Problem-solving, and indeed creativity more generally, is best broken down into a process. By establishing the key steps in the creative process, you can endeavour to focus on improving each step, and consequently dramatically improve your creative problem-solving skills.
Researchers and psychologists disagree on the number of steps and their names, but I feel there are five steps that offer the greatest opportunities for transforming your creativity.
Here is an overview of the process and the steps, with multiple links taking you to other articles I’ve written about improving each of the steps.
The creative process:
Step 1 – Absorption
Also referred to as preparation, the first step in the creative process describes the raw materials with which you have to work. This step is not only about creating the right environment for creativity, it is more about creating the internal conditions for creativity. Simply put, to improve your creativity, learn new things, cross domains, become a polymath and multi disciplinarian.
Step 2 – Reframing
The second step to improving your problem-solving is getting better at reframing problems. This is when you start to use your creative thinking, but not in terms of solution-oriented brainstorming, but in terms of challenging your assumptions about the nature of the problem. In my experience, this is the step that is most often overlooked, and the step where dramatic improvements can be made. Specifically, the next time you have a problem to solve before you start generating ideas about the solution, spend no less than 10 minutes just asking questions that relate to the problem itself.
Step 3 – Divergent Thinking / Idea Generation
Step three in the creative process is using divergent thinking to generate ideas and potential solutions for your problem. The majority of creativity research focuses on this step, and is the type of creative thinking that most of us are most familiar with – it encompasses brainstorming, mind mapping, free association and the majority of group-based creative thinking. To emphasise the key point, this should not be the first step to solving problems (see step 2 in particular). Due to the fondness of researchers to study this topic, there is an abundance of literature that details strategies and techniques to improve your divergent thinking and your brain’s ability to generate ideas and think laterally.
Step 4 Convergent Thinking / Consolidation of Ideas
The Next step is to process all of the ideas from step three with a view to consolidating, refining and ultimately making a decision. As tempting as this is to do immediately after step three, the science is clear that your brain needs time, space and perspective to do this well. Specifically to access convergent thinking your brain needs to shift state and access alpha brain waves to do this step well. This is one reason why we tend to associate creative a-ha moments with showers, baths, long walks and our sleep – it’s because they all help your brain shift state. So, after your next brainstorm give your brain the downtime it needs – let it process all of your ideas unconsciously and it will form connections that your conscious mind would have struggled to make.
Step 5 – Implementation
The final step in the creative and problem-solving process is implementation. This may seem obvious but all too often good ideas are only ever that. To successfully implement you now need to get strategic, systemic and goal oriented. Approaches here may vary, but a commonality will be the need to take action. Consider your specific goal, the deadline by which you will have solved your problem, the process through which you will solve it, you’re very first step and the date by which you will have taken it. And then begin. Be willing to fall, and make mistakes. See it as an iterative process and change your approach if necessary.
The next time you have a problem to solve, break it into these steps and do your best to treat each step as a separate process in itself. As you get better at these skills overtime your problem-solving will improve and your creative brain will come alive.