Lots of businesses talk about needing leaders who are creative problem solvers. And lots of training’s are available to teach you the process of creative problem solving. But what most of them don’t talk about, how to develop the skills that will improve your ability to carry out those process steps. Knowing the process is one thing, having the skills to implement the process is something else. It is the combination of process and skills that will bring you success.
“The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.” Albert Einstein
Creative Problem Solving – Process
Creative problem solving is a proven method for approaching a problem or a challenge in an imaginative and innovative way. It’s a process that helps you redefine the problems and opportunities you face, come up with new, innovative responses and solutions, and then take action. The basic steps for problem solving are below. The creative process comes in on the application of these steps.
- Identify the problem in clear specific terms
- Research the problem and its underlying causes
- Generate ideas for potential solutions and their impacts
- Combine and evaluate the ideas
- Create a detailed action plan
- Implement the action plan
- Evaluate success
Alex Osborn, co-founder of this process, noted two distinct kinds of thinking that are essential to being creative:
- Divergent Thinking: where you generate lots of options
- Convergent Thinking: where you evaluate options and making decisions
We all use both types of thinking every day. The trick to creating new ideas is to use divergent thinking and convergent thinking separately and intentionally.
Creative Problem Solving – Techniques
There are lots of techniques that you can apply to help you work through the divergent thinking aspect of the creative problem solving process. The diversity of approaches that have been developed all validate the effectiveness of this process. Here are a few of the most used divergent strategies that set you up for convergent aspect of selecting a solution.
TRIZ methodology (Theory of Inventive Problem Solving): This problem solving methodology is based on logic, data, and research—not intuition. It involves adapting existing solutions to your particular problem.
Brainstorming: Using this technique allows you to collect several ideas that can be a potential solution to a problem and can be used in either a group or individual setting.
Mind mapping: Mind mapping helps keeps your ideas organized by representing them in a graphical manner.
Reversal of problem: Trying to solve a problem using traditional problem solving methods can sometimes end in roadblocks. This reversal technique forces you to think about a problem from a new perspective.
SCAMPER: This acronym can help you come up with new ideas. Each letter stands for a way you can manipulate an original idea to come up with something new:
- Put to other uses
“Most people spend more time and energy going around problems than in trying to solve them.” Henry Ford
Creative Problem Solving – Skill Development
Creative problem-solving involves analyzing an issue, defining an approach, and implementing a solution. Just like any other process, it requires practice to get better. Here are some things you can do to strengthen the skills you use in this process.
Use a decision framework
Use a strategic process for all the decisions you make. By turning the process of decision making into a habit, the more ready you will be to add creativity to the process. When we make decisions randomly, without a set structure, that becomes a habit – and that makes it more difficult when you have a problem that requires critical thinking. The more you practice structured decision making, the more habitual it becomes, and the more fluid you can be in applying it to situations that call for creativity.
Empathy is the ability to see the perspective of others. Using empathy means you can listen to the views of others without judgement. Being able to understand the ideas of others is a key skill for creativity.
Get a hobby
Hobbies are a fun way of working through challenges that are personally meaningful to you. Because creativity is a translatable skill, you will get the benefit of practicing creative problem solving doing something you enjoy. Exploring something new also allows you to test the boundaries of what you’re capable of. A hobby is a safe and constructive way to take creative risks.
Look for new patterns
Our brains naturally seek out patterns, this includes how we look at problems. Our brains want to find something in the new problem that it has seen in the past and apply the past solution to the new problem. Get in the habit of taking a fresh perspective. Old solutions may come up in the generation of ideas (step 3) but don’t allow them to limit your thinking. A dependency on old techniques limits creativity. Intentionally seek new patterns with each challenge you face.
Some problems take longer than others to solve. Maybe the information isn’t readily available, the technology isn’t currently advanced enough, or you haven’t identified the right connections. Having a reason why your problem needs solving is a great motivator to persevere through obstacles that arise. Practice persistence by minimizing the time between recognition of a problem and the actions you take.
Question standard practices
Question everything. Get in the habit of asking why. You must remove your assumptions that things have to be done a certain way and explore alternative methods. Challenging yourself to question things helps trigger your creativity and encourages your mind to think more broadly about the possibilities.
Consider your past experiences
Before you can think creatively, you must first be aware of what your current perspective on the issues are. Knowing what it is that frames your thinking can help open you up to seeing other perspectives. The greater number of perspectives you can see, the wider lens you will have in approaching problems and devising ways to solve them.
Engage in teamwork
Learning to collaborate effectively is a great way to open your creativity channels. Those who excel at collaboration know how to listen to new ideas, work with others to combine or adapt ideas, and discussing ideas helps challenge our brains to explore new ways of approaching things.
Become an expert in your field
Sometimes it seems like we lack creativity simply because we don’t have enough information. If you want to put a puzzle together you need all the puzzle pieces. To be creative, we must have a thorough understanding of the situation, its problems and connections, and the effects of various approaches. Challenge yourself to become not just an expert, but a thought leader in your field.
Ask for help
Everyone gets stuck now and then. Being able to admit that you are stuck and seeking out advice from a mentor or other experts is a sign of leadership. Others may have encountered similar problems and can offer guidance or ideas that you have not considered. You must be able to put the importance of finding the best solution above your personal ego.
Putting It All Together
Many of us view ourselves as either creative or not. But there are things we can do that help us practice skills used in the creative thinking process. The more we can practice building our creative thinking skills, and practice our decision making skills, the better we will be able to combine the two for creative problem solving. Creative problem solving is a set of skills we can learn and practice, and the more we practice those skills, the better we can get at implementing them.
Like most leadership skills, practicing the small stuff is what prepares us to step up and execute effectively in times of need. But great leadership doesn’t magically happen overnight. It takes dedicated effort to hone the foundational skills. Take the time, make the effort, and prepare to lead.