One of the most valuable skills an individual can develop is creative problem-solving—that uncanny ability to see solutions where others see only challenges and obstacles. And the larger the problem, the hairier the issue or the more difficult the challenge you overcome, the greater the respect, recognition and remuneration you’ll receive.
But if tapping the dynamic wellspring of creativity were easy, then everyone would be problem-busting savants. So although few of us ooze ingenuity from every pore, there are structured habits and tactics that can trigger inspired solutions and original thinking:
1. Take a break to inspire creative problem-solving.
Regardless of the urgency of the problem or magnitude of the issue, when you’ve been struggling for a fresh perspective or an answer that just won’t come, take a break. Take a walk outside. Do some Tai Chi. Make some pressed coffee. Simply engage in any small, relaxing activity that will help clear your mind and reset your thinking.
As a professional writer for more than 20 years, creative blocks simply come with the territory. I’ve come to realize that sometimes my creativity seizes up and needs a reboot the same way my computer does. Sometimes all my creative problem-solving hard drive requires is some light physical activity or a change of scenery to reset my imagination’s server.
That kind of brief interlude is usually enough to reload my ability to download crisp insight.
2. Seek contradictions to solve problems creatively.
When creative thinking idles or stalls out, this is one of my favorite ways to kick-start the inspirational engine.
Everyone has a confirmation bias where we seek out evidence, facts and data that reinforce our existing opinions, beliefs and ideas. Confirmation bias is part of human nature. Because it happens subconsciously, it can force us into limited thinking and narrow solution sets without us even realizing it.
A quick key to turn over the ingenuity ignition and spur creative problem-solving is to seek out contrarian content, authors or concepts. For example, if you’re a diehard capitalist, try reading a few socialist articles to goose your mental mojo. If you’re a staunch Darwinist, perhaps a podcast on intelligent design can serve as a brainpan boost. If you’re a devout vegan, a YouTube video on dry-rub barbecue might ignite new ideas.
The point is not to get angry or change your beliefs. Rather, it’s to create some dynamic internal tension to shake loose the mental shackles that could be holding you back.
3. Test alternative uses to kick-start creative problem-solving.
As an undergrad, I took an introduction to psychology class that was simply fascinating. In addition to learning about Freud, Skinner and Maslow, we were also exposed to the idea of alternative uses testing.
Simply stated, alternative uses testing is where you take a common everyday item and think of as many different ways to use the object as you can within a certain timeframe. Our instructor thought it was a good in-class activity that easily demonstrated divergent ideation and nimble cognitive function. Our team of three came up with more than three dozen uses for a paper clip in less than five minutes; everything from a zipper pull to a fingernail cleaner to a suspension hanger for your glasses. As a teenager, that classroom exercise left an indelible mark on me.
To this day, I have a jar of common knickknacks at my desk. Whenever I get stuck, I close my eyes, reach in and pull out the first thing I grab. I give myself two minutes to come up with at least a dozen different uses for the thingamajig.
When the two minutes are up, my creative problem-solving juices are flowing. I’m ready to reengage with the task at hand, now armed with renewed perspective and purpose.
Each of these tactics help spur creativity by reframing the problem, distracting attention from perceived obstacles and serving as catalysts for previously unseen connections. They don’t cost anything, and you can do each one right now.
Although they’re not magic, by combining these tricks with a bit of cranial agitation, each of us can instantly spark creative breakthroughs and boost our problem-solving abilities.
This article was published in May 2017 and has been updated. Photo by Dean Drobot/Shutterstock
Tor Constantino is a former journalist, speaker, best-selling author, and current public relations executive and entrepreneur with an MBA and more than 25 years’ experience as a communications professional. He’s worked for several large-cap, publicly traded companies. His core competencies include crisis management, corporate reputation curation, strategic communications counsel, leadership and entrepreneurship. Tor’s views are his own and do not reflect those of his current employer or any other organization. You can connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn.