Why Creative Problem Solving?

 

It was widely reported that in 2016 the World Economic Forum cited creativity as one of the top 3 skills organisations would need by 2020. The top skill which has been consistent in their reporting is critical problem solving.

Critical problem solving is much improved when a dose of creativity is added because many organisations get stuck in loops of thinking.  The saying, ‘If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got’ is so true.

Creative problem solving is an approach that offers opportunities to develop both critical thinking and creative approaches to problems. The result is that better and different solutions may be identified.

What is Creative Problem Solving (CPS)?

If you are working with an issue that could be described as complex, messy, involves people and emotions then CPS can be very effective.

It is an approach that fully explores the nature of the problem before diving into solutions. When this doesn’t happen, and we leap straight into solutions, we tend to solve the wrong problem because it may be the more obvious one, or even the more easily solvable.

CPS is an open approach to problem solving which works in cycles of divergent and convergent thinking. Opening up to fully explore the problem  before closing down on selecting the problem to explore, before opening again to explore solutions. This is illustrated in the  3 stage approach which is based upon the work of Osborne and Parne. At each stage there is a phase of divergent and convergent thinking with suitable techniques chosen for each phase.

I have listed here  some of the fundamental requirements for this form of problem solving to be effective:

  • CPS requires an open, positive approach. We all make assumptions and build up mind sets based upon these assumptions. It is important in seeing things differently that these assumptions are challenged. Negativity in this process can be harmful and can shut ideas down. ‘Yes and’… is a useful phrase here rather than ‘yes, but‘.
  • CPS works best when more time is spent on the early stages of exploring the problem. What we assume to be the problem may not be the problem or not all of the problem. It may be possible to re-frame the problem and change the nature of the problem, or even see it disappear!
  • CPS works best when people are being playful, and experimenting with new ideas. This, for me means taking it out of the boardroom, away from desks and chairs!
  • CPS works best with a group of people from diverse backgrounds as this can be very helpful in creating the challenging atmosphere that CPS needs.

For more information about this approach and techniques that can be used in the process, do take a look at the book I have co-authored with Dr Tracy Stanley.

Barbara is an executive coach, leadership and creativity facilitator. She has coached women and men in a variety of corporate settings, and has developed a unique approach to using creative techniques in her coaching and workshops to enable change at a group or individual level. She has recently co-authored a book on creativity for leaders, called Creativity Cycling , with Dr. Tracy Stanley. which covers the process of CPS and techniques that can help challenge assumptions.

Risk and why it is important for Creativity

Risk is a part of life: something we all live with. Some people are more comfortable with risk, others have no choice. However. I propose that for change, development, creativity and innovation, a level of healthy risk is essential.

Risk and Fear

Risk, however, can bring with it feelings of fear. As I write this I remember reading the book by Susan Jeffers, Feel the fear and do it anyway . It had a very positive effect on me at a time in my life when I was about to leave a full-time job in one country for an uncertain freelance career in another. The fear around risk is that we may fail. However, if we never take a risk, we may never live life at our best.

This fear of failure is prevalent in organisations.  Failure is often punished and the consequences of this is a reluctance to start or try anything new or different. This is detrimental to creativity and innovation. As people and as organisations, without taking a risk, we cannot develop and change. To enable creativity and innovation risk is essential.

Risk and a Creative Culture

Goran Ekvall proposed that there are essential elements of a culture needed to support creativity. This quote from his paper –Organizational Conditions and Levels of Creativity highlights the value of risk-taking. ‘As risktaking and anxiety are ingredients of creative acts, culture elements that make risktaking and failure less threatening and dangerous are promoting of creative behavior, whereas in situations where creative initiatives are met with suspicion, defensiveness and aggression, the fear of failure becomes strong and holds creativity back.’

Charles Handy stated that ‘Experiments may fail, thus forgiveness is essential. Instead of failures, unsuccessful experiments must be viewed as part of the learning process–as lessons learned.’

We all have our own boundaries, or constraints when we consider the level of risk that is acceptable. One difference in level of risk acceptability could be due to the prevailing culture. If we can learn from the mistakes we make when taking risks, then we can change and develop. However, it is almost impossible to learn from mistakes in a blame culture in which people feel threatened and feel bad about mistakes. This undermines self-confidence and leads to a culture of low risk taking.

A learning culture, rather than a blame culture requires an active learning habit.  A leader needs to coach their staff so that they can reflect upon their actions, understand them, learn from them and then build upon them to try something different. In this way people can take responsibility for their actions, take risks, and develop their creativity.

Actions to Take

So, what do we need to put in place for risk to be acceptable?

People need to be competent to understand the level of risk that is acceptable and how to ensure that mistakes are made ‘safely’. Experiment in creativity and innovation is essential when developing ideas, provided that the experimentation is done in a safe way, and the culture is supportive. The risk is then a managed risk. If the experimentation fails, learning can result from it.

