3 Crucial Thinking Skills For Better Creative Problem-Solving

 

It takes a sharp mind to solve problems; it takes a brilliant mind to solve them creatively. The most successful CEOs and businesses in the world didn’t get there by merely finding standard, well-worn solutions. Their success comes from consistently being able to come up with innovative new solutions that completely changed the game (and indeed, the world.)

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Take Apple, for example. Steve Jobs was initially frustrated that tablets back then required styluses to work. Then, upon observing that the people around him didn’t seem happy using their cell phones, he thought of giving phones the functionality of tablets. Thus, the iPhone was born.

Similarly, the success of your business and your career hinges on your aptitude at creative problem-solving. Without the requisite thinking skills for it, though, you’ll be at a constant disadvantage, so here’s how you can develop them.

P.S. Take one step closer to mastering all the skills you need for problem-solving with SSA Academy’s WSQ course on solving problems and making decisions at supervisory level!

1. Creative thinking

Innovation is indispensable. Thanks to increasingly saturated markets, customers are becoming choosier, more cynical, and harder to please.

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At this point, those who stand to win are those who can continuously think of new ways to engage customers and give them what they didn’t even know they needed.

To do this, though, you need to have a team that’s able to think really creatively. It might sound simple, but the reality is often more complicated.

Even though no one can deny the importance of innovation, existing work cultures tend to emphasise and reward the kind of focused, analytical thinking that’s associated with productivity. This comes at the cost of discouraging creativity.

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(P.S. Here’s how you can try to balance productivity and creativity at work.)

Clearly, for organisations to pivot towards creative thinking, they need to embed a culture of innovation into the workplace that begins right from the process of onboarding. Hiring managers should also place a higher priority on selecting people who display excellent creative thinking skills.

That doesn’t mean that you should resign yourself to your circumstances. Being adept at generating ideas and thinking creatively is a huge asset for your career. Improve your creative thinking skills by:

  • Training yourself to see connections everywhere

    Steve Jobs once said: “Creativity is just about connecting things.” Creative people can see patterns and links where others don’t. Open your mind, try new things, and be receptive to new ideas: all of these can help you make connections between the unlikeliest of things and be more creative in the long run.

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  • Capitalising on cognitive diversity

    People have different thinking styles, work styles, personalities, and cultural perspectives. Just by observing and learning how others think and work, you’ll have a more profound wealth of experience and information to tap on when you need to think of great, new, ideas at work.

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Need more ideas on how to get better at creative thinking? This’ll help.

 

2. “Deep-dive” thinking

Once the storm of idea generation has resided, you need to consolidate your prospective solutions, evaluate them, and narrow them down to a few viable ones you can use moving forward.

This is when convergent thinking kicks in, thusly called because it requires you to mentally converge on a few solutions. Most working professionals are far better at this “deep-dive” thinking than they are at being creative, so this is where they excel.

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Nevertheless, simplifying your analytical thinking process can help you make great strides towards promoting your efficiency and effectiveness in narrowing down your options:

  • Establish standardised parameters

    Knowing exactly what your parameters are for evaluation allows you to make better and faster decisions. What are your exact evaluation criteria–originality? Relatability? Practicality? What are your constraints in terms of cost, manpower, or others?

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    Remember, though, that while there may be overarching patterns in problems that crop up, it’s important to dissect each problem thoroughly to identify any unique characteristics that may require slightly (or even radically) different approaches to the problem than usual.

 

3. Lateral thinking

In 1967, Edward de Bono coined the term “lateral thinking” to refer to the ability to solve problems using unconventional reasoning methods. If divergent thinking is about mentally diverging, and convergent thinking is about mentally converging, lateral thinking utilises both skills to think out of the box.

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In creative thinking, you’re branching outwards into many different concepts and ideas, likely for idea generation. In analytical thinking, you’re using one standard means of evaluation to decide on which ideas to eliminate and which to advance.

When you’re thinking laterally, you’re analysing a problem from a different direction to examine it through a different perspective.

Sometimes, even when an organisation is pushing hard for more significant innovation in the workplace, it doesn’t happen. It’s not because people are lazy or unwilling to adapt. They may be unconsciously holding on to the established modes of operation, and that’s what’s preventing them from thinking out of the box.

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Lateral thinking can be incredibly helpful here, and this is how you can encourage it:

  • Question assumptions: ask “what if”

    Examine the underlying assumptions behind the problem. In defining a problem statement, for example, there are always assumptions that are being made.

    Going back to the example of Steve Jobs and the iPhone, the problem was that tablets weren’t user-friendly enough because they required styluses. The obvious solution would be to come up with tablets that didn’t require styluses (i.e., the iPad.)

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    But Steve Jobs was able to identify and overturn the assumption that a phone couldn’t have the same functionalities as a tablet. It was a monumental task back then, but he and his team succeeded in packing a tablet’s functionality into a cell-phone. He masterminded the advent of the smartphone, which has permanently transformed the way we live today.

  • Cut out groupthink: appoint a devil’s advocate

    A huge impediment to lateral thinking, and indeed, to problem-solving in general, is a team’s tendency to engage in “groupthink.”

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    When people get together, they are likelier to agree with one another and end up endorsing the same ideas and arriving at the same consensus, even if they may individually disagree or privately have better ideas.

    For a group to get better at lateral thinking, then, groupthink needs to be eliminated. One way to do this is to appoint a moderator or a devil’s advocate at team meetings who is in charge of questioning everything and inviting everyone to speak up regardless of concerns like rank or disposition.

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