========================================================= Creative Problem Solving By Mary Alyce Burkhart, Ph.D. and Kevin L. Polk, Ph.D. Copyright 2000, All Rights Reserved Introduction We start everyone off with problem solving because it is the most familiar ground for you to cover. It is also one of the things you are most conscious of doing from day to day. You may call the process "decision making." While decision making is part of problem solving, it is actually step four in the process. That is the reason why many people have trouble with problem solving; they tend to skip over the first three steps, then they forget to include part of step five. So one of the first things to learn is to stop calling it "decision making" and start calling it "problem solving." The decision is made in step four. As you can see, creative problem solving involves five steps. The reason we know that is because two psychologists, Goldfried and Davidson, studied good problem solvers back in the 1970s. They studied people who had great problem solving track records. These people used the following five steps to tackle problems. I have simplified the language and (hopefully) made the steps a bit more fun to read about. Step 1, Attitude: Goldfried and Davidson called this "Problem Solving Orientation." It's the realization that life is just a series of problems to be solved. You might as well just roll up your sleeves and get to work solving them. I call it having a good attitude. This one may be obvious to you, but it's one of those obvious things you will tend to forget about when you have a problem in front of you. If you have a poor attitude, the chances of coming up with a successful solution for the problem is pretty slim. The absolute worst attitude is summed up in the phrase: "I can't do that." At that point all problem-solving stops. If you think you can't solve a problem, you can't. At least there is not much point in going through the rest of the steps with that attitude. Remember; start with "I can do this." There is a universe of difference between can and can't. Don't make light of that difference. Of course there are many other thoughts that can lead to a poor problem-solving attitude. Not as bad as "can't," but enough to mess up the process. So here is a list of some negative thoughts that you might use, or you might hear other people using when going into problem solving. You need to catch these thoughts and change them before you go to step two in the process. - This is too hard. - I know other people have done this, but it's much harder for me. -If only I had more (time, money, help, talent, name your excuse), I might be able to solve this. - Why does this always happen to me? - The world is out to get me. I'm the only one with this problem. - This is an emergency! I don't have time to think about this! So let‚s take a look at those thoughts and see how we might change them into ones that will create a better problem-solving attitude. "This is too hard." This statement is very close to "I can't." The better way to think is, "I really don't know how difficult this problem is to solve.?" Why? Because we all have had what seemed to be huge problems that were solved with some minor changes. Then there were the problems that seemed simple and ended up being very difficult to solve. The great thing about creative problem solving is that you just might think up a simple solution to what seemed to be a difficult problem. So enter into every problem solving opportunity with an open mind. You don't ever really know how hard or simple a problem is going to be. "I know other people have done this, but it's much harder for me." This statement is close to the first, but it adds that element that you are somehow less adequate to solve the problem than others are. If you think you are less adequate, chances are you will be less adequate. There is no need to enter into problem solving with this thought. It stifles your creativity. "If only I had more (time, money, help, talent, name your excuse) I might be able to solve this." This is an excuse for not doing anything. This one is straight out of the procrastinator's handbook. This thought allows you to wait around for some good fortune to come your way before you start to work. Time, money and help may or may not be part of what you need to solve a problem. If you need them, then that's another problem to be solved. "The world is out to get me. I'm the only one with this problem." The world is not out to get you or anyone else. If you take problems personally, you end up feeling sad and angry. Neither is going to help you solve problems. In every life there are thousands of problems to be solved. Everyone has thousands, everyone. "This is an emergency! I don't have time to think about this!" Believe it or not, this is the one I hear the most. I call it being in "emergency mode." That means you don't have to think much. You just make a gut decision and go with it. Never mind about the long-term consequences, just make the decision! The fact is that 99.9% of life is NOT an emergency. You have time to think. Your brain, however, does not want to take time to think. It knows that it is a supercomputer and it wants to act like one. For some parts of your life this is a good thing. You don't want to be taking time to consider every little move you make during a day. You would never get much of anything done. There are a many things that do require you to slow down and think. You know what they are because you really don't have the answers to them. You just take stabs at solutions and hope for the best. So when you catch yourself saying, "This is an emergency.," slow down. Ask yourself, "Is someone going to die or get really sick if I don't make the decision fast?" If the answer is "No," then chances are you have time to think. There may be