5 Steps to Creative Problem Solving

Many think that creativity is a gift that just dawns upon artists and writers. In reality, it is  a systematic thought process that anyone can acquire. Creativity is not only found in arts. You can see it in each and every field of work (even in mundane tasks) and it’s the difference between a lousy worker and a valuable one. What makes you a valuable worker? Being a creative problem solver who moves through problems efficiently and fluently.

That’s not just the case with paid jobs, but also with the roles we have in life: a parent, a spouse, a good citizen of humanity. Whatever the professional and social role, you are faced with problems, and by learning the steps to a creative thought process, you are sure to find better solutions that save you time, effort and even money.

So, what are the 5 steps to creative problem solving?

Step 1: Orientation – Define your problem!

I know people who rush themselves into long hours of hard work and beat their head against the wall, wondering why they’re not able to improve the situation. Well, maybe all that time and energy has been misguided! Hard work doesn’t get you anywhere if it is not aimed toward the most important task. You can’t begin to solve your problem if you don’t know what it is, right? So take the time to evaluate your situation and face your imminent problem in the eye.

Quite often you have more that a single problem to tackle, so what do you do? Simple. Take a deep breath, try not to panic and be an objective observer of your reality. Decide what the most critical problem at the time is and make a conscious decision not to worry or obsess over anything else.

Step 2: Preparation – Do your homework!

Whatever the task at hand – buying a house, writing a book, launching a new business, choosing a template for your website, looking for a job, writing a research paper – you need to do some research! You can’t begin to do any of those things right if you don’t spend some time gathering relevant information.

If you’re trying to solve a problem, you need to know how others have solved it before you, what tools they needed, how long it took and how much it cost. Then see how new technology and your unique knowledge and experience can help you find an new solution – better, faster, cheaper!

Step 3: Incubation – Sleep on it!

Psychologists have long found out that the power of your subconscious is not to be underestimated. Once you’ve set your mind on something and have gathered enough information, your subconscious will be working on possible solutions all the time, whether you realize it or not, even while you sleep. Who wouldn’t want to have a helper that stays on task 24/7?

At this step, don’t try to rush things. Try to relax and engage in enjoyable activities, providing your subconscious with enough time to get creative. Soon enough, you’ll begin to see results …

Step 4: Illumination – Eureka!

When you least expect it, your subconscious mind will present you with a solution that just seems brilliant! This thought may visit you suddenly, while you’re stuck in traffic, dozing off, making a sandwich, or in the shower. For those of you who’ve experienced such a moment, you may agree that nothing compares to the excitement and feeling of sheer genius, when a mental light bulb goes on and you’ve got it!

I am confident in the potential of these “Aha!” moments and always carry around a little notepad where I can record my ideas. If a notepad is too much for you to worry about, you can use your phone’s voice memo application. Just make sure you catch that great idea when it reveals itself to you.

Step 5: Verification – Critical evaluation!

After coming up with this genius idea of yours, it’s time to sit down and critically analyze every aspect. This can be harder than it sounds, because we are often in love with our creative ideas and can’t recognize their flaws. Yes, it’s a good idea, but is it exactly what you need right now? Is it time and cost-efficient? Is there room for improvement?

I hope these five simple steps help you become a dangerous problem solver who gets rewarded and appreciated for this valuable skill!

Image: Aaronth

4 comments for “5 Steps to Creative Problem Solving

  1. Tenyo
    August 18, 2010 at 3:46 pm

    Hmm, I’ve never thought of creativity and problem solving as being the same thing. I work as a system administrator and I get to solve different problems every week but I don’t think I have much chance to get creative. Resourceful, yes, but not creative. Maybe it’s just semantics or the field of work.

  2. Dima
    August 18, 2010 at 4:16 pm

    Creativity and problem solving are certainly not the same thing.
    You can be an effective problem solver without being creative. You can solve a problem by a trial-and-error approach (mechanical problem solving), but that would not be very creative, would it? ;)
    Creativity is an elusive concept, true! In psychology, creativity suggests flexibility and originality of thought. Creative problem solving suggest that you reach original solutions for a problem. Throughout history, creative thinkers have been proposing radical new solutions for old problems. Often times, these solutions have been considered impossible or even insane. Yet, this persistent creative thought has lead to revolutionary inventions that shape the world as we know it today.
    People walked before they invented the wheel and used horses before the first engines replaces animal force. Then, the thought of aluminum tubes flying in the sky triggered the creation of airplanes. That would have never happened if people didn’t target their problems creatively. In this case, ‘How do I get from A to B faster?’
    I am convinced there is room for creativity in every field of work. And I’m pretty sure this is what happens to you when you’re being resourceful at your job ;) If you look in the dictionary, you’ll find that creativity and resourcefulness are synonyms :)
    Have a great one!

  3. Daniela
    August 19, 2010 at 8:07 pm

    I can attest that #3 and #4 are true. This happens to me all the time. In fact, I rarely come up with a creative solution without #3 and #4.
    Dima, would it be possible to fetch me some more info or share your thoughts on the subconscious process of the mind? I I feel like I am the perfect candidate for a clinical study on this- I catch myself dreaming of solutions and also thinking of it while I am not thinking of it consciously.
    (btw, no spell check in the comment box here :)? come on)

  4. Tenyo
    August 24, 2010 at 2:24 pm

    For me step #2 is the most important – research, read, talk to people! The more you know about what you’re doing and how other people have done it, the more ideas you are likely to generate. You can’t be creative before having a solid grasp of the basics first. The other steps kind of follow naturally unless you try to rush the whole thing.

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