Ever wondered what made the difference for creative geniuses like Einstein, Edison or Dalí? How did they keep churning out new and original ideas? Find out how to leverage the same techniques to become a better problem solver.
No matter if you see yourself as a creative person or not, creativity is a fundamental part of creating value unless you are doing pure assembly line work. Creativity is especially important when developing or finding solutions. Something new or innovative usually needs to be added to the mix to solve a problem – at least if you want your solution to really add value.
Every day presents a range of problems that need solving. It can range from big problems like “What should our company strategy be towards 2020?” to smaller problems like “How should the business case be presented to my manager?” No matter the size or complexity of the problem it takes certain skills to be a good problem solver. It requires structured thinking, logic, knowledge, reasoning, team work, and not least creativity.
Here’s a compilation of tips on how to ensure creativity in the problem solving process:
- Involve others
Great minds can come very far by themselves, but having more great minds working on the same thing creates even better results. The different perspectives and approaches are fantastic in a creative process for pushing thinking further. Think about the design of nature; a totally homogenous genepool would be completely unable to produce a non-deficient spawn.
- Change assumptions
This involves eliminating limitations or oppositions to conventional thinking. E.g. imagine no budgetary constraints to your solution. This can be difficult at first because of the habit of taking the assumptions into account, but is worth a try as far out solutions sometimes has some merit to it.
A traditional and well known method. The idea is to think out loud or on a piece of paper to let the creative thoughts flow freely and see where you end up. A great way to keep track of the brainstorm result is using mind maps.
- Reverse brainstorm
It’s like a regular brainstorm but you are trying to solve the opposite of your problem. E.g. if you are trying to design the cheapest possible hotel room you instead brainstorm on how to create the most expensive hotel room possible. The technique has a great way of making it very fun to brainstorm and will automatically point you towards solutions you may not have thought about during a regular brainstorm.
- Strive for exhaustiveness
Don’t settle for the first good idea that pops into your mind. Spend enough time ideas until you are as close as possible to exhausting all possibilities. Then you are ready to judge if any of the ideas are really great.
- Pause to think
It’s not always most productive to stay at it relentlessly for hours on end. Shift your brain from “focus mode” (when you are focused intensely on something specific) to “diffuse mode” (when you are more relaxed and your mind wanders between subjects and it is able to connect previously unrelated concepts.) This is achieved when you pause and don’t focus on anything specific. Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison and Salvador Dalí used techniques to get into diffuse mode. Einstein developed the general theory of relativity, Edison have 1,093 patents to his name, and Dalí’s surrealist work has become quite famous. All great accomplishments, created through substantial creative efforts. They are surely among history’s best creative thinkers. Edison and Dalí were known to use a trick where they fell asleep with their keys in hand and just before entering into the deeper stages of sleep they would drop the keys and wake up. They forced the brain into diffuse mode and brilliant ideas formed.
- Analogies and metaphors
These are great ways of forcing an alternative perspective. You can use this to see a connection from another industry where they faced a similar problem which have already been solved.
- Think like a star
Another way to change your perspective is to think about what others would do. Usually, a good place to start is thinking about someone you perceive as being a great problem solver within the subject. It can be the CEO, you manager, your partner, a consultant, or a professor. Then ask yourself “What would xxx do?”
- Novel combinations
When random things are connected they sometimes form great ideas. Some creative geniuses are known to have messy desks, e.g. Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs and Mark Twain. The messy desk presents novel combinations at random.
- Be optimistic
If you believe you can solve the problem you are more likely to be able to do so.
Creative geniuses are exactly that, not because they know what to think, but because they know how to think. Have fun being more creative solving your next complex problem.
I’ve used a few articles for inspiration for this post, please find a references below.
- Cracking creativity – the secrets of creative genius by Michael Mickalko
- 12 tips to creative problem solving by Joel Saltzman
- Happiness and creativity – going with the flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi