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Give your problem-solving approach a creative kick in the butt

Posted by Deb Muoio

Mar 24, 2015 9:41:00 AM

In a previous post, we shared results from our study on creative problem-solving. Our research revealed that give-your-problem-solvingcreative problem-solvers not only receive better performance reviews, but they also have a unique mindset and approach to problems that non-creative problem-solvers lack.

This leads most people to ask the following question: Is creativity something we are born with, or is it something that can be developed?

The Guardian blogger David Fox points to research conducted by scientists in Scandinavia, Germany and the US, which basically concludes that while we may have “creativity genes,” growing up in an atmosphere where creativity and imagination is encouraged can help bring out this latent potential.

I am firm believer, however, that creativity can be nurtured, whether you have “creativity genes” or not. This is especially true in relation to creative problem-solving, which is a crucial resource in many companies.

Sticking to solutions that have worked in the past may be tempting and may seem practical but can hinder success– not to mention the fact that tried-and-true approaches won’t work forever. We need only look at the demise of Kodak’s market share when it failed to recognize that sometimes, we have to risk innovation or we risk stagnation. Despite being a pioneer in their industry, a household name and a brand synonymous with film (think the “Kodak moment”), Kodak failed to take advantage of the shift to digital photography, and became obsolete.

Here are some tips to add a creative jolt to your problem-solving approach:

The Problem Reversal Method

This technique is based on the belief that everything has an opposite. In order to understand one side, you need to take its counterpart into consideration. For example, let’s say your team is having problems with morale. Employees are disengaged and spirits are low.

Problem reversal: What methods can you use to make morale even worse?

  • Refrain from offering rewards after a job well done.
  • Criticize and belittle employees in public.
  • Micromanage them.
  • Make it difficult for them to maintain work-life balance by insisting on regular overtime.
  • Use the same motivators for everyone.

Looking at a problem in reverse can offer unique insight and lead to a great solution.

The Free Association Method

Flexibility and open-mindedness are the keys to releasing your creative potential. If you "police" your ideas too much and cast them aside too quickly because they are - in your view - "illogical," you’ll inhibit the creative thinking process. Try to "free associate."

  • Grab a piece of paper and write down a common problem you encounter that you would like to solve.
  • Write down every solution that comes to mind. It doesn’t matter if some of them are weird. Even off-the-wall ideas can lead to the perfect solution.
  • Don’t censor yourself. Suspend judgment for the time being. The goal is to generate ideas - as many ideas as you can. Chances are that there will be at least a few workable solutions that you can use to help solve your problem.

Conducting free association brainstorming sessions with other people can provide a wealth of possible solutions. The synergy of the group session allows team members to feed off of each other’s ideas, and this makes the brainstorm more productive and much more fun.

The Ishikawa Fishbone Method

Neither stairs nor problems should be tackled in one giant leap – you need to take everything step by step. The Fishbone Diagram is a problem-solving method that is designed to determine the cause and effect of a problem. Sounds simplistic? It isn’t. This design has an amazing way of bringing issues to light that you may not have noticed before.

Come up with a problem that you are currently facing that you would like to solve. For each “fishbone,” come up with possible causes. You can label each fishbone as a different category, like “insufficient planning,” “limited resources,” “poor execution” etc., and create sub-fish bones for each cause under that category. Here’s an example of a fishbone diagram created by a company dealing with a quality control problem:


This method is designed to help you clarify and analyze a problem by breaking it down into digestible steps.

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Cox, D. (2013, May 19). Are some people born creative? The Guardian. Retrieved from

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