Creative Problem Solving: Learning to Think Outside the Box

Problem solving: it’s not just about being able to determine when train A and train B will cross paths if each comes from a different direction going at a different speed. Problem solving is what you do every day of your life. It’s what you do when you go to the grocery store and you have $10 more than your allotted budget in your cart. It’s what you do when you have a dissatisfied client at work. It’s what you do when you aren’t happy with your personal life and you’re not sure why.

Creative problem solving is the interpersonal skill that allows us to continue to work together, to enjoy mutually beneficial relationships. There are often problems in relationships — whether they are romantic relationships or relationships between employees and supervisors. Creative problem solving allows us to maintain our relationships despite these problems and conflicts.

Problem Solving_Thinking Outside the Box

What is Creative Problem Solving?

Creative problem solving is the ability to come to a unique and innovative solution to a problem or conflict. When you engage in creative problem solving, you “think outside the box,” drawing on your brain’s past experiences and knowledge to come up with a solution to the problem.

Creative problem solving requires individuals to think strategically about a problem and its stakeholders, then to make surprising leaps and connections between previously understood information and new information.

For example, if an individual works at a interior design studio and has the task of making a small office or apartment look larger, he or she needs to consider not only what design features will allow this but also the client and what he or she would like the office to look like.

Previous designs, mathematical formulas, what the individual has seen in movies or read in books, and the individual’s perception of the client all work together to shape the creative solution the individual’s solution to the problem.

There are a number of different types of creative problem solving methods developed by scientists and psychologists who believe they have narrowed the process of creative problem solving into specific steps. Not all of these formulas will work for every person, and individuals often state that they have found developing their own method to be most effective.

If you set out to develop a personal creative problem solving method that works for you, remember to make the method flexible enough that it allows creativity to strike.

What are Examples of Creative Problem Solving in Everyday Life?

Creative problem solving comes into play each time a person is faced with a problem and is willing to use creative means to come to a solution.

For example, take the case of two stay-at-home mothers who want to start a home-based business together but have found it impossible to work together while both of their children are at home. They can solve this problem creatively by starting a group for other mothers who want to start businesses. Each week, another mother takes turns watching the children so that the other mothers can work on their businesses alone or in groups.

Another example of creative problem solving is the couple who can’t agree on who does the chores each week because they feel each chore chart developed is biased, so they decide to draw chores out of a hat each week.

How Can I Develop My Creative Problem Solving Skills?

Coming up with creative solutions to a problem means being willing to think past everyday, ordinary solutions to something else that might require a little bit of risk.

You can develop these skills by taking extra time to deal with each problem you intend to solve and listing a number of non-traditional solutions in addition to the solutions you would normally choose.

However, it is important to remember that creativity does not come out of nowhere. Creativity comes from exposure to past ideas and situations. The more you can surround yourself with — books, movies, people, encounters — the more creative you will be.

Useful resources:

5 Steps to Thinking Outside The Box
Stop Thinking Outside the Box – Harvard Business Review Blog

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