Category: Creative Thinking

Preparing the Way for Creative Problem Solving

Preparing the way for the creative problem solving process.

“Creating something is all about problem-solving.” – Philip Seymour Hoffman

This blog introduces common mental blocks to productive team brainstorming sessions, as well as techniques for dealing with the mental blocks. It also presents some ideas for stimulating creativity.

Identifying Mental Blocks

Brainstorming can help your team arrive at a solution to the problem, even for problems that seem unsolvable or that seem to only have inadequate solutions. However, before beginning a successful brainstorming session to generate ideas, you must remove any mental blocks. Mental blocks can eliminate great solutions before they are thoroughly examined as possibilities or springboards to other possible solutions.

Related: Problem Solving Outcome Based Team Building Activities

There are many types of mental blocks. Most blocks to problem-solving fit into the following categories.

  • Emotions: Emotional blocks can include anything from a fear of risk taking to a tendency to judge or approach the problem with a negative attitude.
  • Distractions: Too much information, irrelevant information, or environmental distractions can prevent a productive team brainstorming session.
  • Assumptions: If problem solvers assume there is only one correct solution, they will be unable to generate additional ideas. Assumptions also become mental blocks from stereotypes or perceived boundaries where none exists.
  • Culture: Culture defines the way we live and limits the ideas we may generate or consider. However, not every culture is the same. Sometimes the cultural blocks are unnecessary, and sometimes we do not consider cultural limitations when we should.
  • Communication difficulties: If we cannot communicate our ideas in some way – speaking, writing, or pictures – these communication difficulties can block our progress in generating ideas.

 Removing Mental Blocks

The first technique is an attitude adjustment. To remove blocks arising from a negative attitude, the team lists the positive aspects or possible outcomes of the problem. Remember that problems are also opportunities for improvement.

The next technique deals with risk taking. To remove emotional blocks arising from a fear of failure, define the risk, then indicate why it is important. Define what the worst possible outcome might be and what options there are in that scenario. Think about how to deal with that possible failure.

The next technique encourages the team to break the rules. Some rules are important, but when rules create an unnecessary imaginary boundary, they must be disregarded so that problem solvers can come up with innovative solutions.

The fourth technique is to allow imagination, feelings, and a sense of humor to overcome a reliance on logic and a need to conduct problem solving in a step-by-step manner.

The fifth technique involves encouraging the team’s creativity.

Stimulating Creativity

The creative problem solving process requires creativity. However, many people feel that they are not creative. This is the sign of a mental block at work. Everyone can tap into creative resources in their brains. Sometimes, it just takes a little extra prodding.

Creativity is not something to be turned on and off when needed. The potential for creativity is always there. We just need to learn how to access it.

Here are some tips for creating a creative mental space to encourage productive brainstorming sessions.

  • Go outside for a few minutes, especially for a nature walk or bike ride. Exercising and getting sunshine even for just a few minutes are sure ways to redirect your brain to a more creative outlook.
  • Change your perspective. Work on the floor or go to the park for you brainstorming session.
  • Breathe deeply. Especially when stressed, we tend to become shallow breathers. Fill your entire lungs with air to get some extra oxygen to your brain. Practice deep breathing for 5 to 15 minutes for not only more creativity, but for a great burst of energy.
  • Write in a journal. Write for 15-20 minutes in a spare notebook or plain paper. It does not have to be about the specific problem you need to solve, but you may discover some mental blocks if you do write about the problem. Dump all of your mental clutter on to one to three pages that no one will ever see (unless you want them to). Then let the pages and their recorded thoughts go, even if just in your mind.

Once you get your creative juices flowing, keep them going by trying the following ideas everyday:

  • Carry a small notebook or jot ideas in your PDA. Be prepared for ideas whenever they come. Ideas often come as you are drifting off to sleep or as you are waking.
  • Stretch your boundaries by posing new questions to yourself, learning things outside your specialty, or breaking up set patterns of doing things.
  • Be receptive to new, fragile ideas that may still need time to develop.
  • Be observant of details, including self details.
  • Find a creative hobby, including working puzzles and playing games.

