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What Is Creative Problem-Solving & Why Is It Important?
- 01 Feb 2022
One of the biggest hindrances to innovation is complacency—it can be more comfortable to do what you know than venture into the unknown. Business leaders can overcome this barrier by mobilizing creative team members and providing space to innovate.
There are several tools you can use to encourage creativity in the workplace. Creative problem-solving is one of them, which facilitates the development of innovative solutions to difficult problems.
Here’s an overview of creative problem-solving and why it’s important in business.
What Is Creative Problem-Solving?
Research is necessary when solving a problem. But there are situations where a problem’s specific cause is difficult to pinpoint. This can occur when there’s not enough time to narrow down the problem’s source or there are differing opinions about its root cause.
In such cases, you can use creative problem-solving , which allows you to explore potential solutions regardless of whether a problem has been defined.
Creative problem-solving is less structured than other innovation processes and encourages exploring open-ended solutions. It also focuses on developing new perspectives and fostering creativity in the workplace . Its benefits include:
- Finding creative solutions to complex problems : User research can insufficiently illustrate a situation’s complexity. While other innovation processes rely on this information, creative problem-solving can yield solutions without it.
- Adapting to change : Business is constantly changing, and business leaders need to adapt. Creative problem-solving helps overcome unforeseen challenges and find solutions to unconventional problems.
- Fueling innovation and growth : In addition to solutions, creative problem-solving can spark innovative ideas that drive company growth. These ideas can lead to new product lines, services, or a modified operations structure that improves efficiency.
Creative problem-solving is traditionally based on the following key principles :
1. Balance Divergent and Convergent Thinking
Creative problem-solving uses two primary tools to find solutions: divergence and convergence. Divergence generates ideas in response to a problem, while convergence narrows them down to a shortlist. It balances these two practices and turns ideas into concrete solutions.
2. Reframe Problems as Questions
By framing problems as questions, you shift from focusing on obstacles to solutions. This provides the freedom to brainstorm potential ideas.
3. Defer Judgment of Ideas
When brainstorming, it can be natural to reject or accept ideas right away. Yet, immediate judgments interfere with the idea generation process. Even ideas that seem implausible can turn into outstanding innovations upon further exploration and development.
4. Focus on "Yes, And" Instead of "No, But"
Using negative words like "no" discourages creative thinking. Instead, use positive language to build and maintain an environment that fosters the development of creative and innovative ideas.
Creative Problem-Solving and Design Thinking
Whereas creative problem-solving facilitates developing innovative ideas through a less structured workflow, design thinking takes a far more organized approach.
Design thinking is a human-centered, solutions-based process that fosters the ideation and development of solutions. In the online course Design Thinking and Innovation , Harvard Business School Dean Srikant Datar leverages a four-phase framework to explain design thinking.
The four stages are:
- Clarify: The clarification stage allows you to empathize with the user and identify problems. Observations and insights are informed by thorough research. Findings are then reframed as problem statements or questions.
- Ideate: Ideation is the process of coming up with innovative ideas. The divergence of ideas involved with creative problem-solving is a major focus.
- Develop: In the development stage, ideas evolve into experiments and tests. Ideas converge and are explored through prototyping and open critique.
- Implement: Implementation involves continuing to test and experiment to refine the solution and encourage its adoption.
Creative problem-solving primarily operates in the ideate phase of design thinking but can be applied to others. This is because design thinking is an iterative process that moves between the stages as ideas are generated and pursued. This is normal and encouraged, as innovation requires exploring multiple ideas.
Creative Problem-Solving Tools
While there are many useful tools in the creative problem-solving process, here are three you should know:
Creating a Problem Story
One way to innovate is by creating a story about a problem to understand how it affects users and what solutions best fit their needs. Here are the steps you need to take to use this tool properly.
1. Identify a UDP
Create a problem story to identify the undesired phenomena (UDP). For example, consider a company that produces printers that overheat. In this case, the UDP is "our printers overheat."
2. Move Forward in Time
To move forward in time, ask: “Why is this a problem?” For example, minor damage could be one result of the machines overheating. In more extreme cases, printers may catch fire. Don't be afraid to create multiple problem stories if you think of more than one UDP.
3. Move Backward in Time
To move backward in time, ask: “What caused this UDP?” If you can't identify the root problem, think about what typically causes the UDP to occur. For the overheating printers, overuse could be a cause.
Following the three-step framework above helps illustrate a clear problem story:
- The printer is overused.
- The printer overheats.
- The printer breaks down.
You can extend the problem story in either direction if you think of additional cause-and-effect relationships.
4. Break the Chains
By this point, you’ll have multiple UDP storylines. Take two that are similar and focus on breaking the chains connecting them. This can be accomplished through inversion or neutralization.
- Inversion: Inversion changes the relationship between two UDPs so the cause is the same but the effect is the opposite. For example, if the UDP is "the more X happens, the more likely Y is to happen," inversion changes the equation to "the more X happens, the less likely Y is to happen." Using the printer example, inversion would consider: "What if the more a printer is used, the less likely it’s going to overheat?" Innovation requires an open mind. Just because a solution initially seems unlikely doesn't mean it can't be pursued further or spark additional ideas.
- Neutralization: Neutralization completely eliminates the cause-and-effect relationship between X and Y. This changes the above equation to "the more or less X happens has no effect on Y." In the case of the printers, neutralization would rephrase the relationship to "the more or less a printer is used has no effect on whether it overheats."
Even if creating a problem story doesn't provide a solution, it can offer useful context to users’ problems and additional ideas to be explored. Given that divergence is one of the fundamental practices of creative problem-solving, it’s a good idea to incorporate it into each tool you use.
Brainstorming is a tool that can be highly effective when guided by the iterative qualities of the design thinking process. It involves openly discussing and debating ideas and topics in a group setting. This facilitates idea generation and exploration as different team members consider the same concept from multiple perspectives.
