How to Improve Your Problem Solving Skills

Solving problems creatively means getting past your self-limiting thoughts.

Creative problem-solving has countless uses.  Too often, people associate creative problem-solving with crises or difficulties, or think of it as something that’s used for games and puzzles or special kinds of jobs.  Creative problem-solving skills are required for achieving exceptional performance in most tasks. The term “problem” simply refers to a difference between the current situation and a desired future outcome.

Finding a way to exploit an opportunity is a form of problem-solving just as is coping with a crisis.  Any improvement to work processes or products fits the definition of a problem.

Creative thinking is not just for certain jobs, such as writing advertising copy or developing entertaining training programs. Creativity can help us move from our current situation to a desired future situation, whether our jobs are normally thought of as involving “creative work” or not.

So, how do you get to the “aha” of a creative solution?

  • Ask “Why?” – Get to the root of your problem by mimicking a four-year-old child: repeatedly ask “why?”  For example:
    • Filing expense reports is a problem. Why?
    • You bring back a stack of receipts and often, some are missing. Why?
    • There is no convenient way to collect everything during a trip; not every receipt is wallet size. Why do you need paper receipts?
    • Is there a way to track or store expenses electronically?
  • The flip side to that question is, “Why not?
  • Immerse yourself – Work the problem from the inside out to find trouble spots you might otherwise miss. For example, if you wanted to improve your call-centre’s response time, pretend to be a customer and call in. Find out what your customers are dealing with each time they call.
  • Generate more ideas – You might be able to come up with five ideas for a new training program… expect none are innovative. Push to come up with 10 or 15 ideas, increasing the likelihood of a gem.
  • Change your focus – If you’re looking at one specific function of a larger process, “zoom out” and look at the whole picture. Conversely, if you’re viewing a system-wide problem, focus on each aspect of the issue.
  • Go somewhere else – A team brainstorming session in the board room can work, but it can also get in the way of creative thinking. Some people do their best thinking alone, away from a group. How many times have you had a great idea in the shower? Changing up your location can spark your creativity.
  • Make mistakes – Allow yourself the option of “failing.” Too often, we edit or eliminate our creative options because they’re too “different.” Give yourself permission to try things that may not work.

Don’t settle for “good enough.” Work towards the optimal solution.

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