To summarise

  • Risk is needed to enable creativity and innovation.
  • To remove the fear of risk, a supporting culture needs to be in place.
  • In organisations this means that leaders must –
    • Develop trust, so that open discussions can be had around level of risk in any situation.
    • Train employees to be able to take risks safely
    • If mistakes are made, coaching and open discussion will enable lessons to be learned.
    • Turn these lessons into learning for the whole organisation.

Barbara is an executive coach, leadership and creativity facilitator. She has coached women and men in a variety of corporate settings, and has developed a unique approach to using creative techniques in her coaching and workshops to enable change at a group or individual level. She has recently co-authored a book on creativity for leaders, called Creativity Cycling , with Dr. Tracy Stanley. which covers the process of CPS and techniques that can help challenge assumptions.

Assumptions and how to challenge them

What are Assumptions?

On a daily basis we all make assumptions. Some are conscious however many of them are unconscious. Those that are unconscious have become habitual ways of thinking.

Assumptions serve a useful purpose

They provide a short cut in our thinking. For example, I assume that health professionals care about my health when I go to see them. I don’t need to think this through, although with any new practitioner I may be wary and check out my assumptions in advance by seeking feedback from others. On the other hand if I am walking down a city street at night and I hear footsteps coming up behind me I assume that I could be in danger and start to react.

What happens when we make assumptions?

We often receive self-confirming feedback. Perhaps not always in the case of the danger at night, thank goodness. However, if we assume that someone is going to act towards us in a positive way then we show this in our attitude towards them and it normally gets reciprocated. Equally if we assume someone will be hostile, our actions show this and this is also often reciprocated.

The Ladder of Inference

I have written previously about assumptions and referred to a framework called a Ladder of Inference first proposed by  Chris Argyris.  Continue reading “Assumptions and how to challenge them”

The Importance of Mindsets

Have you ever wondered why some people always respond in the same way in certain situations? In the workplace, when faced with change, one response often heard is ‘well we have already tried this, and it didn’t work’.

Another is ‘yes that’s a good idea but…

What is a Mindset?

These responses are signs of a mindset. The mindset in this example is that of a having a negative response to the world around us. Although an overworked cliche, it’s the way of seeing the world as a glass half empty rather than a glass half full. Continue reading “The Importance of Mindsets”

Why image based creative tools are better than words

Recently I have facilitated  three creative workshops, 2 which were focused on creative problem solving and one which was a process of personal development. The common denominator in each was not just that they were creative but that I used drawing, images and collage as tools in the process. The results underline the value in using image based work in problem solving and change. Continue reading “Why image based creative tools are better than words”

Enabling change in an energised way

I have been enabling change for as long as I have been working! This has taken many forms, as a manager, a teacher, trainer, facilitator and coach. One of the constant challenges I have found is how to gain peoples buy in to what can be a very painful process. If we are honest, few of us like change initially. You just have to look at the way people choose to sit in the same seats every day on their daily commute! We create our own comfort zones by forming habits and performing rituals on a  daily basis. This provides a sense of security and I am not knocking this as I need this as much as anyone, however we do need to be pushed out of our comfort zones in order to grow and develop and for change to happen. Continue reading “Enabling change in an energised way”

4 ways passion is important at work

Passion can be defined as any powerful or compelling emotion. This can be either positive or negative and wars have been fought due to the level of negative emotion.  So, what does passion mean in a work context?

4 ways in which passion is important at work

  1. Passion is strongly correlated with motivation. If people are passionate about what they are doing then they will be motivated. Motivation and passion will keep you going and developing

“The thing that distinguishes one performer from another is how hard he or she works. That’s it. And what’s more, the people at the very top don’t work just harder or even much harder than everyone else. They work much, much harder.” – Malcolm Gladwell Continue reading “4 ways passion is important at work”

10 Creativity Tips

Kangeroo builder110 creativity tips which can help you with new ideas and to challenge assumptions.

    1. Be open to possibilities – this means thinking ‘yes and’, not ‘yes but’ and keeping all senses on alert for new ways of ‘seeing’. Not being judgemental and not jumping to defensiveness. When faced with someone else making a proposal that you would normally reject, take time to consider how it could work and then how you could build upon it.

Continue reading “10 Creativity Tips”

For Innovation-how to generate ideas

It has been reported recently that the famous 20% idea time through which Google encouraged employees to work on their own projects, is no longer in use.

However on further research it would seem that it is in principle still possible for Google employees to work on individual projects but the pressure of time is such that employees often end up working 120% overall. Continue reading “For Innovation-how to generate ideas”

The importance of Passion in Creativity and Flow

Recently I have been revisiting the concept of flow as discussed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi  who has described ‘Flow’ as being a ‘state of heightened focus and immersion in activities such as art, play and work’. In the link above he talks about happiness and being absorbed by what we do to the extent that we have not capacity to pay attention to anything else.  Continue reading “The importance of Passion in Creativity and Flow”