Hosting brainstorming sessions can result in problems, such as groupthink or social loafing. To combat this, leverage a three-step brainstorming method involving divergence and convergence :
- Have each group member come up with as many ideas as possible and write them down to ensure the brainstorming session is productive.
- Continue the divergence of ideas by collectively sharing and exploring each idea as a group. The goal is to create a setting where new ideas are inspired by open discussion.
- Begin the convergence of ideas by narrowing them down to a few explorable options. There’s no "right number of ideas." Don't be afraid to consider exploring all of them, as long as you have the resources to do so.
The alternate worlds tool is an empathetic approach to creative problem-solving. It encourages you to consider how someone in another world would approach your situation.
For example, if you’re concerned that the printers you produce overheat and catch fire, consider how a different industry would approach the problem. How would an automotive expert solve it? How would a firefighter?
Be creative as you consider and research alternate worlds. The purpose is not to nail down a solution right away but to continue the ideation process through diverging and exploring ideas.
Continue Developing Your Skills
Whether you’re an entrepreneur, marketer, or business leader, learning the ropes of design thinking can be an effective way to build your skills and foster creativity and innovation in any setting.
If you're ready to develop your design thinking and creative problem-solving skills, explore Design Thinking and Innovation , one of our online entrepreneurship and innovation courses. If you aren't sure which course is the right fit, download our free course flowchart to determine which best aligns with your goals.
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Creative Problem Solving
Finding innovative solutions to challenges.
By the Mind Tools Content Team
Imagine that you're vacuuming your house in a hurry because you've got friends coming over. Frustratingly, you're working hard but you're not getting very far. You kneel down, open up the vacuum cleaner, and pull out the bag. In a cloud of dust, you realize that it's full... again. Coughing, you empty it and wonder why vacuum cleaners with bags still exist!
James Dyson, inventor and founder of Dyson® vacuum cleaners, had exactly the same problem, and he used creative problem solving to find the answer. While many companies focused on developing a better vacuum cleaner filter, he realized that he had to think differently and find a more creative solution. So, he devised a revolutionary way to separate the dirt from the air, and invented the world's first bagless vacuum cleaner. 
Creative problem solving (CPS) is a way of solving problems or identifying opportunities when conventional thinking has failed. It encourages you to find fresh perspectives and come up with innovative solutions, so that you can formulate a plan to overcome obstacles and reach your goals.
In this article, we'll explore what CPS is, and we'll look at its key principles. We'll also provide a model that you can use to generate creative solutions.
About Creative Problem Solving
Alex Osborn, founder of the Creative Education Foundation, first developed creative problem solving in the 1940s, along with the term "brainstorming." And, together with Sid Parnes, he developed the Osborn-Parnes Creative Problem Solving Process. Despite its age, this model remains a valuable approach to problem solving. 
The early Osborn-Parnes model inspired a number of other tools. One of these is the 2011 CPS Learner's Model, also from the Creative Education Foundation, developed by Dr Gerard J. Puccio, Marie Mance, and co-workers. In this article, we'll use this modern four-step model to explore how you can use CPS to generate innovative, effective solutions.
Why Use Creative Problem Solving?
Dealing with obstacles and challenges is a regular part of working life, and overcoming them isn't always easy. To improve your products, services, communications, and interpersonal skills, and for you and your organization to excel, you need to encourage creative thinking and find innovative solutions that work.
CPS asks you to separate your "divergent" and "convergent" thinking as a way to do this. Divergent thinking is the process of generating lots of potential solutions and possibilities, otherwise known as brainstorming. And convergent thinking involves evaluating those options and choosing the most promising one. Often, we use a combination of the two to develop new ideas or solutions. However, using them simultaneously can result in unbalanced or biased decisions, and can stifle idea generation.
For more on divergent and convergent thinking, and for a useful diagram, see the book "Facilitator's Guide to Participatory Decision-Making." 
Core Principles of Creative Problem Solving
CPS has four core principles. Let's explore each one in more detail:
- Divergent and convergent thinking must be balanced. The key to creativity is learning how to identify and balance divergent and convergent thinking (done separately), and knowing when to practice each one.
- Ask problems as questions. When you rephrase problems and challenges as open-ended questions with multiple possibilities, it's easier to come up with solutions. Asking these types of questions generates lots of rich information, while asking closed questions tends to elicit short answers, such as confirmations or disagreements. Problem statements tend to generate limited responses, or none at all.
- Defer or suspend judgment. As Alex Osborn learned from his work on brainstorming, judging solutions early on tends to shut down idea generation. Instead, there's an appropriate and necessary time to judge ideas during the convergence stage.
- Focus on "Yes, and," rather than "No, but." Language matters when you're generating information and ideas. "Yes, and" encourages people to expand their thoughts, which is necessary during certain stages of CPS. Using the word "but" – preceded by "yes" or "no" – ends conversation, and often negates what's come before it.
How to Use the Tool
Let's explore how you can use each of the four steps of the CPS Learner's Model (shown in figure 1, below) to generate innovative ideas and solutions.
Figure 1 – CPS Learner's Model
Explore the Vision
Identify your goal, desire or challenge. This is a crucial first step because it's easy to assume, incorrectly, that you know what the problem is. However, you may have missed something or have failed to understand the issue fully, and defining your objective can provide clarity. Read our article, 5 Whys , for more on getting to the root of a problem quickly.
Once you've identified and understood the problem, you can collect information about it and develop a clear understanding of it. Make a note of details such as who and what is involved, all the relevant facts, and everyone's feelings and opinions.
When you've increased your awareness of the challenge or problem you've identified, ask questions that will generate solutions. Think about the obstacles you might face and the opportunities they could present.
Generate ideas that answer the challenge questions you identified in step 1. It can be tempting to consider solutions that you've tried before, as our minds tend to return to habitual thinking patterns that stop us from producing new ideas. However, this is a chance to use your creativity .
Brainstorming and Mind Maps are great ways to explore ideas during this divergent stage of CPS. And our articles, Encouraging Team Creativity , Problem Solving , Rolestorming , Hurson's Productive Thinking Model , and The Four-Step Innovation Process , can also help boost your creativity.
See our Brainstorming resources within our Creativity section for more on this.
This is the convergent stage of CPS, where you begin to focus on evaluating all of your possible options and come up with solutions. Analyze whether potential solutions meet your needs and criteria, and decide whether you can implement them successfully. Next, consider how you can strengthen them and determine which ones are the best "fit." Our articles, Critical Thinking and ORAPAPA , are useful here.
Formulate a plan.
Once you've chosen the best solution, it's time to develop a plan of action. Start by identifying resources and actions that will allow you to implement your chosen solution. Next, communicate your plan and make sure that everyone involved understands and accepts it.
There have been many adaptations of CPS since its inception, because nobody owns the idea.
For example, Scott Isaksen and Donald Treffinger formed The Creative Problem Solving Group Inc . and the Center for Creative Learning , and their model has evolved over many versions. Blair Miller, Jonathan Vehar and Roger L. Firestien also created their own version, and Dr Gerard J. Puccio, Mary C. Murdock, and Marie Mance developed CPS: The Thinking Skills Model.  Tim Hurson created The Productive Thinking Model , and Paul Reali developed CPS: Competencies Model. 
Sid Parnes continued to adapt the CPS model by adding concepts such as imagery and visualization , and he founded the Creative Studies Project to teach CPS. For more information on the evolution and development of the CPS process, see Creative Problem Solving Version 6.1 by Donald J. Treffinger, Scott G. Isaksen, and K. Brian Dorval. 
Creative Problem Solving (CPS) Infographic
See our infographic on Creative Problem Solving .
Creative problem solving (CPS) is a way of using your creativity to develop new ideas and solutions to problems. The process is based on separating divergent and convergent thinking styles, so that you can focus your mind on creating at the first stage, and then evaluating at the second stage.
There have been many adaptations of the original Osborn-Parnes model, but they all involve a clear structure of identifying the problem, generating new ideas, evaluating the options, and then formulating a plan for successful implementation.
 Entrepreneur (2012). James Dyson on Using Failure to Drive Success [online]. Available here . [Accessed May 27, 2022.]
 Creative Education Foundation (2015). The CPS Process [online]. Available here . [Accessed May 26, 2022.]
 Kaner, S. et al. (2014). 'Facilitator′s Guide to Participatory Decision–Making,' San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
 Puccio, G., Mance, M., and Murdock, M. (2011). 'Creative Leadership: Skils That Drive Change' (2nd Ed.), Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
 OmniSkills (2013). Creative Problem Solving [online]. Available here . [Accessed May 26, 2022].
 Treffinger, G., Isaksen, S., and Dorval, B. (2010). Creative Problem Solving (CPS Version 6.1). Center for Creative Learning, Inc. & Creative Problem Solving Group, Inc. Available here .
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Creative problem solving: basics, techniques, activities
Why is creative problem solving so important.
Problem-solving is a part of almost every person's daily life at home and in the workplace. Creative problem solving helps us understand our environment, identify the things we want or need to change, and find a solution to improve the environment's performance.
Creative problem solving is essential for individuals and organizations because it helps us control what's happening in our environment.
Humans have learned to observe the environment and identify risks that may lead to specific outcomes in the future. Anticipating is helpful not only for fixing broken things but also for influencing the performance of items.
Creative problem solving is not just about fixing broken things; it's about innovating and creating something new. Observing and analyzing the environment, we identify opportunities for new ideas that will improve our environment in the future.
The 7-step creative problem-solving process
The creative problem-solving process usually consists of seven steps.
1. Define the problem.
The very first step in the CPS process is understanding the problem itself. You may think that it's the most natural step, but sometimes what we consider a problem is not a problem. We are very often mistaken about the real issue and misunderstood them. You need to analyze the situation. Otherwise, the wrong question will bring your CPS process in the wrong direction. Take the time to understand the problem and clear up any doubts or confusion.
2. Research the problem.
Once you identify the problem, you need to gather all possible data to find the best workable solution. Use various data sources for research. Start with collecting data from search engines, but don't forget about traditional sources like libraries. You can also ask your friends or colleagues who can share additional thoughts on your issue. Asking questions on forums is a good option, too.
3. Make challenge questions.
After you've researched the problem and collected all the necessary details about it, formulate challenge questions. They should encourage you to generate ideas and be short and focused only on one issue. You may start your challenge questions with "How might I…?" or "In what way could I…?" Then try to answer them.
4. Generate ideas.
Now you are ready to brainstorm ideas. Here it is the stage where the creativity starts. You must note each idea you brainstorm, even if it seems crazy, not inefficient from your first point of view. You can fix your thoughts on a sheet of paper or use any up-to-date tools developed for these needs.
5. Test and review the ideas.
Then you need to evaluate your ideas and choose the one you believe is the perfect solution. Think whether the possible solutions are workable and implementing them will solve the problem. If the result doesn't fix the issue, test the next idea. Repeat your tests until the best solution is found.
6. Create an action plan.
Once you've found the perfect solution, you need to work out the implementation steps. Think about what you need to implement the solution and how it will take.
7. Implement the plan.
Now it's time to implement your solution and resolve the issue.
Top 5 Easy creative thinking techniques to use at work
Brainstorming is one of the most glaring CPS techniques, and it's beneficial. You can practice it in a group or individually.
Define the problem you need to resolve and take notes of every idea you generate. Don't judge your thoughts, even if you think they are strange. After you create a list of ideas, let your colleagues vote for the best idea.
2. Drawing techniques
It's very convenient to visualize concepts and ideas by drawing techniques such as mind mapping or creating concept maps. They are used for organizing thoughts and building connections between ideas. These techniques have a lot in common, but still, they have some differences.
When starting a mind map, you need to put the key concept in the center and add new connections. You can discover as many joints as you can.
Concept maps represent the structure of knowledge stored in our minds about a particular topic. One of the key characteristics of a concept map is its hierarchical structure, which means placing specific concepts under more general ones.
