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How to Find Creative Solutions to Your Problems

written by: Marjory Pilley • edited by: Michele McDonough • updated: 5/30/2011

Whether you are in the throws of a team brainstorming session or contemplating the solution to a problem all by yourself, you want to generate as many quality ideas as possible. But, what if you are stuck? Try out these suggestions designed to inspire creativity in problem solving situations.

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    It is natural to follow predictable patterns of thinking about specific situations, rely upon what you know to be true and stay within accepted boundaries. Yet, familiar ways of thinking most likely resulted in the problem you are now trying to resolve. A creative solution is what you're after!

    Creativity occurs when new information converges with old ways of thinking. Rather than increasing your stress level (which decreases your creativity), try looking at the problem from a different angle. The questions or actions below are designed to spur a change in how you think about a problem and potential solutions.

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    Curing a Creative Block

    Find a unique solution to a problem by thinking creatively. 

    The following list identifies 15 ways to inspire creativity in problem solving...no matter what problem-solving methodology or root cause analysis you are using:

    1. What would you do to achieve the opposite result? For example, if the goal is to improve customer service, then consider how you would provide terrible customer service? Among other things, opposite thinking prompts you to focus on factors that might be otherwise overlooked.

    2. How would someone else solve the problem? Consider various perspectives, such as the customer, an employee, the manager or the owner. Alternatively, consider how a competitor or a mentor (such as a professor or business associate) might resolve the problem.

    3. What is everyone else NOT doing? Often there is a status quo associated with an industry for handling certain situations. Innovation occurs when you identify a niche that isn't being filled.

    4. Can you turn a negative into a positive? Problems can arise because something unfortunate has happened, such as a customer receives the wrong order and is unhappy. But, what if you offer the customer a coupon for the next visit? Voila...the customer may be ecstatic.

    5. What if an assumption is not true? Write down your assumptions. Consider solutions if the constraint is removed. Maybe your efforts should be focused in a new direction.

    6. What if the location was different? How would things be handled in a different city, county, state...you get the idea? The scenario will vary but the gist is to completely relocate the problem to a new location and transport back to the current situation any new information you obtain.

    7. Reframe the problem using opposites. What if you lengthen or shorten it, freeze or heat it, speed it up or slow it down...the possibilities are endless? The types of opposites depend on the situation. Merely thinking about opposites may inspire some productive ideas!

    8. Sketch a solution, mold one with clay, or create one with toy bricks. This technique provides a "break" and that's when creative ideas are born.

    9. Present an unrelated topic and then return to problem-solving. This is another type of interruption which can spur innovation. Watch a show, read a book or have a meeting about something unrelated to the current project.

    10. Move a problem-solving discussion to a new location. Move to the boardroom, to a patio area or to a coffee shop. The change of scenery will alter your state of mind and the type of ideas you develop.

    11. Prepare a detailed visual of the solution...not the steps that will you get you there. Describe how the solution will feel. What are the customers doing? How do employees feel? How does management react? Write it out...or create a picture. This provides a starting point for incrementally working back through the steps to attain the optimum solution.

    12. Introduce a prop, such as an intriguing word, interesting object or special quote, into the discussion. Inviting randomness into the discussion will take the ideas generated in a new direction.

    13. How is the problem handled in other industries? Notice the distinction. Consider completely unrelated industries and think about what they do. For example, compare the customer service process in a retail setting, a service setting and for on-line transactions.

    14. Turn the problem upside down. Literally draw a picture or flowchart, flip it upside down and return to your brainstorming session.

    15. Write a headline for an article about the problem. What would a reporter say about the situation? What would be your response? Alternatively, write a jingle or a poem.

    You may also want to try one of the group creativity exercises in this series. Creativity in problem solving will not only result in more quality ideas, it will also make the process a lot more fun!

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    References and Resources

    Image Credit: http://www.sxc.hu/photo/944284

    References:

    • Epstein, Robert. The big book of creativity games: quick, fun activities for jumpstarting innovation. New York [etc.: McGraw-Hill, 2000. Print.
    • Thompson, Charles. What a great idea! 2.0: unlocking your creativity in business and in life. [Rev. and updated]. ed. New York: Sterling Pub., 2007. Print.

Creativity Resources and Strategies

Learn how to inspire creativity in yourself and others with this series of articles that includes a free downloadable action plan for personal development, creativity exercises, strategies and general tips.
  1. What Creativity Means to a Project Manager
  2. An Action Plan to Inspire Creativity Every Day
  3. How to Add Creativity to Your Leadership Toolbox
  4. Exercises and Games to Inspire Creativity in a Team
  5. How to Find Creative Solutions to Your Problems

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