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21 Examples of Creative Problem Solving

 , updated on August 19, 2023
Creative problem solving is attempting to overcome static, predicable and obvious thinking with techniques designed to encourage and spark creativity. In many cases, valuable creative ideas occur within the constraints of solving a particular problem. The following are illustrative examples of creative problem solving.

Counterfactual Thinking

Solving current problems by considering what would have happened if the past had been slightly different. For example, considering a current career choice by thinking about your choices up to this point and the universe of paths not taken.

Creativity Of Constraints

An author can't think of an idea for a new book because she is thinking extremely broadly with no focus. She decides to impose a set of constraints on the story to stimulate ideas.

Brainstorming

A city wants to improve its quality of life by changing the design of neighborhoods to be safe, stimulating, healthy, resilient and clean. They begin by asking for as many ideas as possible from city residents and urban design experts with no constraints such as budget.

Preserving Ambiguity

A design team avoids making any assumptions in design concept meetings. For example, a team designing a bicycle avoids seemingly obvious assumptions such as two wheels.

Challenging Assumptions

A project team needs to find a new approach as their project is late and overbudget. They list out current project assumptions and challenge each one.

Hypothetical Question

Temporarily imposing assumptions or constraints to see how it would impact people's thinking. For example, a product designer asks his team "what if we needed this product to cost $1."

Thought Experiment

Converting a complex problem to a simpler analogy. For example, an algorithm designer working with complex financial models might use an analogy to people buying apples at a market.

Abstraction

Reducing a problem to its most general form. For example, a creative director at an advertising firm thinks in terms of the emotions that ads trigger in the customer.

Creative Intuition

A software developer solves coding problems 40x faster than average. In many cases, solutions just occur to her without any conscious thought. This typically occurs after extended experience solving similar problems.

Serendipity

Serendipity is a sudden realization that can occur after working on a problem for a long period of time. Einstein developed the Theory of Relativity by thinking about what would happen if a street car moved away from a clock tower at the speed of light. The time from the clock would never catch up to the street car. He described this realization as a "storm breaking loose" in this mind as he knew it had broad implications for physics.

5-whys

Ask why five times in succession to explore the problem, challenge assumptions and validate solutions.

First Principles

Using foundational rules with broad explanatory power. For example, a brilliant designer who relies on the principle of least astonishment to make products that are intuitive to the customer.

Reverse Thinking

Listing your assumptions and then reversing them. For example, a hotel that assumes customers need to check-in that temporarily reverses this to assume that customers do not need to check-in. What would break?

Borrowing Ideas

Looking at innovation in other industries and thinking how similar approaches might apply to your problem.

Role Adoption

Imagining yourself as a different person to approach the problem differently. For example, imagining that you are a person in the distant future or past.

Exaggeration

Look at rare, unusual and extreme situations and perspectives. For example, a restaurant planning to reduce food waste that considers how they would use all their food if the business were suddenly and unexpectedly shutdown for a month.

Embrace the Mess

Using pragmatism to look at solutions that aren’t controlled or simple but rather complex, uncertain and messy. For example, a shop that wants to improve customer satisfaction that drops policies and standard operating procedures to be more responsive to each customer in the moment.

Embrace Mistakes

Consider what would happen if you pursue options that you consider to be obvious mistakes. For example, a student who considers what would happen if they simply dropped out. This may trigger new ideas.

Beginner Mindset

Pretend that you know nothing about the problem space. For example, a pilot designing a safety system who pretends they know nothing about flying to craft an intuitive warning message.

Rule Breaking

List out the rules that apply to a situation and consider what would happen if you broke them. For example, a software designer that lists out best practices and considers what would happen if you did the opposite.

Appreciative Inquiry

Listing out things that are working well that might be scaled or transferred to solve the problem. For example, a cafe owner with declining sales who looks at what menu items are selling well.
Overview: Creative Problem Solving
Type
Definition
Overcoming static, predictable, repetitive and obvious approaches to problem solving with techniques designed to stimulate new, bold ideas.
Related Concepts
Next: Creative Process
More about creativity:
Abstraction
Analogy
Brainstorming
Constraints
Coolness
Creative Ability
Creative Class
Creative Direction
Creative Economy
Creative Expression
Creative Feedback
Creative Hobbies
Creative Industries
Creative Intuition
Creative Leadership
Creative Process
Creative Productivity
Creative Quality
Creative Spark
Creative Tension
Creative Things
Creative Thinking
Creative Value
Creative Works
Creativity Theory
Divergent Thinking
Idea Generation
Ideas
Ideation
Imagination
Improv
Improvisation
Intellectual Diversity
Inventive Step
Journals
Magical Thinking
Metaphysical Conceit
Motley Crew
Non-Obviousness
Originality
Play
Preserving Ambiguity
Reverse Brainstorming
Serendipity
Storytelling
Thought Experiment
Work Creativity
Worldbuilding
More ...
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