dozens of thoughts you can have that get in the way of problem solving. You will know when you are having them by how you feel about the problem. If you are motivated to take it on, then your thoughts are probably fine. If you feel sad, mad or frightened of the problem, check out the thoughts you are having about it. Find the negative thoughts and make them into positive ones. There is just no replacement for a good attitude when it comes to creative problem solving. So get one! Step 2 - Defining/Describing the Problem When we talk about a problem we talk about six things. As a matter of fact, these are the only six things humans talk about. When it comes to creative problem solving you want to make sure you have answered some questions about these six things before you start coming up with solutions. The six things are: Who, What, Where, When, How, and Why (called 5 Ws and an H). I know you have seen these questions since the third grade. You use each of these words at least a hundred times a day. Now you want to carefully apply them to solving your problems. You do that by deliberately slowing down your thinking and asking yourself at least the following six questions about your problem: 1. What is the problem? 2. Who owns the problem? 3. Where does the problem happen? 4. When does it happen? 5. How does it happen? 6. Why does it happen? There are thousands of other questions you can ask about a problem that include the five W's and an H. These are just ones to get you started. You don't have to ask thousands of questions. Just ask enough so that you develop a clear picture of the problem you are dealing with. Note: If you are solving a problem with a group, then you want to keep asking questions until everyone in the group has a good picture of it. This is exactly the place where you can get the group "buy in" you hear so much about. If everyone has had their chance to describe how they see a problem, and they know the other members of the group have heard them, then chances are they will "buy in" to the solution. The mistake people make by themselves and in groups is skipping over this process. They "think" they know what the problem is and go on from there. In reality you can probably never know a problem completely. That does not mean you want to get stuck at Step 2 forever, it just means you want to take plenty of time to get a clear picture of the problem by defining and describing it. Let's get back to the list of questions and take a look at some possible pitfalls in each one. What is the problem? The most common mistake is saying that a problem is a person instead of saying it is the behavior of a person. So instead of saying, "Bill, you're a problem," say, "Bill, your behavior is a problem." Once you say that you can measure the problem. Measure you say? Yes, in order to know the "what" of a problem you need to be able to measure it. This is where "How" questions are used. For example, "How short or long is it?" "How much does it weigh?" "How many." You see, you can't measure "Bill." You can measure how many widgets he makes in an hour, how fast he types and how many phone calls he makes. You can even measure how friendly he is. The point is that you want to state "what" a problem is in terms that you can measure. This will make Step 5 in the process a lot easier. Who owns the problem? You want to ask this question to make sure you are not trying to solve someone else's problem for them. Other people's problems seem a lot easier to take on. That's because you don't have the emotional commitment to the problem. You also don't have to suffer the consequences if the solution does not work. You will discover, however, that other people's problems are infinitely hard to solve. You can't define the problem because you don't know it well. The only exception to this is when someone asks for your help. If they do, take them through these problem-solving steps. Otherwise, solve problems that pertain to you. Where is the problem? The pitfall here is that people just forget to ask the question. Where refers to a place. In the case of those Mars probes that keep disappearing, the problem is on Mars. That's a tough place to have a problem. Fortunately most of your problems will be here on earth. Does the problem happen at work? At home? In the car? Sometimes where a problem occurs is very important. Always ask the question just in case it is. When is it a problem? Again, the most common mistake is forgetting to ask the question. Is it only in the morning, afternoon, evening? Maybe it happens only when others are present. Every problem occurs in a context of the things around it at the time that it happens. Figure out all that is happening at that time. How is it a problem? I like to think of "How To" books when I think of this question. They are laid out in steps that you do one after another. Problems occur the same way. First this happens, then that happens, then the next thing happens. The pitfall is that we often think of a problem as the final step in the process. In reality the problem may be at one of the steps along the path to the problem. Make sure you describe the steps of a problem to get a good picture of it. Why is it a problem? I like to call this the "Philosophy" question. That is because you can go really deep with a "why" question. For example, "Why are we here on earth?" When it comes right down to it, a problem is a problem because someone thinks it's a problem. What's a problem for me may be no problem to you. Sometimes a problem is just not a problem if you look at it differently. This sort of goes back to Step 1 and your attitude about a problem. Through defining the problem you may change the way you see things. The problem may just go away. Don't make light of this, I have seen it happen hundreds of times! Step 3 - Generating Solutions (a.k.a. Brainstorming, Thinking Outside the Box) This is where you will truly put the "creative" in Creative Problem Solving. This is also where people often jump in to the NON-creative problem solving process. They don't think about their attitude, they barely describe the problem, then they come up with a solution. You will notice this step is called Generating Solutions (emphasis on that plural "s"). This is the point that you want to pull out all the stops and just think of every possible thing you might do to solve the problem you have defined. If you get stuck set the problem aside awhile and get back to it later. If you are still stuck, go back and check your attitude, then describe the problem some more. Then do more generating of solutions. Literally write down every idea you have. If you can't write fast enough, then tape-record them. Just let the solutions fly! Notice there is no mention of evaluating the solutions. That is because you don't want to evaluate at this point. Have fun and say any crazy solution that comes into your head. The more far out the better. Laugh and have fun with it. Also come up with more serious solutions. Don't label them as wacky or serious though, just say them and record them. There are more things you can do to get creative in this process. One is simply to change rooms. Yes, change rooms or go outside! This will cause you to see the world differently. It may even cause you to redefine the problem. (That's okay because you can always go back and do more defining.) How about go out and exercise, then generate some more solutions. You will change the state of your body, so maybe you will see things differently when you come back. You see there are hundreds of things you can do to jump-start your creativity and generate more solutions. Don't limit yourself. Above all remember the two primary rules for generating solutions: 1) Record every solution you (or the group) thinks of. Don't ever let one get away! 2) Never evaluate solutions at this stage. This is not the time for that and it will stifle creativity. Leave the evaluating to step four. For now Generate Solutions! If you watch people problem solve like we do, you will notice a lot of violations of rules 1 and 2 for Step 3. We usually see no time at all spent on Step 1 (Attitude) and precious little (if any) time spent on Step 2 (Defining and Describing). Then a solution is brought up that does not get written down. Then the person (or group) goes to work deciding whether that's a good solution or not. If it's judged to be good, problem solving is over. As you can imagine, this is NOT the road to creative problem solving. We can not stress enough the importance of following the rules of recording all solutions and not evaluating them as they come up. Above all make this an exciting process. Jump up and down, get your energy going, get excited. Think of it this way, if this is a problem worth solving, isn't it worth getting excited about? If the answer is "No," then go back and check your attitude. It needs adjusting. Step 4 - Choosing a Solution In Step 3 you came up with several possible solutions to your problem. You were careful to record them all and not evaluate them. You also made extra effort to get excited about generating the solutions. Now it's time to make a decision! You will decide what solution you want to try out. In a way this is going to be a repeat of defining and describing, but this time you will be describing each solution, then deciding how well you like it. If you tape-recorded your solutions, write down ALL the solutions you came up with. If you are by yourself, a piece of paper will do. If you are doing this in a group, do it on a board where all can see. Next, make two columns down the right side of the solutions. Label one column "Pros" the other "Cons." When you think of a good reason to use the solution, put a hash mark (|) in the pro column. Do the same for cons. Also, write down a note about each pro and con so you can remember what the hash marks stand for. The process of finding pros and cons is much like describing and defining the solutions. You ask questions like, Who will do it? What will be done? When will it be done? Just go through the five Ws and an H and define and describe each solution. This process often gives you more definition of the problem. You may well think of new solutions while you are doing this. That's fine, just put them at the bottom of the list and go back to defining the other solutions. When you have gone through each item on the list you will have a pretty good idea of which solutions you might want to try. So narrow the list down and really analyze the ones that look promising. Now comes a very important question, Which one do you think you can get most excited about doing? Try to find the most exciting solution because that's the one you are most likely to get motivated to do. That brings us to sustainability. For the most part you are better off if solutions follow the old "KISS" rule (Keep It Simple and Sustainable). If a solution is too hard and too complicated, it won't get done. If it's something you will forget to do, it won't get done. That's why it's important to see if you get excited about a solution. The simple fact is that you will tend to do things you are excited about doing. A good solution that gets done is a whole lot better than a great solution that does not get done. This is the end of Lesson 4. Now you have a Good Attitude, you have Defined and Described the problem, you have gotten excited and Generated Solutions and you have now Chosen A Solution that seems good and you are motivated to do. Lesson 5 - Doing and Reviewing In lesson 4 you learned how to go about choosing a solution. That came from your Good Attitude, your Description of the problem and getting excited about Generating Solutions. You defined