Information Gathering Stage of The Creative Problem Solving Process for Teams


“Problem-solving becomes a very important part of our makeup as we grow into maturity or move up the corporate ladder.” –  Zig Ziglar

The first step in the creative problem solving process for teams is to gather information about the problem. In order to effectively solve the correct problem, the team needs to know as much about it as possible.

Understanding Types of Information

There are many different types of information. The following list includes information your team will need to consider when beginning the creative problem solving process:

  • Fact
  • Opinion
  • Opinionated Fact
  • Concept
  • Assumption
  • Procedure
  • Process
  • Principle

Facts are small pieces of well-known data. Facts are based on objective details and experience. Opinions are also based on observation and experience, but they are subjective and can be self-serving. When a fact and opinion are presented together, it is an opinionated fact, which may try to indicate the significance of a fact, suggest generalization, or attach value to it. Opinionated facts are often meant to sway the listener to a particular point of view using the factual data.

Concepts are general ideas or categories of items or ideas that share common features. Concepts are important pieces of information to help make connections or to develop theories or hypotheses. Assumptions are a type of concept or hypothesis in which something is taken for granted.

Procedures are a type of information that tells how to do something with specific steps. Processes are slightly different, describing continuous actions or operations to explain how something works or operates. Principles are accepted rules or fundamental laws or doctrines, often describing actions or conduct.

Creative Thinking Outcome Based Team Building Activities
Problem Solving Outcome Based Team Building Activities

Identifying Key Questions

When tackling a new problem, it is important to talk to anyone who might be familiar with the problem. Your team can gather a great deal of information by asking questions of different people who might be affected by or know about the problem. Remind them to ask people with years of experience in the organization, and lower-level employees. Sometimes their insights can provide valuable information about a problem.

What questions should you ask? The key questions will be different for every situation. Questions that begin with the following are always a good starting point:

  • Who?
  • What?
  • Which?
  • Where?
  • When?
  • Why?
  • How?

Here are some examples of more specific questions:

  • Who initially defined the problem?
  • What is the desired state?
  • What extent is the roof being damaged?
  • Where is the water coming from?
  • When did the employee finish his training?
  • How can we increase our market share?
  • Which equipment is working?

One important source of information on a problem is to ask if it has been solved before. The team should find out if anyone in the company has had the same problem. This can generate great information about the problem and potential solutions.

Methods of Gathering Information

When gathering information about a problem, there are several different methods your team can use. No one method is better than another. The method depends on the problem and other circumstances. Here are some of the ways your team can collect information about a problem:

  • Conduct interviews.
  • Identify and study statistics.
  • Send questionnaires out to employees, customers, or other people concerned with the problem.
  • Conduct technical experiments.
  • Observe the procedures or processes in question first hand.
  • Create focus groups to discuss the problem.

Creative Problem Solving for Teams

Creative Problem Solving for Teams

“If you find a good solution and become attached to it, the solution may become your next problem.” – Robert Anthony

The Random House Unabridged Dictionary includes several definitions for the word “problem.” The definitions that we are most concerned with while learning about the creative problem solving process are

  • “Any question or matter involving doubt, uncertainty, or difficulty,” and
  • “A question proposed for solution or discussion.”

A problem can be defined as a scenario in which the current situation does not match the desired situation, or anytime actual performance does not match expectations. Other labels for a problem include challenges or opportunities, or any situation or circumstance for which there is room for improvement.

Creative Thinking Outcome Based Team Building Activities
Problem Solving Outcome Based Team Building Activities

What is Creative Problem Solving?

Creative problem solving is a structured approach to finding and implementing solutions. The creative problem solving process involves creativity. The problem solvers come up with solutions that are innovative, rather than obtaining help to learn the answers or implementing standard procedures.

The creative problem solving process is at work anytime a team identify solutions that have value or that somehow improve a situation for someone.

What are the Steps in the Creative Solving Process?

The Creative Problem Solving Process uses six major steps to implement solutions to almost any kind of problem. The steps are:

  1. Information Gathering, or understanding more about the problem before proceeding
  2. Problem Definition, or making sure you understand the correct problem before proceeding
  3. Generating Possible Solutions using various tools
  4. Analyzing Possible Solutions, or determining the effectiveness of possible solutions before proceeding
  5. Selecting the Best Solution(s)
  6. Planning the Next Course of Action (Next Steps), or implementing the solution(s)