How To Become A Better Problem Solver

The Principle

Peoples’ creative problem solving abilities come to the fore when we are doing and experimenting rather than talking and planning.

The Evidence

So why does ‘doing’ help improve your creative problem solving abilities?

Tom Wujec has studied collaborative creativity for a long time. One of his well know studies is the ‘build a tower’ test. Teams are given a yard of masking tape, 20 uncooked sticks of spaghetti, a yard of string and a marshmallow. Their brief is to build the highest structure they can to support the marshmallow at its top, in 18 minutes. He has given this test to lots of different types of people; from 4yr olds and CEOs to business students and lawyers.

Tower made of spaghetti sticks with a marshmallow balancing on topAnd the teams that built the highest structure are the 4yr olds… So what are these young kids doing that the adults are not? Interestingly they do not waste time deciding who is going to be the leader, delegating tasks or detailing their plan of attack. Instead they just get on and start building. They experiment fast and quickly work out where the problems lay. This is half the battle in innovation; knowing which problems are the right problems to solve in the first place.

Basically kids think by acting but as people get older and become more afraid of making mistakes they employ an insurance tactic… they begin to think before they act.

Applying It

The words,Experiment, Fail, Learn, Repeat.So can we apply this principle of learning by experimenting in the corporate workplace?

1. Innovate by Doing

Now you might think that is not relevant in your role and more the territory of Product Development or R&D but this is not the case. ‘Doing’ can come in many different forms. For example:

  • Writing a product descriptor in a number of different ways and not just one way
  • Drawing a rough concept to visualise a potential idea (even if it is just stick men!)
  • Looking at various alternative packaging options with a potential supplier and asking to be shown possibilities that could break the norm or push the boundaries
  • Getting out of the workplace and observing customers in the midst of using your product e.g. completing an online application form

2. Embrace The Art of Demonstration

If you have an idea that you know is going to be viewed as a ‘bit left of field’ or is going to be a tough sell-in, show people how it works with prototypes, have the concepts visualised, show clips of customers encountering a problem etc.

On the other hand; don’t be too quick to close down other peoples’ ‘stupid’ or ‘strange’ ideas. Ask them to show you how it might work. Get them to demonstrate the problem and the possible solution. This might be a simple sketch, a business case or a sample etc.

 The Benefits

Top down view of a maze with an exit path marked on itYou should see the benefits of ‘getting on and doing’ alongside encouraging others to ‘show you’ very quickly. They are likely to include:

  • Not wasting time trying to solve the wrong problems
  • Getting to the right answer faster and with more confidence
  • Generating better quality ideas and ones that are based in reality
  • Making the ‘sell-in’ of your ideas easier
  • Fostering better collaboration from others
  • Increasing the possibility of interesting ideas coming from all parts of the business

Published 1st March 2016 by Natalie Reed @ the Strategy Distillery