each solution and decided whether it was worth a try. You decided on a solution that you are pretty sure you can stay motivated to do. Now you are ready to try it out. In other words, you are ready to "Do It." Before you do it, however, you want to make sure you will know if it's working. Remember back in Step 2 when I said it is important to define a problem in terms you can measure? Now you will want to use those measures to see if your solution is working. If you wanted to make more widgets per day, then you will need to count the widgets you make and see if you made more. What you measure depends entirely on how you defined the problem in the first place. So it's a simple matter to go back to Step 2 and see what you wrote down about the problem. Choose something you can measure. Now you will need to determine how things are in the present. For example, how many widgets are we making per day now? How much do I weigh now? How much money do I have now? Whatever you measure now will be your benchmark for checking how well your solution works in the future. If you implement the solution and thing improve, great! If you implement and things get worse, oops, it happens to the best of us. Things may even stay the same. In all three cases you have more work to do. Let's say things got better. Are they as good as you would like? If they are, how are you going to keep them that way? That may be a whole new problem to solve, maybe not. Maybe you can see a way to adjust your solution to make it even better. That often happens. Then again maybe your solution messed things up. This is called the rule of unforeseen consequences. Try as you might sometimes you just can't see how things will turn out. This is when that good problem-solving attitude really comes in handy. If you have a good attitude you will say, "Well, at least I learned something." Then you can go back to defining the problem equipped with the new information you now have. Face it, there is no other way you could have got that information without trying. [Sidebar] This is a good time to tell the story of Thomas Edison inventing the light bulb. He had to try over a thousand times to find the right filament. He was once asked how he could stand making over a thousand mistakes. He said something like, "They weren't mistakes, they were just steps to making a light bulb." With each attempt he knew what did not work. This is the true nature of problem solving. There are no failures; you just get more information. [End Sidebar] The third scenario is that things stay the same. Then there is a good chance that you did not have the problem defined well. In essence, you missed your target. The better you define your problem the more on target you will be with your solution. The answer is to keep your good attitude and go back to defining. Notice that while Creative Problem Solving is a five-step process, you will almost always backtrack to previous steps. For that matter, since problems are just a way of life, you will be continually restarting the process as one problem leads to another. If you are like most of us at times you will get in a hurry and skip over a step or two. That won't be a problem if you catch it. Just go back and do the step(s) you skipped. As you get into the flow of checking your attitude, defining, generating, choosing, then doing and reviewing the process will become second nature to you. Then when you hear others talking of solving problems you will begin to listen in terms of what stage they are in. What you will really notice is how they skip over crucial stages in the process. Remember, problem solving IS life. At times thing may get you down and you will feel stressed, sad and irritable. Of course, feeling stressed, tired and irritable is a problem! So go through the problem solving steps and find a solution. You will find that just going through the steps will help you feel better. That is because you will know you are about to do something to feel better. Lesson 6 - An Example Here is an example of how one might run through the creative problem solving steps you learned in Lessons 1 through 5. Example: Losing Weight You see this problem everywhere. We all know it is a popular problem because billions of dollars are spent on it every year. What people who want to lose weight tend to do is jump from one solution to another as they hear about the latest diet or exercise fad. For example, for years we avoided fat. Now we are told that may not be that big of a deal. Then we are told to avoid carbohydrates. First you have to do strenuous exercise 20 minutes a day, every other day. Then it's okay if you do ten minutes of good paced walking several times a week. The problem for a lot of people is that no matter what they try they either don't lose weight, or they don't keep it off when the lose it. This sounds like a problem for the Creative Problem Solving Method! Step 1: Attitude. In my opinion this is the source of most people's problems with weight. On the one hand they say they want to lose weight and keep it off, on the other hand they may be thinking, "I really can't lose weight." If that word "can't" is really in their thinking, they are doomed to failure. There are much less obvious attitude problems, however. One is control. A lot of people are angry because they have to lose weight. They are told they should lose weight, so they try, but secretly they resent it. They think thoughts like, "I know they all say I'm supposed to lose weight, but I should be able to eat what I want." Someone thinking this thought is losing weight for the wrong reason. The right reason is because of your health and how good you feel, not what people want you to do. There are dozens of different ways people can sabotage weight lose with negative thoughts. If you are trying to lose weight, don't forget to check your