3. SWOT Analysis
The SWOT technique is used during the strategic planning stage before the actual brainstorming of ideas. It helps you identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of your project, idea, or business. Once you analyze these characteristics, you are ready to generate possible solutions to your problem.
4. Random words
This technique is one of the simplest to use for generating ideas. It's often applied by people who need to create a new product, for example. You need to prepare a list of random words, expressions, or stories and put them on the desk or board or write them down on a large sheet of paper.
Once you have a list of random words, you should think of associations with them and analyze how they work with the problem. Since our brain is good at making connections, the associations will stimulate brainstorming of new ideas.
This CPS method is popular because it tells a story visually. This technique is based on a step-creation process. Follow this instruction to see the storyboarding process in progress:
- Set a problem and write down the steps you need to reach your goal.
- Put the actions in the right order.
- Make sub-steps for some steps if necessary. This will help you see the process in detail.
- Evaluate your moves and try to identify problems in it. It's necessary for predicting possible negative scenarios.
7 Ways to improve your creative problem-solving skills
1. play brain games.
It's considered that brain games are an excellent way to stimulate human brain function. They develop a lot of thinking skills that are crucial for creative problem-solving.
You can solve puzzles or play math games, for example. These activities will bring you many benefits, including strong logical, critical, and analytical thinking skills.
If you are keen on playing fun math games and solving complicated logic tasks, try LogicLike online.
We created 3500+ puzzles, mathematical games, and brain exercises. Our website and mobile app, developed for adults and kids, help to make pastime more productive just in one place.
2. Practice asking questions
Reasoning stimulates you to generate new ideas and solutions. To make the CPS process more accessible, ask questions about different things. By developing curiosity, you get more information that broadens your background. The more you know about a specific topic, the more solutions you will be able to generate. Make it your useful habit to ask questions. You can research on your own. Alternatively, you can ask someone who is an expert in the field. Anyway, this will help you improve your CPS skills.
3. Challenge yourself with new opportunities
After you've gained a certain level of creativity, you shouldn't stop developing your skills. Try something new, and don't be afraid of challenging yourself with more complicated methods and techniques. Don't use the same tools and solutions for similar problems. Learn from your experience and make another step to move to the next level.
4. Master your expertise
If you want to keep on generating creative ideas, you need to master your skills in the industry you are working in. The better you understand your industry vertical, the more comfortable you identify problems, find connections between them, and create actionable solutions.
Once you are satisfied with your professional life, you shouldn't stop learning new things and get additional knowledge in your field. It's vital if you want to be creative both in professional and daily life. Broaden your background to brainstorm more innovative solutions.
5. Develop persistence
If you understand why you go through this CPS challenge and why you need to come up with a resolution to your problem, you are more motivated to go through the obstacles you face. By doing this, you develop persistence that enables you to move forward toward a goal.
Practice persistence in daily routine or at work. For example, you can minimize the time you need to implement your action plan. Alternatively, some problems require a long-term period to accomplish a goal. That's why you need to follow the steps or try different solutions until you find what works for solving your problem. Don't forget about the reason why you need to find a solution to motivate yourself to be persistent.
6. Improve emotional intelligence
Empathy is a critical element of emotional intelligence. It means that you can view the issues from the perspective of other people. By practicing compassion, you can understand your colleagues that work on the project together with you. Understanding will help you implement the solutions that are beneficial for you and others.
7. Use a thinking strategy
You are mistaken if you think that creative thinking is an unstructured process. Any thinking process is a multi-step procedure, and creative thinking isn't an exclusion. Always follow a particular strategy framework while finding a solution. It will make your thinking activity more efficient and result-oriented.
Develop your logic and mathematical skills. 3500+ fun math problems and brain games with answers and explanations.
How You Can Use Creative Problem Solving at Work
Lucid Content Team
Reading time: about 4 min
How many times have you tried to solve a problem only to get stuck in the process? In a business setting, this is a common occurrence. You’re faced with issues that traditional problem solving methods can’t solve. But you still need to find a way to fix the issue to move a project forward or resolve a conflict. This is when you may need to get creative to solve the problem at hand.
What is creative problem solving?
The definition of creative problem solving (CPS) will vary between organizations. At its core, CPS involves approaching a problem in an imaginative, innovative, and unconventional way. The process encourages you to find new, creative ways of thinking that can help you overcome the issue at hand more quickly.
7 steps of the creative problem solving process
The CPS process can be broken down into seven steps.
1. Identify the goal
Before solving the problem, you need to fully understand the problem you’re trying to solve. You may have overlooked or misunderstood some details. Take some time to analyze the conflict and clear up any confusion.
2. Gather data
Once you know what the problem is, you need to learn all you can about it. Who does the problem affect? Who is involved in solving the issue? Gather all the knowledge you can to gain a better understanding of the issue and to solve it.
3. Formulate challenge questions
After you’ve gathered the details, turn the problem into a question. Word the question in a way that encourages suggestions or ideas. It should be short, concise, and only focus on a single issue. Once you’ve created one or two questions, start trying to answer them.
4. Explore ideas
This step is where the brainstorming begins. You’ll be creating possible ideas or solutions to the problem you’re facing. This is usually when the creativity really starts to flow. With so many ideas flowing, it’s crucial that you write each of them down—even the stupid ones. Even if the idea you come up with has little to no chance of working, write it down. Trying to sort out bad ideas from the good ones during this step can squash creativity.
5. Come up with solutions.
Weed out the average ideas from the winners by testing each one. See if the possible solution actually solves the problem and if you can implement it successfully. If the potential solution doesn’t resolve the issue, move on to the next idea. Evaluating each idea will help you zero in on the perfect solution.
6. Create an action plan
Now that you have the perfect solution, you’ll need to create an action plan outlining implementation steps. Consider what resources you’ll need and how long it will take. Then write it all down. Once you create the plan, communicate the approach to the rest of the team so they’re aware of what’s happening.
