessels, stands in stark contrast with the type of lecturing that drives students into apathy. In his problem-solving seminar, Nabil does not have any demonstration or pre-conceived solution to share with students.

Instead, his aim is to help them initiate a thought process by making the problem their own and by relying on their collective intelligence. Their starting point is a blank page, but one that opens up a world of possibilities. By working together, the students will thus come up with a solution that is both unique and based on genuine expertise, an achievement that constitutes an impressive feat given the short four weeks at their disposal.

By fostering this collective process, Nabil wants to encourage each and every student to “co-construct” the resolution of the problem. But since this answer cannot arise ex nihilo, it will first be necessary to provide the ground that will allow the reflection to thrive. Nabil thus always starts with a theoretical introduction to the most innovative topics, such as Blockchain, Artificial Intelligence, Big Data, Lean Startup and Design Thinking. This theoretical background provides the students with analytical tools and conceptual frameworks likely to stimulate the production of work hypotheses.

These hypotheses are not intended to be abstractly pondered within the narrow walls of the university. It is rather in the field that our student engineers will have to test them. Meanwhile, Nabil will have spared no effort. In a record-breaking time, he will have planned meetings with banks, consulting firms, business incubators, and various other actors having valuable insights into the problem at hand.

Nabil never curbs creative thinking. On the contrary, he limits himself to guiding the students’ creative thoughts and lets them grow until they make one with the subject. Only then is it time to engage in the last stage of the process, which consists in formalizing a business plan and defending it before an uncompromising jury.

What if, during these four weeks, students were learning more from themselves than from Nabil? It is worth emphasizing again that Nabil does not lecture in the traditional way, that he does not offer any ready-made problem-solving technique. Beyond his innovative approach, what he delivers to students is a distinctive experience.

It is the exact same experience that he shares with his clients. When a company appeals to his problem-solving expertise, Nabil never proposes to elaborate on his own an ad hoc solution that would simply have to be implemented.

His approach is rather to restore the company’s confidence in its own problem-solving ability through collective emulation and broad-based participation. The key is thus to involve the relevant staff members in the development of a tailor-made solution that they will be able to endorse all the more easily that they will have collectively participated in its formulation.