LEARN PROBLEM SOLVING THROUGH A CREATIVE LENS
When facing obstacles in your organization, there are a number of ways to accomplish problem solving and make decisions regarding it.
Creative problem solving helps us look to challenges with an open mind and consider different perspectives. The creative problem-solving process is just that – a process. But by working through it you can optimize your decision-making skills and come to conclusions you may not have otherwise.
The Creative Problem Solving Process uses six major steps to implement solutions to almost any kind of problem.
In this week’s blog post, we discuss the creative problem-solving process, and how it can help you make tricky decisions in your organization.
1.) INFORMATION GATHERING, OR UNDERSTANDING MORE ABOUT THE PROBLEM BEFORE PROCEEDING
The first step in the creative problem-solving process is to gather information about the problem. In order to effectively solve the problem, you need to know as much about it as possible.
There are many different types of information. There are facts, opinions, concepts, procedures, and ideas. Some of these can be biased and self-serving, while others can be cut and dry.
When tackling a new problem, you can gather a great deal of information by asking specific questions to others who may be impacted by it.
One important source of information is to ask if the problem has been solved before. Find out if anyone in your company or network has had the same problem. This can generate information about the problem and potential solutions.
Here are some other ways you can collect information about a problem:
- Conduct interviews.
- Identify and study statistics.
- Send questionnaires out to employees, customers, or other people concerned with the problem.
- Conduct technical experiments.
- Observe the procedures or processes in question firsthand.
- Create focus groups to discuss the problem.
2.) PROBLEM DEFINITION, OR MAKING SURE YOU UNDERSTAND THE CORRECT PROBLEM BEFORE PROCEEDING
The next step in the creative problem-solving process is to identify the problem. It is important to take care in defining the problem. The way that you define your problem influences the solution.
In some cases, taking action to address a problem before adequately identifying the problem is worse than doing nothing. It can be a difficult task to sort out the symptoms of the problem from the problem itself.
Four tools to use in defining the problem are:
- Determining where the problem originated
- Defining the present state and the desired state
- Stating and restating the problem
- Analyzing the problem
You may not use all of these tools to help define a problem, but these are some to keep in mind as you start.
Writing an accurate problem statement will represent the problem for what it is. The problem statement may evolve through the use of the four problem definition tools and any additional information gathered about the problem. As the statement becomes more refined, the potential solutions are improved.
The problem statement should:
- Include specific details about the problem, including who, what, when, where, and how
- Address the scope of the problem to identify boundaries of what you can reasonably solve
The problem statement should not include any mention of possible causes or solutions, that’s for later.
A detailed, clear, and concise problem statement will provide clear-cut goals for focus and direction for coming up with solutions.
3.) GENERATING POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS USING VARIOUS TOOLS
In order to come up with a good idea, you must come up with several ideas.
Some of the ideas will not be good. But if you start overanalyzing in this step, the creative process will quickly come to a halt, and you may miss out on something great. Make sure to defer judgment at this time.
Brainwriting is similar to typical brainstorming, except that it is conducted in silence. This method encourages participants to pay closer attention to the ideas of others and piggyback on them.
Mind mapping is another method of generating ideas on paper but can be conducted alone. To do this, start by writing one main idea in the center of the paper. Write additional ideas around the sheet of paper, circling the idea and connecting the ideas with lines. This technique allows for representing non-linear relationships between ideas.
4.) ANALYZING POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS, OR DETERMINING THE EFFECTIVENESS OF POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS BEFORE PROCEEDING
With many different solutions in hand, you need to analyze them to determine the best one.
When determining the effectiveness of solutions, consider the following:
- Ask questions such as “Wouldn’t it be nice if…” or “Wouldn’t it be terrible if…” to isolate the necessary outcome for the problem resolution.
- Think about what you want the solution to do, or not do.
- Think about what values should be considered.
Additionally, the criteria for an effective solution to the problem should consider the following:
- Timing – Is the problem urgent? What are the consequences of delaying action?
- Trend – What direction is the problem heading? Is the problem getting worse? Or does the problem have a low degree of concern when considering the future of the circumstances?
- Impact – Is the problem serious?
It is important to think about what the circumstances will look like after a successful solution has been implemented. Use your imagination to explore the possibilities for identifying goals or criteria related to the problem.
The wants and needs for the outcome after the problem is solved must also be very clear.
Needs are items the potential solution absolutely must meet. If the potential solution does not meet a need requirement, you can disregard it from further analysis. Wants are nice to have items. You can provide weight to each item to indicate its importance.
Another factor to consider is what is at stake financially. A cost-benefit analysis is a method of assigning a monetary value to the potential benefits of a solution and weighing those against the costs of implementing that solution.
5.) SELECTING THE BEST SOLUTION(S)
The next step in the process is to select one or more solutions from the possibilities. In the previous step, you will have eliminated many of the possibilities. With a shortlist of possibilities, you can do a final analysis to come up with one or more of the best solutions to the problem.
For each potential solution, weigh the potential advantages and disadvantages. Consider the compatibility with your priorities and values. Consider how much risk the solution involves. Finally, consider the practicality of the solution. Consider the potential results of each solution, both the immediate and long-term possibilities.
Think forward to the solution implementation. Ask the who, what, when, where, why, and how of the situation.
Brainstorm for potential problems related to the solution. Consider how likely potential problems might occur and how serious they are. These potential issues can then be evaluated as needs and wants along with the other criteria for evaluating the solution.
Sometimes this analysis can uncover a potential hardship or opportunity that changes the criteria, problem definition, or other aspects of the problem-solving process. Remember to be flexible and revisit the other stages of the process when necessary.
6.) PLANNING THE NEXT COURSE OF ACTION (NEXT STEPS), OR IMPLEMENTING THE SOLUTION(S)
This part of the creative problem-solving process is the time to think about the steps for making the solution become reality.
Identify tasks that are critical to the timing of the solution implementation. Critical tasks are items that will delay the entire implementation schedule if they are not completed on time. Non-critical tasks are items that can be done as time and resources permit.
Identify your resources by considering the following:
- Time: How will you schedule the project? When would you like the solution completed? How much time will each task take?
- Personnel: Who will complete each identified task?
- Equipment: Is there any special equipment required to implement the task? Does the equipment exist or need to be obtained?
- Money: How much will the solution cost? Where will the money come from?
- Information: Is any additional information required to implement the solution? Who will obtain it? How?
As part of the implementation process, you will also need to continue to evaluate things over time. It is important to be flexible and adapt the solutions as necessary. You may need to make adjustments to the plan as new information comes to light.
Encourage your team to think outside the box when problem-solving. Making big decisions isn’t always easy, but if you follow the creative problem-solving process, you can rest assured knowing that you did your due diligence. To deep dive into this, even more, check out our Creative Problem-Solving Workshop!