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Innovators, try Columbo's style instead of Dragnet's

Peter Falk's seemingly bumbling detective, Lieut. Columbo, always got his man because he asked dozens of questions and never assumed anything, leadership experts say.

Television's Sergeant Joe Friday was famous for the phrase, "Just the facts, ma'am," and his linear approach to solving mysteries. Lieutenant Columbo took a more circuitous route, always wanting to ask "Just one more thing."

Roger Martin, dean of the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management, has said that "the best innovators recognize mysteries, and are brave enough to dive into them." And Sharon VanderKaay, director of knowledge development at Farrow Partnership Architects Inc., argues you will solve mysteries more effectively if you follow Lt. Columbo, not Sgt. Friday.

Over the years, her Toronto-based firm's business has changed from designing for clients to designing with clients. She writes on the company blog that "to nudge people into the best frame of mind for this mode of inquiry, we explain the virtues of not jumping to conclusions, making sure they are solving the right problem, not ruling out options prematurely, and verifying assumptions.

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"We bring this advice to life by citing Lt. Columbo as an example of someone who always 'got it right' by engaging in purposeful conversations. While his path of investigation may not have seemed direct, tight or conventional, it enabled him to collect diverse bits of valuable insight. The resulting level of understanding led him to his trademark (Just one more thing!) zinger revelations."

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About the Author
Management columnist

Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online column, Power Points. More

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