To help you create an organized and detailed plan, you can use swimlanes in Lucidchart.
7. Take action
With your plan created and your team on board, it’s time to implement your solution and resolve the problem.
Just knowing the process behind CPS isn’t enough. You’ll want to know about the common creative problem solving ideas or techniques that you can use to be more successful during each phase. Below are a few of the techniques you can use to help you through the CPS process:
Synectics: This technique helps to inspire thoughts that you might not be aware of. It is a way to approach creativity in a logical, rational manner.
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 a number of 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 technique forces you to think about a problem from a new perspective.
Looking beyond something’s function: Thinking about how you can use something beyond its typical function is a common CPS technique.
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:
- S ubstitute
- P ut to other uses
Why use CPS
No matter what profession you’re in, you will face challenges. There will be times when traditional problem solving techniques just don’t do the trick. That’s when you can take advantage of CPS to help uncover the best solution to your problem.
Affinity Diagrams: Your Key to More Creative Problem Solving
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Eight Easy Creative Problem-Solving Techniques That Really Work
No one likes the feeling of being stuck.
It creates tension. And that tension seeks resolution.
Thankfully, there are many creative problem-solving techniques for resolving this tension and revealing new solutions.
8 Creative Problem-Solving Techniques That Get Results
All of the following creative problem-solving techniques work some of the time . The key to is mix and match them until you get a workable solution.
When faced with a difficult challenge, try a combination of the following problem-solving techniques:
1) Ask Compelling Questions
Use “what if?” questions to project different scenarios into the future.
In A Whack on the Side of the Head , Roger Von Oech, says,
“In the imaginative phase, you ask questions such as: What if? Why not? What rules can we break? What assumptions can we drop? How about if we looked at this backwards? Can we borrow a metaphor from another discipline? The motto of the imaginative phase is: Thinking something different.”
Using this creative problem-solving technique challenges you to allow your mind to play out different scenarios without judgment or criticism . Judgment always comes after the creative problem-solving process—not before.
2) Find Your Center
Most problems arise because of inner confusion. Different parts of us hijack our minds and give us conflicting wants, beliefs, and perspectives. These parts keep us from thinking clearly to a workable solution.
When you’re stuck, it helps to find your center first. These guides offer effective methods for centering yourself:
- 15 Ways to Find Your Center
- How to Ground Yourself to Your Body and the Earth
- How to Breathe Like a Jedi
Getting in the habit of centering yourself before approaching a problem is perhaps the most powerful creative problem-solving technique.
3) Explore Context
Many problems arise because we neglect to zoom out from the content of the problem and examine the overall context of the situation.
If sales are down, for example, instead of revisiting your sales strategy examine the context of your overall industry:
- Has your industry changed?
- Are you disconnected from your customer’s needs?
- Is your product becoming obsolete?
Take an expansive viewpoint before narrowing in on the specific problem.
4) Seek Wisdom
In The Seven Decisions: Understanding the Keys to Personal Success , author Andy Andrews recommends putting together a personal Board of Directors—“advisors” for various areas of your life.
Asking an experienced advisor from outside your industry for their thoughts on your problem can yield insightful perspectives.
Even better: Instead of asking them what they would do in your situation, ask them what questions they would ask .
5) Walk Away
Sometimes the best way to solve a problem is to stop trying to solve it. Sleep on it.
Walking away from the problem brings forth the Wanderer archetype. The Wanderer is essential to the creative process because it allows you to hear your Muse.
The key is knowing when to let go of trying to solve the problem. Creativity problem-solving is actually an effortless process; the key is learning how to get out of your own way.
6) Switch Roles
Our minds tend to get locked into old patterns, leading to what’s called “paradigm blindness.”
If you have a marketing-related problem, for example, try putting on an engineer’s hat—or even a gardener’s hat. The idea is to shift your perspective so you can approach the problem from a new angle.
The idea is to shift your perspective so you can approach the problem from a new angle.
7) Use the Six Thinking Hats
Speaking of hats, de Bono’s Six Hats method provides you and your team with six different perspectives to utilize when tackling a problem.
It’s an ideal tool for group brainstorming and creative problem-solving. Your ability to shift perspectives quickly—without privileging any one perspective—doesn’t only help you solve problems. It also helps you become a better leader.
8 ) Generate a Plethora of Ideas
Research suggests that the most effective way to uncover the best solution is to brainstorm as many ideas as you can in a nonjudgmental environment before evaluating them.
There are numerous pathways to get the answer you seek.
Some pathways, however, are more effective than others. The key is to experiment with various methods to uncover which ones work best for you.
Different methods will be more effective in different contexts.
Here, wisdom and intuition come into play. Over time, your connection with your inner guide improves and creative problem-solving can become a more spontaneous process.
How to Use these Creative Problem-Solving Techniques
Creative problem-solving is a skill. And like all skills, it can be learned and developed. The more you use these problem-solving techniques, the more they become second nature.
Each technique begins to play off the other. And then the art and subtleties of the discovery process begin to emerge.
One thing I’ll point out from my study of creative geniuses : they rarely take credit for their discoveries .
How to Adopt a Beginner’s Mind for Increased Creativity The Best Nootropic Supplements How to Restore Your Circadian Rhythm How to Design a Creative Morning Routine
Some great ideas here. I am particularly intrigued by the "walk away" idea fulfilling the wanderer archetype. While counter intuitive, in my experience, walking away lets my mind develop subconcious connections that are sometimes the best. Sort of like letting my brain do the work instead of me! Bravo!
Thanks for your comments, Todd. It seems as though he need to train and remind ourselves to "walk away" because the mind thinks it can push its way through the problem.
How many times does it take for us to "absolutely know" that answers answer themselves when we take a break from forceful problem-solving and walk into the creative nature zone?! ;) The solution presents itself when we let go.
Great Post, Scott!
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Module 5: Thinking and Analysis
Solving problems creatively, learning outcomes.
