Creative Problem Solving for a New Millenium

Today’s fast-paced world demands new approaches to problem solving. The ancient Chinese proverb: “If you only have a hammer every problem is a nail” highlights that we all approach problem solving with a preexisting set of skills, biases, values, and past experiences that might not apply to the new challenges that we find ourselves facing or may be insufficient in seizing new opportunities. We therefore need to expand our toolbox of solutions to approach problem solving in a fresh new light.

Today’s blog is dedicated to providing sure fire ways to unleash your creative juices and add tools to your arsenal. Using the strategies below, you will be able to approach problems in a new way to conceptualize, analyze and implement new ideas.

Whether you’re searching for new products or services, conducting a job search or thinking about transitioning to a new career, these sure-fire problem-solving strategies will help you to unleash your full potential.

SKETCHING: Remember all those times you doodled in class when you were bored by your teacher/professor? Well, turns out that sketching is a powerful tool to help your mind wander aimlessly while firing up those neurons. Keep a small notepad with you. You can sketch when the mood hits you, and jot down all those ideas as they pop up. In my daughter’s school they call it “Stop and Jot.”

BRAINSTORMING: This time-tested strategy works for a reason. You get a group/team together, have a moderator outline the problems and assess a myriad of solutions in a working group format. Brainstorming however has many flaws. More vocal, aggressive, and self-confident outspoken members tend to dominate the forum even despite effective facilitation, thus the quieter, more introspective players are blocked out and their ideas go unheard. One way to counter this natural group behavior that comes out in brainstorming is to pursue brainwriting.

BRAINWRITING: Overcomes the inherent shortfalls of brainstorming. With brainwriting the moderator asks each participant to write down 3-5 ideas to solve a problem. This is all done anonymously. Then the moderator collects their answers and passes them out so others can add ideas, thoughts, or question the initial respondent’s list. You do this a few times and then get together as an entire group to go through each thread of ideas.

ASKING WHY: Ask anyone who has little children or has been around them, and they will tell you the most annoying question you can be asked over and over is…”WHY?” However, when you question accepted processes, systems, approaches, or ways of doing things you can force yourself and those around you to consider new perspectives. Along those lines, you can and MUST demand that it is no longer to answer any WHY with…”that’s how we’ve always done things.” That is an unacceptable answer in light of the unique challenges we face.

STARBURSTING: In a team, you start by writing down an idea, problem or challenge in the middle of a six-point star. Then you collectively answer each of the 5 W’s and H (who, what, where, when, why and how.) Come up with as many potential solutions as possible without editing yourself. Then choose amongst the ideas that can be implemented.

PROVOCATION: Make a statement that is provocative and seemingly flawed on its face value, with the intent of sparking debate. For example, if you are leading an architect’s team building a new commercial building, you might consider starting a meeting by saying: “the building we design doesn’t need a roof.”

The goal of provocation is to spark “What if” scenarios to support that (seemingly false) claim. Example, the building we design shouldn’t have a traditional roof, but rather a roof with solar panels or green/eco-friendly feature to capture and re-use the energy from the heat of the sun.

METAPHORICAL THINKING: This creative problem solving exercise features combining two seemingly unrelated ideas, concepts, features, products in order to come up with new solutions. For example, if you were trying to determine the best way to apply the collective time your Team spends working on a task, you would blend the two seemingly unrelated ideas of TIME and MONEY.

REFRAMING MATRIX: The approach with re-framing is to force your team’s participants to consider challenges using a different perspective than they typically use. This FOUR PERSPECTIVE approach forces them to consider the following:

The PRODUCT/SERVICE Perspective: Is something wrong with the product/service we offer?
The PLANNING Perspective: Is our business/sales/marketing plan(s) faulty?
The POTENTIAL Perspective: If we increase our workload, project focus, offerings, how will we achieve this?
The PEOPLE Perspective: Do we have the RIGHT people and are they working at the RIGHT tasks/in the RIGHT roles.

ATTRIBUTE LISTING: This exercise is ideal to help you identify new product and service offerings.

Start out by listing all the functional groups of offerings your company, department, team offers. For example, a Student Affairs Department in a college delivers services to students around student development, counseling, career services, housing, health & wellness, etc.

Your team will then list all of the different services/products offered in each category/group. For example, career services offered by Student Affairs includes job fairs, resume writing, cover letters, interviewing skills, etc. The goal is to mix & match different services in different categories to formulate new offerings.

The DO IT Approach:

D” Define the problem
O” Open your mind and apply creative solutions
I” Identify the solution(s)
T” Transform…implement the solution(s) using an action plan

WALT DISNEY CREATIVE STRATEGY: Walt Disney was one of the most creative and prolific business people and a true visionary in America’s history. Not only was he a great visionary and creative genius, but he was also exceptional at using a formal process (neurolinguistic language programming) in order to get the most out of the people he worked for. Here’s how he did it:

Have your team meet in a conference room or space. Have 3 separate areas. Start out in the DREAMER area. Every one must visualize a time in their life when they were a dreamer and came up with a tremendously creative idea. What did they feel like? What were they thinking? When everyone is done, move to the REALIST area. Everyone must think about a time in their career when they effectively planned, solved or executed a problem. What were they thinking? How did they feel? When time is up, have everyone move to the CRITIC area. Ask all the participants to think back to a time in their work life when they had to critically assess/determine if an idea or proposed solution would actually work.

Make the team go through this exercise 2 or 3 times, until they are confident that their approaches can stand up to the collective scrutiny of the team when they meet to discuss their findings.

Dare to be GREAT: Just being good enough can no longer be our goal to strive for, when so many of our business/industry, academic, and political systems are failing us. We need entirely NEW approaches. We need to demand greatness. Jim Collins in his book ‘Good to Great’ wrote that “Good is the enemy of great.”

Steve Jobs who ex
perienced the highest of highs and low of lows being fired from his job as CEO and founder of Apple wrote: “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work.”

So, why not try to implement some of these approaches to problem solving. You’ll be amazed how many actionable new ideas and solutions you can come up with.