How to be a Creative Problem Solver
“You need to be constantly diligent in your problem solving activities, thinking differently than you have in the past.”
That's the advice from Gaylen Paulson, the associate dean and director for Executive Education at McCombs, who says advanced creative problem solving skills are essential to success in any organization.
Paulson says that these problem solving skills become even more important as one advances in their organization. And more times than not, the employee will be highly rewarded for their creativity.
Paulson, in a Knowledge To Webinar Aug. 9, defines a creative idea as “a novel solution to a problem that adds value and stretches a domain.”
He describes three characteristics of creative people:
- Fluency. They produce a large quantity of creative ideas.
- Flexibility. “A more creative person is also going to have a broad range of ideas” rather than “simply variations on a theme," Paulson says.
- Originality. “Creative people tend to have more unique ideas.”
But what if you don't consider yourself a creative person? Paulson has a decidely practical list of 8 steps to improve your outside-the-box thinking.
Paulson’s 8 steps to enhance personal creativity:
- Be curious
- Search for the unusual and surprising
- Set optimistic goals and pursue them
- Carve out time for thought
- Create an environment for yourself that works
- Allow for time off-task when thoughts/ideas can ferment
- Develop a specialty, but keep your eyes open
- Be complex…creative people are characterized by paradox!
Paulson says that an environment where creativity is fostered promotes “child-like curiosity” and it allows “the luxury of opportunity.” Also key to creativity is individual expertise, persistence and just luck.
Creativity is inhibited by limited access to important information, the necessity for “putting out the day-to-day fires”, choosing the tried and true approach, lack of interest and bad luck, according to Paulsen.
Most often an employee is faced with the challenge of solving problems with a group, rather than as an individual. Paulson says with a group “your choices are NOT independent of others’ …. your decision needs to become a function of others’ choices.” You must consider “What is everybody else thinking and how does that affect my approach?”
Paulson uses a simple guess the number game to illustrate his point. In this game, the player submits an integer between 0 and 100. The winner is the person whose guess is closest to two-thirds of the mean of all submissions. So the game becomes an exercise in anticipating what other players will guess the median will be.
He also uses the example of professional investors, described by Keynes. Keynes says professional investors are not devoted to choosing the best investment. He says they are more likely to favor those “which (they) think likeliest to catch the fancy of the others.”
Paulson suggests the "adjusted winner" tactic as a creative problem solving solution in groups. Each person is given points and they assign them to the outcomes they want the most. Each person then becomes a bidder for their most desired outcome. He believes that this is a fair way to handle challenges like course registration and, even, divorce.
Listen to the complete webinar here.