New Solutions to Old Problems – Part 1

When people think of a problem – either a personal one or a problem that affects everyone – most of us consider past experience and draw on that knowledge to come up with a solution. In many cases, we look at the way people have solved problems and try to improve on their methods or products.

So for example, a vacuum cleaner designer might once have looked at ideas for improving the vacuum filter by making the filter mechanism more efficient or similar. A creative problem solver though would chuck past ideas out and start looking at the problem from scratch, using their lateral thinking skills to solve the problem in a completely novel way. To elaborate on our example, we can look at James Dyson – founder of the incredible Dyson Vacuum Cleaners range – who didn’t just build on existing designs, but chucked the old design out altogether and reinvented the vacuum using a bagless design!

Creative problem solving can be used to solve old and new problems with innovative solutions, as well as overcome barriers and identify opportunities that may otherwise be missed. The concepts of creative problem solving and brainstorming were first developed in the 1940s and is just as useful today as it was back then. There have been many variations developed to hone the effectiveness of the creative problem solving concept (and in fact, many have been invented using creative problem solving itself!) and a basic four-step model is the modern version, which will be briefly explained, below.

Benefits of creative problem solving

Whether you’re hoping to solve problems at work or on a more personal level, creative problem solving can help. At work, creative problem solving can help develop and improve services and products, enhance communications, develop interpersonal skills and foster innovative thinking. At home, it can do much of the above, plus help you improve familial and social relationships, develop budgeting strategies, resolve conflicts and even fix a leaky tap, among other things! There are four steps involved with this process. They are:

Diverge and converge – Creative problem solving involves breaking our thinking process into two separate methods: divergent and convergent. Divergent thinking involves thinking up solutions to problems and outlining all possibilities. Convergent thinking is the action of evaluating these solutions and possibilities and choosing the one that we feel will be best. Most people use a combination of the two when solving a problem, but using both simultaneously can cause decisions that are unbalanced or bias. The two concepts must be identified and balanced, practiced separately and chosen without bias for an ideal solution. Creative problem solving also involves:

Reformulating problems as questions – Instead of stating a problem as a fact, turn it into an open-ended question that can be answered with multiple possibilities. By doing this, you increase the number of answers (or solutions) you have! For example, instead of saying “I need to improve on this vacuum cleaner bag”, ask “How can I create a machine that allows floors to be cleaned without needing to empty a bag every five minutes?”.
Leave your judgement ‘til later – We can be our own worst critics and our judgement of ideas (our own or others’) can shut a train of thought down early. So when brainstorming, instead of dismissing ideas that may initially seem outlandish, write them down for further consideration and elaborate on them during the convergence stage of the process.

Use positive thinking and language – Whether you’re talking to other people about their ideas or considering your own, instead of thinking/saying something like “that idea is interesting, but…” try instead to think/say something like “that idea is good, and…”. The use of the negative word ‘but’ usually immediately raises hackles and stops the expansion of creative thought. Being positive and using encouraging language and thought processes fosters the growth of ideas, even if the initial idea isn’t that crash hot.

Next week in New Solutions to Old Problems – Part 2, we’ll explain how to use this creative problem solving model to generate ideas and solutions that are innovative and intelligent.

The CFS Team
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