Uncomplicated, or well-structured, problems don’t always have easy answers, but you can solve them using traditional means—facts, mathematical techniques and algorithms, hypotheses, a trial-and-error approach, rules-of-thumb, analysis and logical thinking, or by applying what has worked before.
And then there are ill-structured or complex problems. These problems don’t have a “correct” answer, only more effective or less effective solutions.
Examples of complex problems are:
- How to salvage a broken relationship.
- Better ways to market a product that is not selling well.
- Ways for a political party to handle that stupid tweet from their candidate.
- How to deal with my nervousness when making a public speech.
- How to speak to an underperforming employee without damaging her confidence.
- Disaster! How do we handle this crisis?
- I have tried everything I can think of, and nothing has worked!
These are unique concerns (no two relationships, markets, political mishaps, or crises are ever the same) that need original solutions.
This is where creative-thinking techniques come in.
Brainstorming is probably the best-known creativity technique, and while it is effective (IF you use Alex Osborn’s guidelines), there are many more.
- force you out of normal or traditional problem-solving techniques
- open you up to new ideas, information, and sources that you would never have considered before
- encourage you see the problem from new angles, finding alternative approaches to the problem
- give you a fresh perspective on the problem (helpful if you have tried everything you could think of)
- make it easier to identify and challenge assumptions that hold you back
- encourage you to produce several ideas; the more ideas you have, the better your chances of resolving the problem
- put you in a playful, uninhibited mood, making it more likely that you will generate wild and crazy ideas which, on consideration, might not be so crazy after all; research shows that both playfulness and a positive mood foster creativity (see footnote).
Creativity techniques do not guarantee solutions; however, they do stimulate your imagination and “tickle” your brain in your search for exceptional solutions.
See for example
- Isen, A. M., Daubman, K. A., & Nowicki, G. P. (1987). Positive affect facilitates creative problem solving. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52(6), 1122–1131
- Nadler, RT., Rabi, N., & Minda, J.P. (2010) Better mood and better performance: Learning rule described categories is enhanced by positive mood. Psychological Science, 21(12), 1770-1776
- Zabelina, D. L., & Robinson, M. D. (2010). Child’s play: Facilitating the originality of creative output by a priming manipulation. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 4(1), 57–65.