Often when we have a problem, we try to solve it in the same way we did before. However, some issues cannot be solved with existing ideas and solutions. In this case, we need to turn to creative problem-solving strategies.
Creative problem-solving is a way of moving beyond predictable and obvious solutions to problems. When using creative problem-solving techniques, we expand our thinking out from what we already know about a problem, and from solutions that we have used in the past, to generate innovative and effective solutions.
Here are 8 creative problem-solving strategies you could try to bring creativity and fresh ideas to bear on any problem you might have.
1. Counterfactual Thinking
Counterfactual thinking involves considering what would have happened if the events in the past had happened slightly differently. In essence, it is asking ‘what if’ questions about the past.
So for example, you might ask ‘What would have happened if I had moved to San Francisco instead of New York?’ This helps you to break free of current constraints and consider the paths not taken.
2. Creativity of Constraints
We often think that constraints inhibit creativity because they reduce the number of possible solutions. However, constraints can actually generate new creative ideas as we have to be more creative to overcome the limitations. For example, creating a meal for less than $5 dollars reduces the potential ingredients you can use but may encourage you to use basic ingredients in more innovative ways.
The painter Pablo Picasso used constraints in his Blue Period between 1901 and 1904 when he painted almost entirely in shades of blue and green. Within these constraints, he found new ways to represent the world in paint.
Most of us need no introduction to brainstorming. The key element of this strategy is to remove inhibitions that normally cause people to edit their creative ideas and dismiss them before they have really had a chance to examine them. When brainstorming, the most essential feature is that no idea is too ridiculous for consideration.
4. Questioning Assumptions
We all have assumptions about just about everything. We make assumptions about what is and isn’t possible and what things can and can’t be. This strategy asks you to think about all the assumptions made about a product or idea and then to question whether these are really true. This can spark truly innovative ideas.
5. Thought Experiment
A thought experiment is when you consider in the imagination a hypothesis that cannot easily be tested. For example, Einstein’s thought experiment ‘what would happen if you chased a beam of light as it moved through space’ led to the development of his special theory of relativity.
It is not necessary for the experiment to be impossible to perform – it is just that the experiment takes place only in the mind.
6. Forced Connections
Using forced connections can create new ideas. You simply bring two objects together to create an entirely new product or concept. Examples include the sofa-bed and the Apple watch which both combined two existing products to create something new. Genres in fiction often use this approach of combining two genres to create a new one such as in historical romance or comic fantasy.
To practice this technique, simply place some random objects or a list of random objects in a bag and pull out two, then try to make connections between them and see how they could be combined to create a new idea.
Using this technique allows your imagination to run riot. Think of the most outlandish and unattainable and impractical solutions. This is the opposite of the constraints strategy, but it can also work surprisingly well.
Once you have come up with a few ‘wishes,’ you can try to create a solution by scaling back these ideas into something more attainable.
8. Creative Intuition
Often creative thinking happens when we least expect it and doesn’t feel like ‘thinking’ at all. This is the flash of insight that comes when we stop thinking about a problem and are doing something else that doesn’t require much conscious attention, such as taking a shower or driving.
The most famous example is Archimedes ‘Eureka’ moment when in a sudden flash of inspiration he worked out how to work out if the King’s crown was made entirely of gold. When he found his solution he famously cried ” Eureka” from Greek heurēka meaning ‘I have found it‘.
So next time you are stuck on a problem, take a break and a bath.
In our modern ever-changing world, often old-style solutions simply don’t work. Practising using creative problem-solving strategies can keep you ahead in a fast-changing environment.
We’d love to hear what creative problem-solving strategies you use. Please share with us in the comments below.