- Describe the role of creative thinking skills in problem-solving
Problem-Solving with Creative Thinking
Creative problem-solving is a type of problem-solving. It involves searching for new and novel solutions to problems. Unlike critical thinking, which scrutinizes assumptions and uses reasoning, creative thinking is about generating alternative ideas—practices and solutions that are unique and effective. It’s about facing sometimes muddy and unclear problems and seeing how things can be done differently—how new solutions can be imagined. 
You have to remain open-minded, focus on your organizational skills, and learn to communicate your ideas well when you are using creative thinking to solve problems. If an employee at a café you own suggests serving breakfast in addition to the already-served lunch and dinner, keeping an open mind means thinking through the benefits of this new plan (e.g., potential new customers and increased profits) instead of merely focusing on the possible drawbacks (e.g., possible scheduling problems, added start-up costs, loss of lunch business). Implementing this plan would mean a new structure for buying, workers’ schedules and pay, and advertising, so you would have to organize all these component areas. And finally, you would need to communicate your ideas on how to make this new plan work not only to the staff who will work the new shift, but also to the public who frequent your café and the others you want to encourage to try your new hours.
We need creative solutions throughout the workplace—whether board room, emergency room, or classroom. It was no fluke that the 2001 revised Bloom’s cognitive taxonomy, originally developed in 1948, placed a new word at the apex— creating . That creating is the highest level of thinking skills.
Bloom’s Taxonomy is an important learning theory used by psychologists, cognitive scientists, and educators to demonstrate levels of thinking. Many assessments and lessons you’ve seen during your schooling have likely been arranged with Bloom’s in mind. Researchers recently revised it to place creativity—invention—as the highest level
“Because we’ve always done it that way” is not a valid reason to not try a new approach. It may very well be that the old process is a very good way to do things, but it also may just be that the old, comfortable routine is not as effective and efficient as a new process could be.
The good news is that we can always improve upon our problem-solving and creative-thinking skills—even if we don’t consider ourselves to be artists or creative. The following information may surprise and encourage you!
- Creative thinking (a companion to critical thinking) is an invaluable skill for college students. It’s important because it helps you look at problems and situations from a fresh perspective. Creative thinking is a way to develop novel or unorthodox solutions that do not depend wholly on past or current solutions. It’s a way of employing strategies to clear your mind so that your thoughts and ideas can transcend what appear to be the limitations of a problem. Creative thinking is a way of moving beyond barriers. 
- As a creative thinker, you are curious, optimistic, and imaginative. You see problems as interesting opportunities, and you challenge assumptions and suspend judgment. You don’t give up easily. You work hard. 
Is this you? Even if you don’t yet see yourself as a competent creative thinker or problem-solver, you can learn solid skills and techniques to help you become one.
Creative Problem-Solving: Fiction and Facts
As you continue to develop your creative thinking skills, be alert to perceptions about creative thinking that could slow down progress. Remember that creative thinking and problem-solving are ways to transcend the limitations of a problem and see past barriers. It’s a way to think outside the box.
creative problem-solving: a practice that seeks new and novel solutions to problems, often by using imagination rather than linear reason
Improve this page Learn More
- "Critical and Creative Thinking, MA." University of Massachusetts Boston . 2016. Web. 16 Feb 2016. ↵
- Mumaw, Stefan. "Born This Way: Is Creativity Innate or Learned?" Peachpit. Pearson, 27 Dec 2012. Web. 16 Feb 2016. ↵
- Harris, Robert. "Introduction to Creative Thinking." Virtual Salt. 2 Apr 2012. Web. 16 Feb 2016. ↵
- Ibid. ↵
- College Success. Authored by : Linda Bruce. Provided by : Lumen Learning. License : CC BY: Attribution
- College Success. Authored by : Amy Baldwin. Provided by : OpenStax. Located at : https://openstax.org/books/college-success/pages/7-2-creative-thinking . License : CC BY: Attribution
- Text adaptation. Authored by : Claire. Provided by : Ivy Tech. Located at : http://ivytech.edu/ . License : CC BY: Attribution
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What is problem-solving?
An 8 step approach to inside-out problem solving, other problem-solving tips, it’s time to tackle your problems.
I work with some of the most talented rising leaders in Silicon Valley. Like all of us, they face problems. Sometimes, they face them as leaders within their organizations, and sometimes they encounter them on a personal level.
The last decade has introduced many helpful frameworks for solving complex organizational challenges. But creatively, my coachees really want and need the skills to help them address challenges holistically, at work, and in life.
Fortunately, problem-solving is a skill people can develop over time.
In this article, we’ll explore the art and science of problem-solving, skills a good problem-solver should have, and eight steps to solve problems better.
Problem-solving involves defining some issue you need to address. From there, you find out what caused it and why. Then, you can generate a solution.
Being a strong problem-solver helps you identify the root cause of issues so you can fix them instead of applying band-aid solutions.
Good problem-solving also helps strengthen business and personal relationships . You’re able to come up with solutions that address the problem while benefiting everyone.
Also, the problem-solving process increases a solution's chances of working by reducing unknowns.
According to author and authority on visual thinking, Tom Wujec, “We intuitively know how to break down complex things into simple things and then bring them back together again.” By doing so, you can reduce the unknowns associated with a problem’s complexity.
Tom outlines an eight-step approach in his popular TED talk that makes solving problems as straightforward as making toast (almost). All you need are drawing materials, collaborative colleagues, and a willingness to get granular.
The way Tom employs design thinking for solving complex business challenges is brilliant.
Yet, one ingredient that’s missing from his approach is inner work .
When you engage in the kind of internal work that ignites clarity, creativity, and resilience , you’re bound to elevate your solution’s quality. That’s one reason I (and BetterUp) passionately endorse doing inner work, even at work. What we need are frameworks that apply to both business problems and personal challenges.
To bridge the gap between existing models and a new approach that focuses on priming the problem solver’s mindset before getting to the solutions, I sat down with our senior designer and product manager, Amy Aaron. Our goal was to develop a simple problem-solving framework that synthesizes the best of applied design thinking with evidence-based coaching.
