Thinking Differently: An Approach to Creative Problem Solving
Solving a difficult problem isn’t reserved for only the world’s greatest thinkers. Great creations are simply well-crafted solutions using organized, creative thinking. Here is a four step process so you, too, can become a great creative problem solver!
Step 1 – Define the problem
This step is the most critical. Albert Einstein once said, “If I were given one hour to save the planet, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute resolving it.” Think about it – if you get this step wrong, it immediately puts you on the wrong track and all the work that comes after moves you further from the solution. In short, you want to understand as much about the issue as you can. Write down everything you know about the problem and related answers to define what you need to investigate. Summarize your thoughts into a single problem statement.
Step 2 – Ideate
Don’t overthink this step. The time and energy you put into defining the problem will create quite a few ideas, many of them unorganized, bouncing around in your brain. The goal is to take all these thoughts out of your brain and put them into writing. Don’t do any internal filtering – it all needs to come out. Brainstorming is all about quantity with no regard for quality. (Quality control will come later!) Think about it like starting a puzzle by first dumping all the pieces out of the box. If you left any in the box, you have no chance of completing the puzzle. The more out-of-the-box and abstract the idea, the better!
Step 3 – Develop your ideas
Once you have all your idea fragments written down, you’ll notice a few that rise to the top as possible solutions. Identify these top 3 to 5 solutions, then see if the rest of your brainstorming ideas can fit as a supporting detail with any of these main solutions. Now think through why each of these ideas might yield a solution and form a hypothesis as to how this idea will play out. From there, break apart the hypothesis and identify any potential flaws. Revealing possible weak spots is a great starting point to defining the pathway for a solution.
Step 4 – Implement your solution
This final step may seem daunting, but the key is to break the final project into as many bite-size steps as possible. The smaller and easier it is to manage, the better. Identify each step of the implementation process, write down the dependencies for each of these steps and connect them together to work towards the final solution. As you work through them, it’s important to stay flexible as unforeseen obstacles will arise and you need to be able to pivot.
Continue to work through your problem solving process, retesting and refining as you go. Odds are you’ll initially take some steps backwards, but don’t give up! The ability to stay resilient is as important as the process itself to reach your final goal.