Creative Thinking: Unleashing The Other Side of You
In solving problems, many times we drive to the root cause trying to fix the underlining issue believing the situation will be resolved. As we have seen in other articles concerning thinking, this result is not always what we need. As we saw in systems thinking, pushing on one aspect of the problem only exacerbates issues in other areas of the system. Creative thinking is another method of approaching a problem which might bring about a different outcome, in some cases, a superior one to the root cause analysis.
“But, I’m the analytical type. I leave the creativity to the artsy people, the marketing people and the right-side brain people. I deal in data and facts, not flights of fancy,” say most business people or problem solvers. They fail to see the benefit of creative minds in solving problems.
Creative thinking is used to create new products and services, design new methods of work, define new processes, write books and articles and certainly heavily used in art, marketing and communications. Creative thinking is not devoid of data and facts, but rather uses them in unique or new ways.
For example, is a glass half empty, half full or completely filled with 50% liquid and 50% air? Which is the correct answer? It may simply depend on the perspective or the desired message transmitted.
According to the Business Dictionary website, creative thinking can be defined as
“A way of looking at problems or situations from a fresh perspective that suggests unorthodox solutions (which may look unsettling at first). Creative thinking can be stimulated both by an unstructured process such as brainstorming, and by a structured process such as lateral thinking” (I’ll save lateral thinking description for another article).
Creative Thinking Attributes
According to Virtual Salt, Introduction to Creative Thinking, Creative Thinking is
Ability – the ability to imagine or invent something new by combining, changing, or reapplying existing ideas. It takes knowledge of many areas and applying that knowledge to the current situation.
For example, while working on my deck, I needed to put new beams under the joists for support. In order to meet code, I had to pour footers first to support the beams. My problem was in getting the new beam under the joists, on top of the supports and between the cleats which hold the beam in place, but the beam weighed about 300 pounds and was 20 feet long. The beams had to seat securely on the footers, be in tight contact with the existing joists and slide over top of the securing cleats. Did I mention no one else was around to help?
I was able to push and maneuver the beam a bit, but not enough to move it in place. I could not pick up the beam because of its length and weight while fitting it under the joists. Using some creative thinking, I decided I needed to raise the joists high enough to get the beam into place. Using a 3-ton car jack used for changing wheels, oil, engine work, etc., I raised all 15 joists simultaneously. Of course, the ground being soft did not support the jack at first causing it to dig a hole instead of raising the joists. A plank of wood solved that issue, the joists were lifted, and the beam placed. Creative thinking solved the problem, not critical thinking. Critical thinking would have stated the root cause to be the joists were in the way, the beam too heavy and cumbersome to maneuver, etc. Creative thinking solved the problem.
Attitude – the ability to accept change and newness, a willingness to try different options, even not-so-logical ones to continue improving over old ones. Sometimes the tried-and-true solutions aren’t always the best (and sometimes, they are). Don’t be afraid go maverick and do something different. The problem is to know when a new, creative approach will outshine the existing solution. The new approach may take more time and money initially than the current solution, but in the long run, it may result in superior results.
Process – creative thinking does follow a process. It is not just “off-the-cuff” thinking or ideas. Creative thinkers use a method to move from the current state to a new state.
Creative Thinking Methods
The VirtualSalt website lists some methods used by creative thinkers:
A. Evolution: using incremental improvements to move from the current state to the desired state. Creativity is used to develop the step-wise refinements, so improvements are accepted by those impacted by the change. When changing processes inside organizations, especially well-established processes, iterative changes must be made. Evolution happens over time.
B. Synthesis: Two or more ideas combined into one. I use this method all the time. Since I read voraciously on many topics and genre, I regularly find seemingly unrelated items are relatable combining knowledge from one area into another. I believe this synthesis comes about because of the variety of topics I read. This synthesis process happens naturally in our memories and seems to exhibit itself at the strangest times. With practice, we can improve how often the synthesis happens.
C. Revolution: blow up the current idea and start new. Some people call it the Big Bang – completely ignore the current solution. Start creating a solution as if it never existed before. Often, when someone describes a situation to me, he/she starts to tell me how it currently works or the current method of operation. If the reason for the discussion is to fix what is broken, I’ll stop him/her, so I can start from a place as if it were the first time. I ask these questions, “Don’t tell me how it works now, tell me what you want to happen” or “What are you trying to accomplish?” I don’t want to know the current situation because it biases my thinking towards a solution. Once I have a solution, we can compare it to the current method and take the best of both.
D. Reapplication: Using a current solution in a new way. Recently, I read I can use Mr. Clean’s Magic Eraser to buff the headlight lenses on my car to remove the oxidized film. The Magic Eraser is used primarily for cleaning smudges from walls and counters. Or, dish detergent mixed with vinegar and Epson salt for weed killer (Update: I tried this with limited success. Some weeds died. Some lived. New ones grew back 2 days later. Round-up was a more effective and semi-permanent solution). In reapplication, we take an existing solution and re-use it for another application.
E. Changing Direction: Change the “angle” you approach the situation. We all have our biases, our ways of approaching situations. Try a different angle. Look at the situation differently. Years ago, when my children were young, I’d lay on the floor to be at their level. It was amazing how differently the furniture looked. Problems look differently from different angles. In my article, IT Cube – Six Perspective to Project Requirements, I discuss six different perspectives to consider when collecting requirements: the technician, technical management, business management and executives, user or customer, vendors, and industry analysts. Most people only have one perspective – their perspective.
How Do We Get Started?
Start asking questions.
- Why have we done it this way?
- Who are the recipients of the results?
- How do we want the outcome to look?
- What is our goal for doing this effort?
- Where are we now and where do we want to finish?
- When do we fix this or When do we need an answer?
Re-frame the perspective of the situation.
Sometimes we can change the context. Where else could this solution be useful, as in the Magic Eraser example above.
I enjoy a good laugh, so I’ll use humor to kickstart the process. Make a joke of the situation. Put a little levity into the circumstances. I might twist words, look for a ridiculous solution, restate the obvious, disagree with someone, or simply state the current situation is no good.
Look at the situation from a different angle. Have you ever seen the drawing when viewed it initially looks like an old woman, but if you look deeper, it turns into the face of a young woman? To see one image, we see one perspective. To see the other image, we see a different perspective. Take the current situation. What if it were humorous, or serious, or …. Simply look at it from a different angle.
Creative thinking is another thinking modality. It is problem solving without looking for the root cause. Combined with critical thinking, creative thinking can take the root cause and provide a unique solution, one not readily seen.
Creative thinking is ability – something we can learn and practice, attitude – a “can-do” posture keeping us out of the doldrums of negativity and defeat, and process – a method of being creative.
We see creative thinking is a process of questioning, contextualizing, reframing and simply changing the perspective by changing our approach through humor, shocking statements, verbalizing the obvious and more.
Creative thinking is one of the many useful thinking modalities. It may take the analytical mind out of its comfort zone while providing better solutions to sticky problems.
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