We discovered early in our conversation a significant overlap between how high-powered design teams approach problems and the strategies that psychologists and leadership coaches recommend for tackling challenges. These eight steps will help you find creative solutions to your most challenging problems, both personally and professionally.
However, let’s first go over a few skills one should have to be a strong problem-solver.
Problem-solving itself is a skill. However, those involved in solving problems would be wise to learn other skills complementary to problem-solving .
Here are some key skills to have.
Small problems you experience frequently can often be solved with relative ease. You’ll have a standard method of approaching the issue.
However, you might not have procedures in place for larger or more novel problems. In this case, creativity comes into play.
Out-of-the-box thinking can generate excellent solutions outside of those available to you. It pushes you to develop bolder approaches to thinking and doing. Creative thinking enables you to challenge current ideas and understand the urgency, relevance, and purpose of new solutions.
Part of problem-solving is generating multiple ideas for solutions. Then, you weigh their pros and cons.
At some point, however, you must choose a solution and move forward with it. Yet, with several alternatives and solutions to problems, one could struggle to choose.
Consequently, those involved in problem-solving must be decisive . They can’t be timid in picking a solution and trying it, or no one will ever solve the problem.
Even if a solution fails, you can confidently cross it off your list and move on knowing you were brave enough to try it.
Research abilities are essential to problem-solving. You must be able to dig deep into the problem and find out what’s causing it.
This could involve looking into things yourself and seeking answers from others. On the latter point, knowing how to ask the right questions will be invaluable.
Research skills are also necessary for finding solutions. You should be able to seek out more knowledgeable colleagues about possible solutions, but online research skills are a must as well. It’s important to search for a variety of recently published sources that reinforce and build upon each other, ranging from reflective articles written by leaders themselves to research and case studies highlighting companies more objectively.
As we’ll get into later, you’ll need to work with several stakeholders (such as team members, consumers, and shareholders) to arrive at solutions to problems that benefit everyone.
Emotional intelligence is a vital skill to have. High emotional intelligence helps you cooperate with others on finding and implementing solutions. It also aids in considering perspectives outside your own in case you’re biased toward your own idea.
For the same reason, emotional intelligence helps with compromise.
Persuasion is a more important skill than you might think in problem-solving. It is an influencing tactic that enables others to frame and approach challenges from your perspective. At its core, persuasion encourages people to align their vision for problem-solving with yours.
Once you come up with a couple of solutions to problems, you must persuade your fellow teammates that they’ll work. Additionally, you must persuade your boss, clients, or other stakeholders that your solution will fix the problem.
Effective methods of persuasion include forming a coalition with other team members who advocate your solution and collecting evidence in support of it. Evidence will help rationalize and legitimize your solution by grounding it in concrete examples that showcase its successful track record in the past.
When finding solutions to problems, persuasion is a better technique than power for building agreement with other teammates. Attempting to use power to force people to accept a solution — especially when they believe they have a better solution — will backfire.
1. Define the (right) problem
How we frame a problem significantly influences our decision-making and behavior.
This first step is a classic, and I can’t emphasize it enough.
In design, you never kick off a project without articulating the problem. It’s the first step in any design cycle.
Individuals often come to coaches with a specific “problem” in mind. Through a coach, you can get a deeper understanding of the root cause versus the symptom.
In business, diagnosing the correct problems can be harder than solving them once defined. In psychology, countless studies show that how we frame a problem influences our decision-making and behavior. Psychologists call this the framing effect for obvious reasons.
In practice: Make time for intentional inquiry upfront. Ask your team, “Are we solving the right problem?”
Leave space for dialogue. Try to talk with a trusted friend or coach, reflecting on the questions, “Is the problem really what I think is? What else could it be?” Whether on a team or as an individual, defining a problem is like, as Amy says, peeling back an onion’s layers and getting closer to the root cause each time.
2. Check your mindset
In addition to viewing the problem as an opportunity, try approaching it with curiosity.
This means viewing it objectively, without judgment. You must be in a state of mind where you’re prepared to be surprised and delighted by novel solutions that lie on the other side of this problem.
In practice: Try tuning up what in a mindfulness practice might be referred to as the “observing mind.”
When viewing a problem from an observer’s perspective, the goal is not to judge the situation (“Oh, this is a disaster!”), or solve it immediately (“I know what to do, and there is no time to waste!”). Rather, your aim is to be with it as it is, not as you want it to be (“Huh, this is interesting. Let me explore the details and understand further.”).
By putting yourself in an observing, curious state, you’ll likely find more space for a novel perspective. You’ll be an objective observer who's interested in learning more about the problem and how to solve it.
Of course, if you’re facing an urgent situation, this doesn’t mean you should lollygag. You can achieve this practice in a matter of minutes. Mindful moments, even in a setting of urgency like the Emergency Room, can significantly benefit your well-being and mental fitness .
3. Empathize with the players
On a product team, the designer will interview all stakeholders early in the design cycle to empathize with each of their experiences. On an individual level, the stakeholder could mean your team, the buyer, and almost always, yourself.
That last one, empathizing with yourself, is a step many often overlook.
Renowned researcher Kristin Neff defines self-empathy as self-compassion . Instead of being hard on ourselves for having a problem or not dealing with it effectively, self-compassion means treating ourselves as we might a best friend, in a manner that is encouraging and motivating.
In practice: Make a “thought experiment” to consider your problem from other perspectives. Start by writing a list of all those who are impacted by this challenge. Next, take one minute per stakeholder to visualize yourself in their shoes.
When you get to yourself, it’s no longer a leap to imagine yourself in your shoes. But it might be a leap to view yourself with compassion .
Try to get a sense of how you’re speaking to yourself about this challenge. If you notice you’re being less than encouraging, shift what psychologists call your “self-talk” to be more aligned with how you might talk to a best friend when you aim to encourage and motivate.
Note that this practice is simple but not easy. Do your best, and note your insights.
