A Secret to Creative Problem Solving
Ever find yourself going over and over a problem in your business, only to hit a dead end or draw a blank?
Find an innovative solution with one simple technique: re-describe the problem.
"The whole idea behind creative problem solving is the assumption that you know something that will help solve this problem, but you're not thinking of it right now," explains Art Markman, cognitive psychologist and author of "Smart Thinking." Put another way, your memory hasn't found the right cue to retrieve the information you need.
Changing the description tells your mind that you're in a different situation, which unlocks a new set of memories. "The more different ways you describe the problem you're trying to solve, the more different things you know about that you will call to mind," says Markman.
Ask yourself two questions:
1. What type of problem is this?
Most of the time, we get stuck on a problem because our focus is too narrow. When you think specifically, you limit your memory and stifle creativity.
Instead, think more abstractly. Find the essence of the problem.
Take vacuum cleaner filters, for example. Vacuums used to have bags that were constantly getting clogged, so innovators focused on how to make a better filter.
James Dyson realized that the problem was actually about separation, or separating the dirt from the air, which doesn't always require a filter. "That freed him to try lots of different methods of separation," says Markman. Hence: the Dual Cyclone vacuum that led Dyson to fame and fortune.
Related Video: Dermalogica's Jane Wurwand on the Creative Process
2. Who else has faced this type of problem?
When you think about your problem abstractly, you realize that other people have solved the same type of problem in radically different ways. One of their solutions may hold the key to yours.
For example, Dyson realized sawmills use an industrial cyclone to separate sawdust from air and modified that technology to create the first filter-free vacuum.
"When you begin to realize that the problem you're trying to solve has been solved over and over again by people in other areas, you can look at the solutions they came up with to help you solve your own," Markman says.
You may not use one of their solutions exactly, but you free your memory to retrieve more information, making that elusive "aha" moment easier to reach.
By re-describing the problem, you're much more likely to find inspiration for a truly creative innovation.
Related: 5 Ways to Boost Your Creative Power
What creative ways have you come up with in problem solving? Leave a comment and let us know.
Nadia Goodman is a freelance writer in Brooklyn, NY. She is a former editor at YouBeauty.com, where she wrote about the psychology of health and beauty. She earned a B.A. in English from Northwestern University and an M.A. in Clinical Psychology from Columbia University. Visit her website, nadiagoodman.com.