attitude work on changing any negative thoughts into positive ones. For example, you might think, "Eating healthy is good for me and can also taste good. I do not have to give up my favorite foods or enjoying meals with friends and family." Step 2 - Defining the Problem Who's problem is it? If it's your problem with your weight, that's fine. If it's someone else's problem with your weight, that's not okay. (This takes you right back to attitude, make sure you want to lose weight for you, not someone else.) What is the problem? Well, the obvious answer is fat, but there can be other problems. Maybe you have expensive clothes that you are about to "grow" out of. Maybe your doctor has told you your heart is in trouble. Maybe you want to be more attractive to yourself so you will be more attractive to others. Maybe you like chocolate just a little too much. Where is the problem? You might say the problem is in your butt and gut. Then again the problem might be hanging around the pastry shop too much. Maybe you can't get in your car anymore. There are lots of "where's." When is it a problem? For sure it's a problem when you are eating. It's a problem when you are hungry. Is the problem when you are with others or alone? Do you eat the most at a certain time of day? Timing has a lot to do with eating. Make sure you define it well. How? How do you decide what to eat? How do you eat? Fast or slow? How do you cook dinner? How do you get something for lunch? How do you shop? How do you exercise? Better, how do you avoid exercising? You really need to know the steps you take to eating and exercising. Why? Why do you really want to lose weight? Be honest with yourself. Make sure you have a good reason that motivates you. Generating Solutions: Take up marathon running. Become a vegetarian (they always look skinny). Go on the latest diet. Exercise for five minutes a day. Count calories. Cook low fat meals. Cook high protein meals. Take up a new sport. Get liposuctioned. Buy and use an exercise machine. Buy a new scale. Go on diet pills. Don't go food shopping for weeks. See your doctor. Go on the "Chocolate" diet. Take off your clothes (guaranteed to lose weight) Choosing a Solution: Obviously some of the solutions are silly. It won't take long to define those. They are there to have fun, so they get written down in the spirit of having fun. Marathon - Who? You. What? Running. Where? On the road, on a track? When? Morning or afternoon for several hours at a time. How? Get up, get your running clothes on, take off. Why? It's a good way to burn calories. Pros: Definitely will lose weight. Cons: Very Time consuming. Pounds your body. You get the idea, you can do the rest using the 5Ws and an H, then doing pros and cons. What you want to end up with is a solution that has a good chance of working AND there is a good chance you are motivated to do it. If you are not motivated, then that's another problem. (How will I get motivated to _________.) Doing and Reviewing Let's say "Exercise five minutes per day" was chosen, and exercise was defined as "Brisk Walking" in Step 4. So you put five minutes of walking per day in your schedule for several days. After each day you look back and recall if you spent time doing "Brisk Walking." If no time was spent, you need to go back to Step 1 and check your attitude. The same thing can be done with any of the solutions that seem likely to lose you weight, as long as the solution is defined in terms that you can measure. Walking can be measured in miles or minutes per day. Weight lifting can me measured in reps and how much you lift. Weight loss is measured in pounds and inches. Whatever you do come up with a measure that you know you can keep doing. If you stop reviewing your progress, then you probably will stop doing the solution. That usually means that your problem will not go away, or it will return. Keep reviewing how well you are doing your solutions. It's the secret of solving any problem. ================================================== Here is a check list of the five Creative Problem Solving Steps and the most important points to remember about each one. -Attitude - Problems are just part of life. Just roll up your sleeves and take them on. Remember you CAN solve problems. Most problems are not emergencies. -Defining and Describing - Ask Who, What, Where, When, How and Why questions about the problem. Ask them until you have a good "picture" of what the problem is. -Generating Solutions - Get excited! Then let the solutions fly. Record them all. Don't evaluate them, just let them out! If you get stuck, set things aside and get more information. Read books and articles to find possible solutions. Take your time, it's not an emergence. -Choosing a Solution - Get your list of solutions and define and describe each one. Ask the 5 Ws and an H question about each one. Then write down the pros and cons of each solution. Narrow the list down to solutions you are pretty sure you can get motivated to do. Then choose the one that seems to be a good solution that you WILL do. Do and Review - Try out your solution and see if it works. You know what to measure because you described that in steps 2 and 4. So measure your results and see if the solution is working. If it works, keep reviewing your results. If not, go back to step 1. Remember! This is not a rigid process. You will find yourself jumping around the steps. As a matter of fact, you will probably catch yourself after you have implemented a solution and it's not working. Then you will recall that you skipped over some steps. Don't be hard on yourself. I catch myself doing that and I have been doing this for almost 20 years! Just go back and go through the steps you missed. Have a Great Time Problem Solving! Warmest Regards, Drs. Burkhart and Polk

source: Time Doctor tags: Problems, Creativity