4. Connect with your purpose
According to psychologist and researcher Angela Duckworth, grit + purpose = success .
Logically, we’d work harder to move through a challenge when we can meaningfully answer the questions, “What’s the point?” and “Why does it matter?”
According to Deloitte’s Insights 2020 Global Marketing Trends Report, purpose-oriented companies report an average of 30% more innovation , not to mention 40% more workforce retention.
Knowing your purpose and connecting it to the problem at hand helps tie things together. It gives you a “why” for solving the problem in the first place, which can lead to more innovative solutions to problems like Deloitte found.
In practice: for actionable tips on how to hone purpose, check out our post and tip sheet on how to make stress work for you.
5. Generate ideas
Complex problems demand agile game plans and strategies . If there was one straightforward solution, you probably wouldn’t consider the problem complex.
Spending time generating ideas is a common activity in organizations (especially on creative teams), but individuals frequently overlook it. Often, a coach will spend part of a session supporting an individual to connect with their inner wisdom and generate a multitude of options they may not have considered.
In practice: It’s time to whiteboard! Gather around a whiteboard or grab a giant sheet of craft paper, and start jotting down potential solutions to the problem you defined.
Consider questions such as “What would I do if there were no monetary or time constraints?” or “What is the wackiest idea?” to get the juices flowing. Revisit the empathy step above, and consider solutions that would solve the problem from each perspective.
Now, consider having your team members brainstorm individually, at least before you come together for group brainstorming.
Studies from the early 2000s have shown people generate more (and better) ideas when brainstorming alone. This is likely due to the absence of judgment for out-of-the-box ideas, comfort exploring unconventional ideas, and a lack of being put on the spot.
6. Make small bets
Generating ideas isn’t simply an intellectual exercise. It sets you up to take action. Rather than ruminating, experiment and test the success of an idea by putting it into action.
However, what is a small bet?
Eric Barker, the author of the best-selling book Barking Up the Wrong Tree , defines it as “A small experiment that tests a theory. It’s just big enough to give you the answer you need but not so big that it wastes too much precious time, money, or resources.”
In practice: choose one or two possible solutions from your brainstorm in step five to test in a way that stretches but doesn’t overwhelm you, your team, or your resources. Choose progress over perfection. You can always improve your solutions later if necessary.
In the product world, we refer to this as MVP mode, or “minimum viable product,” a term popularized by the Lean Start-Up methodology proposed by Eric Ries in 2013.
An MVP is a product with the bare minimum features to attract early adopters and gain feedback, but not so many features that it’s too expensive to create or redo after feedback.
In executive coaching , it’s common for a coach to encourage a leader to take on one new micro-action for a defined period to test efficacy, impact, and viability.
7. Get feedback/evaluate options
It’s essential to have a way to qualitatively or quantitatively assess the impact of your small bets.
As a leader in your organization, make sure you have a defined KPI to measure a solution’s effectiveness.
On an individual level, determine one measure through which you can assess whether or not your bet is effective. One example, which requires no complex assessment, is setting up a “self-report measure” that will show changes based on an established baseline.
For instance, if you’re working to increase your activity level, you may use the average number of steps calculated by week on your Fitbit or wellness app to assess your success and trajectory.
In evidence-based coaching , we use scientifically-developed assessments to track progress so we can regularly tweak an approach but also quickly recognize when an approach is working.
In practice: Determine your measure of success or KPI. If you’re torn between multiple choices, err on the side of simplicity. If you’re working with a coach, you can ask for their recommendations for how to track and assess progress.
8. Start again
It’s all about consistent learning and growth for high-functioning design teams, leaders, and peak performers. In this model, failure is good as long as you learn from it.
As John Foster Dulles, Former US Secretary of State, put it, “The measure of success is not whether you have a tough problem to deal with, but whether it is the same problem you had last year.”
Prepare for the worst possible outcomes
Prepare for the worst possible outcome of each idea.
Of course, you aren’t hoping that your ideas crash and burn — and it’s fine to come up with out-of-the-box ideas that are risky — but you want to be prepared for the eventuality that your ideas don’t work.
Why? By doing " pre-mortem" planning , you can be better prepared to adjust your approach, to contain and mitigate risk, and to get more valuable learning out of the experiment.
As you generate ideas, think to yourself, “how could this decision possibly go wrong, and how bad would it be if it did?”
Consider it from multiple perspectives and write down all the possible ways things could go awry.
However, keep in mind that just because an idea has a drastic potential downside doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea. The downside might have a slim chance of happening — just be ready for it.
It’s vital to document everything in your problem-solving process. That way, you’ll have written notes on various ideas to try in case one doesn’t solve the problem.
By documenting everything, you can also keep detailed notes about each solution. This will help you think through the details.
When brainstorming with colleagues, make sure everyone is writing every idea they come up with down on paper. Do this in conjunction with the whiteboard if possible.
At the same time, people can write down any thoughts that come to mind as others are talking or sharing their ideas.
For every idea, have everyone write down the details of each solution and their potential implications, too.
Give yourself a tighter deadline
Parkinson’s Law says that work expands to fill the time allotted. In other words, if we give ourselves a week to do something, like solve a problem, it’ll take a week to accomplish that goal.
This phenomenon isn’t exactly scientific, but you may notice it throughout your life whenever you have a deadline.
Our tendency to procrastinate can cause it. Alternatively, we may fail to estimate how long something would take. That forces us to cram in a bunch of work last-minute.
Either way, use Parkinson’s Law to your advantage by giving yourself a shorter deadline to solve the problem. Doing so can force you to find a workable solution faster.
Solving problems effectively takes several skills and a relatively regimented process. Make sure you know your problem, consider your stakeholders, and connect the problem to your purpose before generating ideas.
Once you come up with a few ideas, implement them right away, and get feedback fast.
Following the above process should help you develop solutions to any problem you come across with confidence and optimism.
Sarah Greenberg, M.Ed, MA, MFT, BCC
Director of Clinical Design & Partnerships, BetterUp
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